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How to remove wallpaper

Date posted: 10 February 2014

Stripping outdated or unwanted wallpaper doesn't really demand any great skill, but it is not always as easy to remove off as one might hope. With a little know-how and a few handy tools and materials, however, anybody can tackle the job head-on.

With some wallpapers all you need to do is wet the walls to soften the glue, then pick up one of the paper's seams to start stripping it off. If it's your lucky day, it will come away in large panels – but often the paper proves more stubborn than this, coming away in small pieces or – worse still – just refusing to budge. You may find that there are actually several layers of wallpaper from different eras, stuck one on top of the other – or that the paper you are trying to remove is a modern, vinyl-coated type, making it hard for the water to penetrate properly and soften the glue.

Here is our straightforward guide to how to remove wallpaper.

Gather the right tools and materials

Essential tools and materials for stripping wallpaper without a steam stripper include polythene dust sheets; a craft knife or wallpaper perforator; a bucket; some washing-up liquid and water; a decorator's sponge; and a wallpaper stripping knife.

If you opt to use a steam wallpaper steamer – which can speed up the job a great deal – the only items you will need are dust covers, a wallpaper perforator, and a stripping knife. You can usually hire wallpaper strippers at relatively inexpensive rates from your local tool hire centre if you don't own one or know anyone who can lend you one.

Perforate or score the old wallpaper

Lay dust covers over your floor because this part of the task can get messy. Begin by scoring the wallpaper with a craft knife or, better still, perforating it with a specially-made wallpaper perforator (which creates lots of tiny holes all over the surface of the paper). This scoring or perforating process enables the water to penetrate through to the glue and soften it. Be careful to score only the wallpaper, however – if you press too hard you may end up damaging the wall underneath.

Apply water solution to the wall

If you are working without a steam stripper, fill up a bucket with some hot water and add a splash of washing up liquid, then apply this soapy mixture to the wall using a decorators' sponge, working from the top of the wall downwards. Leave it to soak through for about 10 minutes then test an area to see if the wallpaper is coming away from the wall easily. If it isn't, repeat the soaking process – or use a wallpaper stripping preparation for more effective results (following the manufacturer's instructions, and using safety protection as indicated on the instructions).

Strip the wallpaper

You should now be able to remove the wallpaper using a stripping knife by wedging the knife between the paper and the wall without it digging into the wall and damaging the plaster. Try to clear the soggy wallpaper away from underfoot as you are working, because it will still be sticky and get stuck to your shoes and clothes.

If the wallpaper proves stubborn and tough to remove, or you have a large area of wall to tackle, consider buying or hiring a steam stripper to speed up the process. These are available from DIY shops and may be a sensible investment if you need to strip wallpaper throughout your house, or alternatively you can hire one from your local tool hire centre. Once again, start with the steam stripper at the top of the wall working down, following the manufacturer's user and safety instructions. Hold the steam plate firmly against the wallpaper to loosen it, and then remove it to scrape off the paper using a stripping knife. Try not to hold the plate in one place for too long or the heat and steam may damage the plaster on the wall.

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