How To Remove Wallpaper From Drywall: Easy 5-Step Solution


Drywall is one of the most common building materials across the US. As such, it’s important to know how to work with the drywall that’s likely in your home, from repairing to painting to refinishing it.

If you want to freshen up a wallpapered wall, you might have to remove the old wallpaper first.

To do that: 

  • Determine what kind of wallpaper you have.
  • Remove it with a chemical stripper or peel it off.
  • Use steam if you have to remove stubborn bits.
  • Wash the wall with soapy water to get rid of the glue.
  • Repair the drywall if necessary.

Best Solution For Removing Wallpaper From Drywall (5 Steps)

Even just removing a wallpaper border, let alone a whole wall of paper, can be a time-consuming task. Plan to set aside at least a full day and make sure you have all of your materials before you begin. 

This guide covers several different types of wallpaper stripping so you can easily remove any old paper you may have.

1. Gather The Things You’ll Need

Before getting started, make sure you have the following things within reach:

  • Drop cloths
  • Towels (optional)
  • Rounded putty knife or wall scraper
  • Utility knife or razor blade
  • Thick protective gloves such as leather
  • Water
  • Dish soap (optional)
  • Liquid stripper concentrate (optional)
  • Coarse sandpaper
  • Scoring tool (optional)
  • Spray bottles
  • Sponge
  • Dry cleaning cloths

2. Clear The Walls And Protect Furniture And Floors

Remove any hanging décor and knick knacks from your shelves. You don’t have to remove the shelves completely but having them clean and clear will make them easier to work around.

Clear out any furniture from the room or cover it with drop cloths. Spread more drop clothes on the floor around the walls to catch any paper debris. 

If you have to use water or liquid stripper, use tape and plastic to protect any outlets and switch plates from moisture.

Towels can be helpful to absorb any moisture that may drip down the walls. 

You may also want to turn off the power for the room in which you’re working; even with protection, water can seep into electrical ports and cause issues with your power system.

3. Determine What Kind Of Wallpaper You Have

Newer wallpaper is often strippable, meaning you don’t need any water or special products to remove it. 

If you’re not sure what wallpaper you have, check the corner at the bottom of your wall and carefully try to lift the edge of the paper with a putty knife.

If the wallpaper easily pulls away, you have strippable wallpaper. You’ll need to use water or chemicals to remove the paper if it doesn’t come away with little effort.

4. Remove the Wallpaper

Different types of wallpaper require different removal methods.

Strippable

Starting at the bottom, peel away a corner of your wallpaper and pull it away from the wall until both corners of the strip come free. 

Then gently peel upwards until the entire strip is free from the wall. Repeat with each section of wallpaper you want to remove.

If there are any sections that are more difficult to remove, you can use a utility knife or razor blade as well. 

Cut a few horizontal strips 10 inches or so apart, then pull the stubborn pieces away with your fingers. Always wear gloves made of a protective material such as leather when working with blades.

Peelable

Peelable wallpaper has a topcoat and a backing. The topcoat works like strippable wallpaper, but it will leave behind the backing which you’ll remove in the next step.

Washable

Washable paper has a plastic film on top that makes it easier to remove stains, but it’s also harder to remove. If your paper is difficult to peel away and has a slight sheen to it, you likely have washable paper.

Scuff the surface with coarse sandpaper to create openings in the plastic; you can also score small holes using a scoring tool. Spray the paper with water and allow it to soak through the abrasions.

Wait for ten minutes and then use your putty knife to scrape away the wallpaper.

5. Remove The Wallpaper Glue

Even strippable wallpaper will leave behind some adhesive residue that you’ll need to clean. If the residue is light, all you need to do is mix some dish soap with water in a spray bottle.

Spray the soap and water onto your walls and wipe clean with a sponge. Dry the walls with a clean cloth once you’re finished.

You can also use a wallpaper stripper to clean up glue residue if a thicker layer is left behind. Most products require you to mix them with hot water and apply to your walls with a spray bottle or a large paintbrush.

Work one section at a time from top to bottom; if you apply too much at once, the stripper will dry before you can remove it. 

Avoid over-wetting the paper, as excessive moisture can damage drywall’s paper-like surface.

If the paper doesn’t absorb the stripper, you’ll have to let it dry and scrape it with coarse sandpaper. 

