The Wallpaper Dilemma

If you’ve lived in an old house, you’ve probably encountered undesirable wallpaper. Perhaps it’s an ugly and outdated pattern or perhaps it’s been painted over and unsightly seams create vertical lines along your walls and ceilings (why, oh why did they wallpaper ceilings?).

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Walls after scraping away many layers of wallpaper and paint.

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Painted walls, after many layers of wallpaper and paint were removed.

My first meeting with unwanted wallpaper came in the form of many layers of wallpaper and paint. I don’t remember the exact order now but after doing some scraping in my spare room, I found wallpaper, paint, wallpaper, wallpaper, paint, paint-all sandwiched on top of each other. Scraping is hard work (especially when you’re dealing with that many layers) and it’s very easy to gouge the plaster walls beneath. I began the project and then stalled. Eventually, I hired someone to finish the job for me when I needed to quickly get the room ready for my mom to move in with me.

So I was very interested the first time Brian shared his method of dealing with unwanted wallpaper. It is by no means “easy,” but in the end I think I do prefer it over scraping. If you’re trying to restore a house museum, the former method is probably more appropriate, but for a home to live in, Brian’s method will do just fine. Here’s how it works.

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Our current project. I lived with this wallpaper and border for 10 years and now that I don’t live here anymore we’re fixing it. Is that some sort of Murphy’s law?

Step 1: Peel off/remove as much loose wallpaper as possible. Find those loose edges and pull what comes off. If it’s well-adhered to the wall, leave it.

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Peeling off the wallpaper, piece of cake!

Step 2: Prime with oil-based primer. We use Kilz. Brian usually finds it on-sale at Ace Hardware and stocks up on it. If you try to do step 3 (spackling) or 6 (painting) without first applying the oil-based primer, the moisture in the joint compound and/or paint will likely cause parts of the wallpaper to “bubble up.” The oil-based primer creates a moisture-barrier, sealing the wallpaper to the wall.

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Beginning to prime with Kilz. Before you comment on my work clothes, I’ll have you know this is the very outfit I was wearing when I met my husband. Love is blind!

Step 3: If you have large holes or cracks to repair, you may need to mix up some patching plaster. But for small holes (like nail holes) and to cover up wallpaper seams, some easy-sand joint compound or spackling will work fine. Using a large putty knife, apply a thin, smooth coat of spackling any place there is a wallpaper seam or edge (for example, if you were able to tear part of it off, but part of it adhered to the wall, you would spackle over the edge where the wallpaper was ripped).

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Spackled, ready for sanding

Step 4: After the spackling dries thoroughly, sand over it to create a smooth surface.

Step 5: Prime over any spackled areas (this time a water-based primer is okay).

Step 6: Paint!

This method usually works, although some areas are tricky and it depends on the quality of the paper and how well it was glued to the wall. You may notice some bubbling after Step 3. If that happens, you can cut those areas out using a utility knife and spackle again.

This project is ongoing–hope to get it painted next weekend!

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2 responses to “The Wallpaper Dilemma

  1. Pingback: Houses, Houses, Everywhere! (Part I) | my ahas·

  2. Pingback: Befores and Afters | my ahas·

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