Home Improvement

How to Remove Old Wallpaper – 5 Simple Methods

Imagine the feeling of finding your dream house, only to find out the living room walls are covered in wallpaper straight out of your nightmares. Or maybe, you’re not looking for a new home; maybe, the vintage Art Deco wallpaper just clashes with your new slick, minimalistic furniture. No need to let that put you off from getting your dream interior, right? You can just redecorate.

Easier said than done! Before you choose your new wallpaper or fall in love with a paint colour, you’ll need to get your walls ready. This means getting rid of the layer of outdated patterns currently covering them (sometimes even more than one layer).

Luckily, we’re here to help you out! Let’s go over all you need to know about removing old wallpaper and get you one step closer to the perfect wall!

Table of Contents:

So, if you are:

  • Sick of your outdated wallpaper;
  • Planning on redecorating your walls;
  • Not sure what the best way to remove wallpaper is;

Then keep on reading!

How to strip wallpaper from walls

We won’t sugarcoat it – stripping wallpaper is not an easy task. It’s hard work and it takes a long time to do properly. But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible! All you need is the right tools and know-how.

So, without further ado, let us teach you how to remove old wallpaper!

Gather your tools

The exact tools and materials you need will largely depend on which wallpaper removal method you opt for. However, there are some things that you’ll need to prepare all the same.

  • Putty knife;
  • Drop cloths or plastic sheets;
  • Masking tape;
  • Step ladder;
  • Rubber gloves;
  • Face mask;
  • Protective goggles;
  • Old clothing.

We’ll let you know what additional materials you will need specific to each method below.

After you’ve gathered everything you need, it’s time to…

Prepare the room

Before you get to the “fun” part, you’ll need to make some preparations to protect the room and your furniture. This includes:

  • Clearing the walls;
  • Protecting the floor, furniture, and fittings;
  • Protecting yourself.

First off, take everything off the walls – paintings, photos, and any other decorative items. Move any furniture away from the walls. If you can’t take the pieces out of the room, just move them towards the centre, ensuring you have enough space to work.

Next, grab some drop cloths or plastic sheets. Cover the floor and furniture completely to ensure any dust, wallpaper pieces, and removal solutions don’t get on them, as it can be potentially damaging (not to mention difficult to clean).

Now that everything is covered, take your masking tape. Tape the edges of the drop cloths to the baseboards, covering them. Tape over any switches and outlets, too, as you wouldn’t want anything to get into them, especially if you’re using chemicals. If you have any plastic sheets left, cut out a small piece and cover the switch or outlet with it before taping.

Pay attention to the type of wall you have. Newer houses are more likely to have plasterboard, while older ones usually have plaster walls. If you find that yours are drywall, be very careful when removing the wallpaper. Avoid getting the wall too wet. If the plasterboard underneath the wallpaper gets ruined while you’re scraping, stop working. In this case, you might want to call a professional.

Keep in mind that no professional will put wallpaper up directly onto plasterboard, as the glue will bond to the surface, making it impossible to remove without damaging the wall. If you’re planning on putting up new wallpaper by yourself, make sure you skim or seal the plasterboard first.

So, you’re now fully prepared to tackle removing old wallpaper. But before you do, you need to…

Choose the right method

Now, the best way to remove wallpaper will depend not only on the wall material, but the type of wallpaper, as well. With that said, here are the methods you can choose from:

  • Manual removal
    Most modern wallpapers are strippable, meaning that they come off fairly easily without any added moisture. You can make it easier on yourself by peeling more stubborn strips off with a putty knife.
  • Water
    If your old wallpaper is too tough to be pulled off by hand, you can spray some water over it to loosen the glue. For porous wallpaper, you should be able to just spray it directly. Non-porous wallpaper, such as vinyl, will need to be scored. Otherwise, the liquid won’t be able to penetrate it and will simply roll off.
  • Fabric softener
    This is a good way to tackle older, stubborn wallpaper. A fabric softener, diluted with water, can loosen the paper and soften up the glue, making it easier to remove. Just like with water, you’ll have to score non-porous wallpaper.
  • Chemical stripper
    If you want an even stronger solution and don’t mind using chemicals, then a liquid wallpaper stripper will do the trick. Just make sure to follow the instructions on the label and don’t forget to protect the room and yourself – chemicals are often harsh.
  • Steam stripping
    If your wallpaper is set on making your life difficult, you’ll need a heavy-duty solution. This is where the electric steamer comes in handy. However, if you choose to use this method, you might want to get a friend to help.
Keep in mind that strippable and peelable wallpaper are not one and the same. Strippable wallpaper comes off the wall directly. Peelable kinds, on the other hand, let you peel off the decorative layer on top, leaving the backing. To get it off, you’ll need to use one of the other stripping methods.

Now that we’ve covered the basics, we’ll explain each method in more detail.

How to remove wallpaper manually

Stripping wallpaper by hand doesn’t require any tools or materials other than the ones we’ve listed above. However, since the only thing you’ll be helping yourself with is a putty knife, it’s not a good choice for any wallpaper type other than strippable.

With strippable wallpaper, all you really need to do is peel it off the wall. Start from the top and pull the wallpaper down slowly. Use the putty knife to help strip any stubborn spots.

If you find that this isn’t working, your wallpaper might not be strippable, or it might need a little more help. Move on to the next method.