Soak the wallpaper again and let it sit for 15 minutes. Reapply the solution about halfway through if it starts to dry.

Use your wall scraper or putty knife to scrape away as much of the residue as you can, then rinse the walls with a sponge and some hot water. 

Once all the residue has been removed, dry the walls with a clean cloth.

If you no longer see any shiny spots in the light or feel any sticky spots, your walls are clean and wallpaper-free.

Alternative Ways To Remove Wallpaper

If you have particularly stubborn wallpaper, or you want to try something other than industrial strippers, there are other methods you can use.

1. Steamer

A steamer is highly effective at removing stuck-on wallpaper, but it does require a lot of extra effort. It’s also an extra piece of equipment you might not own, meaning you’ll have to rent or buy one.

Each steamer will have its own specific instructions, but the general process will be the same across the board. Make sure the power is off on the steamer and fill the reservoir with warm water. Turn the steamer on and let the water boil.

While wearing goggles and gloves, firmly place the steamer pad onto the wallpaper for around 30 seconds. 

The paper should be loose when you pull the pad away. Remove the paper by pulling and using your putty knife. Repeat the process on the remaining sections of wallpaper.

2. Fabric Softener

You can use fabric softener to remove wallpaper in place of just hot water or a liquid stripper when following the four-step method outlined above. 

Mix one part fabric softener to three parts hot water into a spray bottle and spray the walls as you would in steps three and four.

3. Vinegar

Just like with fabric softener, you can use vinegar to enhance regular hot water or replace an industrial stripper when removing wallpaper. 

Once you reach step three of the main method above, mix one part vinegar to two parts hot water into a spray bottle. Follow the rest of the instructions as normal with the vinegar mix.

Repairing Your Drywall

Once all your old wallpaper has been stripped, you may find that the surface of your drywall could use some TLC. You may need to spackle and sand any holes or divots before you refinish them.

If your drywall does require sanding, the National Capital Poison Center recommends protective gloves, goggles, and a dust mask.

It’s a good idea to prime your walls after fixing any damage and before you add any new finishes. 

There’s acrylic primer made for wallpaper, but if you want to paint, use a primer meant for that instead. Make sure your walls are clean and dry before you prime.

Related Questions

Can you remove wallpaper from unprimed drywall?

Yes, you can remove wallpaper regardless of the background. 

The biggest difference between removing  wallpaper from primed and unprimed drywall is how delicate you need to be. 

A primer simply provides a barrier between your wallpaper and the drywall. Without it, the adhesive of your wallpaper is sticking directly to the paper surface of the wall.

This can cause the drywall surface to peel away with the old wallpaper. Any of the above methods can work on unprimed drywall, but you will want to take care to work slowly and gently.

If you see the wall’s outer layer peeling away, stop and soak that area again with your removal solution. Don’t force the wallpaper off or you’ll end up taking more drywall surface with it.

If you decide to use a liquid stripper, try to find one that has a formula meant for drywall for better results.

Can you put new wallpaper over the old one?

If it’s smooth and undamaged, you can remodel your walls without removing the old paper. To do so, you have to ensure that the old paper is only a single layer, free of protective film, and in good condition.

You shouldn’t paint over old wallpaper; it will be almost impossible to remove later, and it’s hard to get a smooth painted surface.

You should also not use vinyl wallpaper over any old paper. Non-vinyl paper may prevent the new glue from drying properly. Even if the new paper is also vinyl, its glue doesn’t adhere well to other vinyl.

Are wallpaper removers toxic?

Liquid wallpaper remover is a chemical mixture designed to soften wallpaper backing’s adhesive, which is also often a chemical product. 

The ingredients these removers use will vary from product to product, but in general these will be materials you should not ingest or otherwise absorb through your skin and eyes, just like any commercial chemical product.

If you follow the manufacturer’s instructions and protect yourself with goggles, gloves, and/or face masks, there shouldn’t be any danger in using a chemical wallpaper remover. 

You can use the Consumer Product Information Database to search for specific products and any toxicity warnings associated with them for further peace of mind.

Katherine Ann

Katherine is a freelance writer who enjoys DIY home décor and refurbishing tired furniture. In addition to writing for PlumbJoe, she blogs about books and movies and writes creatively in her spare time.

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