How to Strip Wallpaper in 10 Easy (Ha!) Steps

Rustic green bedroom

After 23 years, it really was time to update my two upstairs guest bedrooms. But that meant stripping wallpaper. Gahhhhh!

Because I strip wallpaper so rarely, I have to refresh my memory each time. I wade through YouTube videos, read how-to blogs, and still end up figuring it out by trial and error. This time I decided to document my tried-and-true technique for my own future reference — and in case it’s helpful to you. Here are my 10 not-as-easy-as-I-wish steps, from start to beautiful finish.

  1. Make a plan.

A room makeover that starts with wallpaper removal requires a battle plan and a certain girding of the loins. Depending on the size of the room, the amount of wallpaper and your upper body strength, give yourself 2-3 consecutive days for the stripping. Plan take-out meals and Netflix evenings, because you’re gonna deserve it.

  1. Gather your tools.

You’ll need a drop cloth (I use an old shower curtain), a spray bottle, 1-2 gallons of white vinegar, Dawn dish soap, a quality scraper, a nylon pot-scrubber, a screwdriver, a bucket, a trash can, 2-3 cleaning rags, and a menu of riveting podcasts. That’s it.

wallpaper stripping tools
  1. Prep the room.

Pull the furniture to the center of the room and take everything off the walls. Remove all the nails, outlet covers and vent grates. You may also want to remove baseboards. I didn’t, but it might have been easier.

  1. Spray, peel, scrape. Repeat.

Now the fun begins. Fill ¼ of the spray bottle with white vinegar, then add a good amount of Dawn dish soap and fill with hot water. Working in 4 ft. sections, spray the wallpaper generously, wait a couple minutes and start peeling. If you’re removing vinyl wallpaper, it may peel off easily in large pieces. Lucky you. Odds are better, however, that you’ll have to peel the top layer of the paper off in many pieces, and then re-spray the paper backing and scrape it off in sections. I tried using a scoring tool to perforate the wallpaper first. In theory, this allows the water to get behind the paper making the peeling easier. In my experience, it didn’t help that much and it made it impossible to pull large pieces off. Plus, it’s hard not to scar the sheetrock underneath, so I quickly abandoned the scoring tool.

Let’s not kid ourselves – this is not a fun project. BUT, you get alone time and you can listen to podcasts all day. So that helps, right? Need a podcast recommendation? Here are some of my favorites:

Revisionist History – Malcolm Gladwell

Freakonomics Radio

Bag Man – Rachel Maddow

Lawfare – Benjamin Wittes

Talking Feds – Harry Litman

  1. Remove residual glue.

It’s tempting to feel finished when you remove that last scrap of wallpaper, but you’ll likely still have quite a bit of glue on the walls. Fill your bucket with hot soapy vinegar water and start wiping the walls down in sections. A nylon pot-scrubber really helps loosen the dried glue, so alternate between a rag and the scrubber. Change your water frequently.

  1. Give it one final rinse.

It’s hard to overstate the importance of this step. I learned the hard way. After rinsing and scrubbing until my arms ached, I thought I was good. But after two coats of beautiful paint had dried, I was horrified to see little patches of crackled texture, indicating the paint had not adhered in some places. Clearly, my rinse and scrub job was not sufficient.

  1. Patch walls.

You might be a superb wall patcher, but I am not. Instead, I call Bob. He’s a handyman extraordinaire, and he made my walls look like new. Bless you, Bob.

  1. Prime.

Again, this recommendation comes from experience.  In the first room, I used a ceiling white flat paint in this step. In the second room, I used a premium primer. The results were much better in the second room. If I had used a good primer in the first room, it may have prevented the crackling that necessitated buying more paint for a third coat. Always better to take the time to do it right the first time.

  1. Paint.

Finally, you get to the fun part! My entire house is done in soft, neutral colors, but I decided to do a bold accent wall in both of these bedrooms. I’m so glad I did! It’s been three weeks now, and I still find myself pausing in the doorway just to admire the prettiness. Yay!

  1. Call a family meeting.

Lastly, gather your loved ones together and make this announcement, “Kick me, and kick me hard, if I EVER get dreamy-eyed about using wallpaper again!”

Finally, here are the finished results!

The Blue Room

Before 

Magnolia Bedroom

I guess this was my nod to Gone With the Wind and all things southern belle. I was so proud of that sponge painting 23 years ago!

After

Blue and Brass Bedroom

The brass bed was one of the first pieces of furniture my husband and I bought. (It was antique when we bought it 40 years ago — yikes!) I love mixing antiques with more modern pieces, so I added the two brass lamps with simple white shades. Eliminating the curtains and painting the wood trim gave it a clean, bright look.

My Sherwin Williams paint colors are: accent wall – Salty Dog, side walls –  Jogging Path, ceiling – Snowbound.

The Green Room

Rustic green bedroom

I forgot to get a “before” photo, but this room was every bit as dated as the magnolia room!  I chose these Sherwin Williams paint colors:  accent wall – Laurel Woods, side walls – Agreeable Gray, and ceiling – Snowbound.

I saw this Pendleton blanket in a Jackson, Wyoming shop when we were there at Christmas, and I just had to have it. It’s such an understated classic design, and it was the perfect complement to the log bed. Makes me dream of Wyoming.  *Sigh*

2 Comments

  1. Aileen, your makeovers are beautiful! I love the paint color choices and your Wyoming room has to be the perfect happy place for you- like going home❤️

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