Removing wallpaper with water

Sometimes, all your old wallpaper needs to come off is a little moisture. Apart from the tools listed above, you’ll also need:

  • Water;
  • A spray bottle;
  • Cloth;
  • A scoring tool (in case you have non-porous wallpaper).

Here’s how to proceed:

  1. Score (optional).
    For non-porous wallpaper, get a scoring tool to puncture it.
  2. Spray.
    Fill a spray bottle with water and spray it generously over the wallpaper. Again, don’t go crazy with the amount of water if you’re working on drywall. Work in small sections so that the wallpaper doesn’t dry up.
  3. Wait.
    Let the water soften the glue and paper – this will take a few minutes.
  4. Strip.
    Start peeling the wallpaper slowly from the top corners. If it’s not coming off when you pull on it, use a putty knife to strip it, pulling the wallpaper back at a sharp angle.
  5. Dry.
    If the wall is still wet after you strip the wallpaper, use some cloth to dry it up as best as you can.

Whether water will do the trick or not will depend on the wallpaper glue and how old it is. If it’s not working well enough, try this method, instead.

How to remove wallpaper with fabric softener

You probably have fabric softener in your house. But did you know that it can be a life saviour when you’re trying to get rid of old wallpaper? You just need a couple more things:

  • Fabric softener;
  • Water;
  • Spray bottle;
  • Cloth;
  • A scoring tool (for non-porous wallpaper).

Ready? Let’s go.

  1. Score (optional).
    Again, score your wallpaper before you start if it’s non-porous.
  2. Mix.
    In a spray bottle, mix equal parts fabric softener and water.
  3. Spray.
    Spray a small section of the wallpaper evenly with the mixture and let it sit for a few minutes.
  4. Strip.
    Grab your putty knife and start peeling the wallpaper off carefully.
  5. Dry.
    Again, you can pat the wall dry with a cloth if it’s still too damp.

The fabric softener method should have done the job. But sometimes wallpaper just doesn’t want to come off. In that case, you’ll need something a little stronger.

Removing old wallpaper with a chemical stripper

Liquid wallpaper stripper will help ensure easy wallpaper stripping and save you a lot of elbow grease. These are the additional tools and materials you’ll need:

  • Liquid wallpaper stripper;
  • Spray bottle;
  • Water;
  • A scoring tool.

Now, get your rubber gloves on and let’s begin.

  1. Score (optional).
    Again, score your non-porous wallpaper beforehand.
  2. Mix.
    Following the instructions on the label, prepare your stripping solution. Most often, this will include mixing the chemical with hot water.
  3. Spray.
    Put the solution in a spray bottle and cover a section of the wallpaper.
  4. Wait.
    Let the mixture sit and work its magic.
  5. Strip.
    With the putty knife, scrape away the loosened wallpaper.

If the chemical stripper doesn’t help remove all the wallpaper, you’ll have to bring out the big guns.

How to remove wallpaper with a steamer

A steam stripper is the best way to remove old wallpaper from a wall. However, most of us don’t just have one in the house. Removing wallpaper is not something we do often, so if you don’t want to buy a steamer just for this one job, you can rent one.

With this method, you’ll have to steam and strip the wallpaper at the same time, so getting a friend to help you out is not a bad idea.

So, here’s what you need:

  • Steam wallpaper stripper;
  • Water;
  • A scoring tool.

The exact procedure may differ from one machine to the next, so make sure you read the instructions. Here’s how the process usually works:

  1. Score.
    Even with an electric steamer, you’ll need to score non-porous wallpaper first.
  2. Fill.
    Before you power up the machine, pour warm water into its reservoir. After that, you can turn it on.
  3. Wait.
    Give the steamer some time to get the water boiling.
  4. Steam.
    Hold the steam pad up right to the wallpaper and let it sit for around 30 seconds.
  5. Scrape.
    Remove the steam pad. The wallpaper underneath should now be loose. Use your putty knife to scrape it off, then proceed to the next section.

And there you have it! Your walls should now be free of the old covering, ready to be redecorated.

Struggling to redecorate your walls?

If this is not your cup of tea and you’d rather spend your free time doing something else, why not let the professionals handle the decorating? The expert painters and decorators at Fantastic Services can take special care of your walls, no matter whether you need new wallpaper or a fresh coat of paint. No need to get your hands dirty – let us take care of it all!

Need to have your wall freshened up?

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  • You can remove strippable wallpaper by simply pulling it off the wall.
  • Before you start removing old wallpaper, you need to clear the walls and cover your floor and furniture.
  • The best way to remove wallpaper will depend on the type of wall, what kind of wallpaper you have, and how old it is.
  • If your wallpaper is not strippable, you can use water, fabric softener, a chemical stripper, or a steamer to remove it.
  • If you don’t want to buy one, you can rent an electric wallpaper steamer.
  • Don’t forget to wear protective gloves, goggles, and a face mask.
  • If you’re not sure about what you’re doing, it’s better to call an expert.

You may think that you’re ready to redecorate now that the wallpaper’s off the walls. But that’s not enough – you need to do some extra prep. Find out how to clean your walls after removing wallpaper in our helpful post!


Did we miss anything? How did you manage to get that stubborn wallpaper off your walls? Let us know in the comments!

Image source: Shutterstock / Sensay

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