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How to Remove Wallpaper: Easy, Cheap, Green

In 2000, my husband and I bought a 100+ year-old home. In its long, colorful history, interior walls sported a plethora of coverings–paint, spackle, and wallpaper. Remodeling, we found four themes, the earliest dating back to the 20s. We have become adept at removing wallpaper and treating walls. Here are tricks to remove wallpaper and treat walls, from 13 years of DIY home fix-ups.

Treat walls. Before you wallpaper, prime walls with “sizing” (sealant). This will make it easier to remove paper when it’s time to change. Home Tips explains how to use wall primer.

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Choose thick over thin paper. Thicker wallpaper is more manageable (hence easier to hang), resistant to tears and easier to remove.

Paint over wallpaper. There are situations when wallpaper is appropriate. It may be the only solution if drywall is in bad shape and you can’t afford to replace. Wallpaper is quick, relatively easy to use and cheap. But if at all possible, paint. Our youngest son just redid our kitchen. After removing yards of paper from unprimed walls, he vows to submerge me in sizing if I ever get the urge to wallpaper again.

Skip wall textures. Our house was one step from condemnation before purchase. Renters and bad landlords left bizarre, half-hearted cobble jobs and mess. An unfinished stucco bas-relief on one wall had to be sanded down. Spackling (adding grit to paint before applying) was another popular wall texturing process that should be avoided like the Black Death. Removal is a nightmare. For patterned walls, try textured wallpaper (that you paint) or tack fabric to walls. HG-TV shows how.

Experiment. Before removing, try tearing a corner section of wallpaper. If it removes easily, it was probably sized and you can proceed. If paper shreds or comes off in layers, stop. It’s stuck tight and needs special handling.

Use a heat gun. H eat guns loosen adhesive before removal. Avoid burning skin or scorching surfaces.

Saturate with fabric softener. I put off remodeling the kitchen because I knew the wallpaper wasn’t sized. It had taken me hours to do one small patch. Mostly, I only removed my skin. Then our son got a tip to make a solution, half water and half liquid fabric softener. Douse wallpaper thoroughly. It literally melts wallpaper off. Pick a fragrance you like or fragrance-free; you’ll smell a lot of it.

Scouring pads over wallpaper removal tools. Wire bristle brushes and putty knives damage walls. After moistening with fabric softener solution, rub old wallpaper with a heavy duty Scotch-Brite scouring pad (green ones). Circular motion works best. You’ll probably need 8-12 (depending on area). Buy large packs from home improvement stores for better prices.

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