Stripping as Painlessly as Possible

Oct 5, 2020 | Dining Room, DIY

Before deciding to strip, you should spend some time in the gym and also think about getting if not a real tan, at least a spray tan. Learn how to dance and always point your toes on the pole otherwise you’ll look like a naked adult tromping on a playground. And, under no circumstances are you to lick the pole a la Showgirls; that’s nasty.

Oh, you’re here for wallpaper stripping… My bad. Let me change gears.

When we moved into this house almost 10 years ago, the living room had this striped, shiny, ivory wallpaper that I wanted to get rid of but honestly, the idea of stripping wallpaper scared the life out of me!

I had heard that it was an hours-long process that was truly frustrating and that I’d never be able to remove all the wallpaper and the glue (especially the glue!). Well… the wallpaper stripping critics weren’t wrong but after doing research and some trial and error, I did it and it wasn’t too terrible; I dare say, it was fun at times even if it did ruin my fingernails but we’ll get to that.

When I repainted the dining room a couple months ago, the wallpaper in the living room clashed with the the gray/beige tone of Revere Pewter in the dining room. I wanted the two rooms to flow into each other since they were adjoining which meant that I had to paint the living room… which meant that I had to put my big girl pants on and strip some wallpaper!

The wallpaper was original with the home so it was about 30 years old and really stuck tight onto the wall! As is my M.O., I went to YouTube and watched a bunch of videos on how to best remove wallpaper from wallpaper-removing experts and they were all over the place. Some said to use a steamer, some said to use a little tool that pokes holes in the wallpaper then to apply a chemical glue stripper. But, the best method I found involved ripping off as much as I could with my bare hands and using a spray bottle filled with warm water and fabric softener to take off the remaining wallpaper. Why fabric softener? It softens the glue and turns it back into a gummy paste faster than using only water. And, as a bonus, it makes the room smell great so get a scent you like!

Before we get into the nitty gritty, let’s talk about the anatomy of wallpaper, shall we? There are typically 3 layers of wallpaper. The first is the top portion that has the pattern on it. The second layer is the thin paper layer underneath the pattern. The third is the glue under the paper layer that binds the paper to the wall.

Please enjoy my JV diagram with homegrown arrows

The first thing you need to do is to get off as much of the wallpaper as possible by finding a seam either where 2 pieces of wallpaper meet or at the baseboard or ceiling and RIP OFF AS MUCH OF THE WALLPAPER AS POSSIBLE! This is where you ruin your fingernails because using your nails to pry under the paper is much more effective than using any type of tool.

You should aim to remove the top layer and the paper layer but most times only the top layer comes off and that’s okay because you’ll use your spray bottle to remove the remaining wallpaper.

Ripping the wallpaper is the fun part because there is a strange thrill when you tear off a big chunk especially after only being able to rip off small little sections. It’s like peeling burnt skin which everyone loves, no? NO? Maybe it’s just me. Anyway, tearing off chunks as big as possible will save you a lot of work in the long run because the process of removing stubborn spots is more time consuming and messy with the spray bottle.

Okay, after you’ve ripped off as much as you can, go back over the remaining spots and really make sure that you can’t rip off any more. Just do one more pass; it’s worth it because it really will save you time.

After all the paper has been ripped off that can be ripped off, take your spray bottle filled with WARM water and about a 1/4 -1/2 cup of fabric softener (I used Downy), and spray a small section of wallpaper. Rub the solution in with a wet rag, then lightly spray again. Wait about 2 minutes and take a scraper (like a joint knife) and carefully scrape at the wet wallpaper starting at an edge.

Wall scraper

Scrape and pull and scrape and pull off as much as you can. Then repeat this process until all the visible wallpaper is removed. This is a slow process but you’ll get a rhythm going and it won’t be so bad, I promise! What worked for me was to spray and rub down 2 areas, wait a couple minutes then scrape off area #1. When area #1 was done, I’d lightly spray area #2 again then spray and rub in the solution to area #3 then go to area #2 and start scraping as the paper in area #3 was softening. Then repeat. That way you always have an area softening and an area ready to be scraped.

Now comes the glue which is hard to remove because you can’t really see it; you can only feel it. Spray the wall in large sections with just water, wait a couple minutes, then take a clean rag and wipe the wall. Rub your hand over the wall and if it feels slimy, the glue is still there. Make sure you wash your rag A LOT or you’ll just be rubbing wet glue over your walls. I washed the walls 3 times to make sure that all the glue was removed since my glue was really stubborn.

TIP: Don’t be like me and be lazy with wiping the walls. I initially only wiped twice then started cutting in with paint thinking all the glue was removed. The paint congealed into gloopy patches that dried to rough patches which made the wall texture uneven. I had to sand the small section that I had painted and repaint. So, get all that glue off!

After removing all the wallpaper and glue and letting walls dry, you’re done and the walls are ready to paint!

I painted the room and will have another post describing how I low-budget redecorated my living room, but here are some sneak peeks.

Last thing- I learn lessons with each project that I do. Sometimes they’re small scale like learning how to operate a particular tool, but sometimes they’re broader lessons. With this one, I learned not to wait to do something because it may seem hard. Just suck it up and do it anyway! Besides, like in this case, it ends up being a lot less painful than I thought and the results are so worth it! Okay, those are my words of wisdom from me to you! Happy stripping! And happy wallpaper stripping! 😉