Remove Stubborn Wallpaper – Stripping Back

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When you take on any room transformation a good place to start is to remove old wallpaper. It’s messy, requires a number of trips to the tip but most importantly provides you with a blank canvas. Old houses are notorious for having wallpaper dating back decades that just won’t budge! In this article we will take a look at how to remove stubborn wallpaper and some solutions that will hopefully reduce your time and effort.

What is the Victorian Project all about? Find out here.

The first real task in our project was our Victorian living room renovation and stripping back the paper took some effort to say the least. At first glance it looked like simple anaglypta but on closer inspection there were more layers to it than a fancy cake! Hanging from every wall was a layer of lining paper at the inner most point with a coat off some sort of oil based paint on top of it. Next was the anaglypta and on top of that a pinky cream emulsion.

We started fresh and enthusiastic, fired up the steamer with scrapers at the ready. However, it took no time at all for the enthusiasm to dwindle as two hours in we had removed a tiny amount with the paper coming off in miniscule pieces. The 4 layers could take a bullet and made for a near impossible wallpaper removal job. [See also: Main Living Room Transformation (Before) -Decorating Begins]

Remove Stubborn Wallpaper
Four Layers Of Old Wallpaper

It was time to step back and have a bit of a think as this would take weeks. After a mass of trial and error we found the following approach to be most effective with no fancy tools or chemicals. [See also: 10 ‘Gotchas’ when buying a Victorian House – Knowledge is Power]

Tools Required To Remove Difficult Wallpaper

We found that it is not really the tools but the technique you need to get right to remove stubborn wallpaper. To get started arm yourself with the following arsenal. [See also: Victorian Roof Repairs – Starting Point for any Renovation]

Remove Difficult Wallpaper
Paper Stripping Tools Required
  • Wallpaper steamer. Pretty standard to remove difficult wallpaper.
  • Stanley knife to be used to score through the tough layers.
  • Bucket of warm water which will be refilled on numerous occasions.
  • Sponge to soak the paper.
  • Wallpaper scraper loaded with elbow grease.

The above should suffice for the majority of wallpaper types and you should have no need for fancy tools of stripper solutions. [See also: Ivy Invasion – Removal from Bricks, Roofing & Gutters]

1. Take Down Any Loose Paper

Even impossible wallpaper removal jobs will have weak spots and some sheets that are loose in places. Take your scraper, loosen the sheet at the borders and rip it down. You will find that you should get down some nice big chunks. Go round the walls with your scraper and try to prise off anything that doesn’t have a tight grip. [See also: Fix Damp in Victorian Houses and the Common Causes]

2. Score The Paper With Close Chess Board Lines

There is nothing fancy to scoring wallpaper. It is a simple activity that should be used on any wallpaper type. What it does is it allows moisture from either your steamer or your sponge to get under the layers and into the backing paper. It is soaking the backing paper that will loosen the adhesive. If you are trying to remove stubborn wallpaper then I recommend that you do more scoring with the lines closer together. This will allow the moisture penetration in more places. [See also: Should I Get A Building Survey & Are House Surveys Worth It?]

You can use the scraper to do this but we found that it would not easily break through to the base layer. For this we used a Stanley knife. We aimed to take on around a meter squared area at a time until we got a bit of rhythm before moving onto bigger areas. The image below shows our scoring lines and how close they are together.

Scoring Stubborn Wallpaper

Word of warning here. You are scoring the wallpaper and not the plaster. If you push too hard you will dig your scoring lines into the plaster. This isn’t too much of an issue if your plans are to repaper but if you want a painted finish you will see these marks through your emulsion. This is something we learned the hard way. If you are trying to remove old wallpaper from a Victorian house you may be working on lime plaster and the blade will easily cut through it. You want to break through the paper without damaging the surface beneath.

3. Soak The Paper To Loosen The Adhesive

You should now have some large areas of scored paper ready to be soaked. Fill your bucket with warm water and using your sponge spread the water liberally over the walls. Once done, at this stage we are not going to try to strip it. Time to go off and make yourself a brew and do something else for an hour. You want to give the water time to properly soak into the backing paper.

4. Finally Remove Difficult Wallpaper

Right, break over its time to fire up your wallpaper steamer. Steam small areas of the wall and using your scraper immediately begin scaping off the scored patches starting at the corners of your squares. You should now find that each scored square comes off more or less in one piece. Continue to do this to all areas until the wall is clear. Some difficult areas may need a few rounds of steaming.

Impossible Wallpaper Removal
Scraping The Soaked Paper Off

We found that to remove stubborn wallpaper it was a combination of plenty of scoring and giving the warm water time to soak into the paper that really made the difference.

Ceiling Paper To Remove

This images and experience used to create this post were taken from our Victorian living room renovation. In this room, along with the walls the ceiling was also coated in a thick paper. This was common in Victorian houses as it hides the cracks that form in the ceiling plaster as the building moves. For this reason I thought it important to mention the same space had this additional area to strip. This ceiling was pretty straight forward to clear and nowhere near as problematic as the walls. The image below shows the living room ceiling taken back to the plaster.

Remove Old Wallpaper
Ceiling Paper Removal

If you also need to remove difficult wallpaper from a ceiling this same method can be used but you should avoid using a steamer. The steamer will drip hot water onto you if used from above so I suggest that you stick to the sponge and warm water. Everything else applies.

Remove Old Wallpaper – Roundup

When using the above approach what seemed like an impossible wallpaper removal task didn’t take too long at all. If you are like us and working on your first old house you may be used to the ease of stripping modern properties where the paper has only been up for a few years and is hanging from a more modern gypsum plaster. The challenge can vary depending on the type of wallpaper used such as vinyl or anaglypta.

Wallpaper that has been painted adds to the problem as the paint can prevent the moisture from your steamer or sponge from getting to where it is needed. We had 4 layers of paint on paper followed by paint on paper to contend with. For most cases the above technique should help you and hopefully make your task a little less painful.