How To Remove Outdated Wallpaper [5 Simple Tips And Tricks]

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The first house I bought (which happens to be the one I still live in today) was a complete fixer-upper. I’m talking olive green shag carpeting, drop ceilings and 1970s wallpaper everywhere.

And it wasn’t the kind of paper you could just peel off. It was layers upon layers in every room (and in every closet). Peeling it off was almost like stepping back in time.

But I did it. And that means you can too.

Not sure if you’re up for the job? Here’s how to remove wallpaper the easy way.

What Type of Walls and Wallpaper Do You Have?

Not all wallpaper is created equal.

There are a few different types, such as traditional paper glued down with a paste, strippable paper and washable paper. How you remove it depends on what type you have.

To figure out what you’re dealing with, start in a top corner of one wall and loosen the edge of the paper with a putty knife.

If it starts to peel easily, you’re lucky.

You’ve got strippable wallpaper that you might be able to pull down in full sheets.

If it has a plastic coating on it, it might be washable paper.

If you can’t peel up an edge or all you can get off is a little strip here or there, you’re probably dealing with traditional paper glued on with a paste.

The type of wall also makes a difference, so you’ll need to know if you have plaster or drywall.


Because part of the removal process includes soaking the paper and the wall, and you have to be careful that you don’t get drywall too wet. If you have plaster walls (like I do), you don’t have to be as careful.

If your home is less than 50 years old, you probably have drywall.

The easiest way to tell is to knock on the wall. If you hear a hollow sound, it’s drywall. If it’s a super hard wall that only makes a dull sound when you knock, it’s probably plaster.

Prep the Room

Prepare the room by removing everything from the walls and covering outlets and switch covers with painter’s tape. You don’t want to get water on or in them!

Old glue and strips of wet paper are about to get everywhere, so lay drop cloths or old towels on the floor, especially at your baseboards. Once you’ve covered what needs to be covered, you’re ready to get started!

How to Remove Strippable Wallpaper

If you have strippable paper, start in a corner and use a putty knife to pull up one edge. Pull down on the paper with both hands. Pull at a 45-degree angle so you can get some leverage on it and (hopefully) peel it in sheets.

It’s always easier to peel in complete sheets, but don’t be surprised if it tears before you get the entire sheet off. If that happens, just use your putty knife to loosen up another edge, then start the process again.

Some wallpapers are peelable as opposed to strippable. In that case, you might be able to peel the top layer but be left with an adhesive backing on the wall.

If so, follow the instructions below for how to remove traditional paper.

How to Remove Traditional Wallpaper

Most wallpapers are applied with an adhesive glue or paste that can be really stubborn to get off. The older your home is, the more likely it is that you have this type of paper.

For this, you’ll need to get the wall wet.

Start in a corner and spray the wall with warm water. Let it soak in for a few minutes, then get a putty knife and start scraping. If it starts coming off, just keep scraping!

But not everyone is that lucky (I certainly wasn’t).

Water alone usually isn’t enough to remove the stubborn paper, so if that method fails, you’ll need to get a scoring tool and a liquid paper remover.

Start by running your scoring tool over the wallpaper in circles. Then, spray the wall with your liquid paper remover. This will penetrate through the holes and seep into the paper, dissolving the paste behind it and making the paper easier to scrape away.

Let the spray sit for about 30 minutes, then start scraping or peeling again. Your paper, regardless of how old it is, should start coming off with ease.

Can You Remove Wallpaper With Steam?

Don’t love the idea of spraying powerful chemicals all over your walls? There is one other method you can try – steam.

Steam is a great way to loosen up wallpaper glue without having to use any chemicals, but it’s one of the more time-consuming methods.

It’s also a two-person job, as you’ll need one person to steam and one person to scrape simultaneously.

Before you start steaming, score the walls. The little holes made by your scoring tool will be necessary for the steam to be able to reach the glue in the first place.

After you’ve scored, have one person hold the steamer up to the wall, and the other person peel or scrape in the same area.

For a big wall, you may have to refill your steamer with water several times. Make sure to UNPLUG the steamer before you fill it with more water!


How to Remove Washable Wallpaper

Washable wallpaper may be easy to clean, but it’s not that easy to remove.

Like traditional wallpaper, you’ll need to break out a scoring tool. The scoring tool will make holes in the plastic film that covers the paper (which is exactly what makes it washable in the first place).

Score it thoroughly, spray it with water and liquid stripper, then start peeling with your fingers, a scraper, or a putty knife.

What if There is More Than One Layer of Paper?

The older your home is, the more likely you are to find more than one layer of paper. My kitchen, in fact, had three layers of paper – all hidden beneath a textured coat of paint!

If you peel the first layer only to find that there’s more lurking beneath the surface, take a deep breath. You’ll have to do one layer at a time, so just be patient and repeat the process again until you’re down to a clean, bare wall.

What’s the Easiest Way to Remove Wallpaper?

Removing wallpaper isn’t hard, but it can be tedious.

The more you have to do, the more you might want to recruit some help. When I peeled the paper in my living room, I invited a few friends over, grabbed a couple cases of beer and made a party out of it.

With the help of about six people, we turned my weekend-long DIY project into a pretty fun afternoon!

If you’re ready to DIY your wallpaper removal, here’s how to do it:

  • Figure out what type of paper and what type of walls you have
  • Prep the room, protect your floors, and cover your outlets and switch plates
  • Try removing the paper by soaking it with warm water to loosen up the glue
  • If that doesn’t work, score the walls and steam or spray them with a chemical remover
  • Once the glue starts to loosen, peel and scrape until there’s no sign of paper left
  • Wash the wall with soap and water to get rid of any excess residue

With a little patience and dedication, that paper will be nothing but a distant memory of the past.

Jessica Heston

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