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How to use a wallpaper steamer

Date posted: 6 March 2015

Removing wallpaper could be an easy task, but you won’t be able to foretell this unless you start pulling at a loose seam. Generally speaking, if the wall was coated with a primer before covered with the wallpaper, the panel will come off straight away. Depending on the size of the room, the overall wallpaper removing process could take from less than an hour to an entire day. As for any patches and sticky residues that are hard to remove, you will need a paper scraper and a bucket of warm water. That said; although this method is easy and cost-effective, rarely will you see wallpaper coming off that easily. In order to avoid the extra effort and time, you can opt for simple alternatives that can be a great helping hand to get the job done fast and effectively, such as wallpaper steamers.

Wallpaper strippers are used when every other method has failed and are extremely useful for challenging projects (e.g. when you have to remove wallpaper that was wallpapered over). You can hire a wallpaper stripper from £27.50 per day.  

So, to begin with, if you have a non-porous wallpaper, you can cut slits with a scoring tool or a razor and here is how to proceed with the rest of the tasks:

Step 1: Preparation Tasks

Most steamers use water, so fill yours with it and plug it into an electrical outlet. Note that if your machine takes a chemical solution instead of water, it’s better to consult the directions before doing anything else. One gallon would be enough to operate your steamer for about an hour before you’ll need to refill it.

Tip: You may also want to use a wallpaper perforator that you will roll across the surface and punch small holes into the wallpaper. This will allow the steam of the wallpaper steamer to penetrate the paper more easily, and soften it in less time than without using a perforator, thus enable you to remove larger sections of the wallpaper faster.  

Step 2: Removing the Wallpaper

The water inside the steamer heats up in as soon as you plug in your machine and becomes steam in a matter of 10-15 minutes. Steam is then carried in a tube and is finally dispersed by a metal plate that connects to the tube. 
Press the plate onto the wallpaper until it softens. It usually takes about 30 seconds; however, it all depends on the level of difficulty of your project. As soon as the wallpaper is softened, use a putty knife to scrape off the paper and then tear upward. Many people scrape and steam simultaneously, but it us up to you how to handle these tasks. 

If the wallpaper has a painted or vinyl coating, you must break the seal to allow the steam to penetrate. In this case, a wallpaper perforator is a must-use tool. Just move it up and down the wallpaper and the seal will break. Finally, if you intend to paint the wall rather than wallpapering it again, be careful not to punch large holes into the wallboard. 

Useful Note: 

Better start with the side walls and leave the ceiling last, because all escaping steam will help loosen the ceiling’s wallpaper. What you need to pay attention to when removing the ceiling wallpaper is to work with the wallpaper stripper in front of you, so no hot water drips down to you. 

Step 3: Finishing Task

When the wallpaper is removed, you need to wipe the wall down and make sure there is no leftover paste. You can easily do that by using a sponge and a bucket of clean water (no chemicals whatsoever). 

How does a Steamer Work?

A wallpaper stripper, just like gel and liquid removers do, work based on the principles of hydrolysis. Heat not only makes liquids more soluble but is also an effective catalyst for hydrolysis. Wallpapers strippers heat the water in their container until it turns into steam, which is then applied to the adhesive of the wallpaper. It is hydrolysis that takes place at that phase and allows you to break down the glue with the use of steam.

Precaution Notes

  • Always wear a long-sleeved shirt and protective gloves when using the steamer, if you don’t want to get burned by hot water dripping from the plate.
  • Do not keep the plate higher than your arm. 
  • Always empty the water out of the wallpaper stripper into a bucket, as often as you can, to avoid build up and dripping.

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