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How to Remove Wallpaper Using Solvents or Steam (page 1 of 2)

Removing wallpaper can be difficult and time-consuming. Learn the tips and tricks to using liquid solvents and commercial steamers. Both methods soften the wallpaper paste so you can tear off the paper without damaging the wall surface.

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  • Time


  • Price Range

    $50 - $100

  • Difficulty

    Easy to Moderate

Here's How To Do It:

Step 1: Prep the Room

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Remove all electrical face plates, telephone jacks, picture hangers and any other obstructions on the walls. Cover the outlets and switches with tape to protect them from liquids (Image 1). Use a water-resistant drop cloth or plastic sheeting to protect the carpet or floors (Image 2).

Step 2: Test the Old Wallpaper’s Adhesion

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Some wallpapers, particularly the foil and water-resistant types, are strong and made with glues that easily release when they are pulled away from the wall. Before you begin the more difficult processes described below, start at a corner or seam and try peeling the wallpaper away from the surface. If it releases without tearing the underlying drywall paper or leaving swaths of backing behind, you may not have to steam or use a solvent. And even if remnants cling to the walls, after most of the paper is pulled down, you may be able to simply scrape them off without resorting to more drastic removal measures.

Step 3: Perforate the Old Wallpaper

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Whether you opt to use the solvent or steaming removal method, first use a wallpaper-perforating tool such as a "Paper Tiger," (Image 1) which has rollers with small spikes that punch tiny holes in the paper (Images 2, 3). This allows the solvent to penetrate behind the paper and dissolve the adhesive. If the surface is drywall, don’t press too hard on the tool or you’ll penetrate the drywall’s paper surface. If this happens, you'll need to fill the nicks with spackling compound before painting or applying new wallpaper.

Step 4: The Solvent Method

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Most solvents are caustic, so if you choose this method, wear rubber gloves and eye protection. Commercial solvents are usually mixed with water or available as a gel that is used without mixing. Follow the product directions and apply it with a paintbrush or sponge, then allow the solvent time to soak in and loosen the wallpaper. You’ll know the solvent is working when the paper begins to sag or pull away from the wall.

Inexpensive solvent alternatives include mixing hot water with a few tablespoons of white vinegar, or hot water and fabric softener, both of which can be applied with a spray bottle. Mix small batches at a time to keep the water as hot as possible. Saturate the wallpaper in sections, spraying only as much of the wall as you can comfortably strip in a 15-minute period.

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