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Removing Wallpaper Is Sticky Job, but One Homeowners Can Pull Off : Home improvement: More messy than difficult, it requires little skill and few tools--just a lot of scraping and patience.

September 01, 1990|From Popular Mechanics and Distributed by AP Newsfeatures

Removing wallpaper is a messy job, but somebody's got to do it, and that somebody will probably be you.

Finding somebody else to do it is probably more difficult than doing it yourself. Professional paperhangers often don't want to do it, and when they do, they charge a premium rate.

Fortunately, this job is more messy than difficult. It's a good example of the kind of grunt work homeowners can do themselves. This job requires little skill and few tools, just scraping and patience. With the advent of improved wallpaper and removal tools, teamed with time-proven methods, the job is easier than ever.

Not all wallpaper is created equal, meaning that some types are more difficult to strip than others. The easiest to remove is "strippable" wallpaper. It can be removed without tearing or being loosened by water or steam.

Slightly more difficult to remove is old, untreated and uncoated wallpaper. It simply needs to be wetted and scraped loose.

The most difficult to remove is wallpaper with vinyl coating (washable wallpaper) or with a laminated surface of woven fabric or foil. Wallpaper that's been painted falls into this category. This type of wallpaper is difficult to strip because water doesn't penetrate its surface as readily as with uncoated wallpaper.

Old-fashioned wallpaper comes off easily if you get enough moisture behind it. It's held up with wheat-paste adhesive, a substance easily softened by water. This porous wallpaper absorbs water, hastening the decomposition of the paste.

Stripping the wallpaper is even easier if you mix some wallpaper remover in the water. The remover, sold at paint and hardware stores, has wetting agents that penetrate the wallpaper and soften the paste. Some strippers also have enzymes that attack the wheat paste and dissolve it.

Vinyl, foil-faced and other moisture-resistant wallpapers are designed to be cleaned. The challenge, then, is to get moisture behind their water-resistant faces to soften the glue. Wallpaper remover is not as effective on coated wallpaper as on uncoated. The solution is to steam the wallpaper loose, then scrape it off the wall.

The easiest way to get the steam or water behind a coated wall covering is to score the surface to allow moisture to penetrate.

If the wallpaper is old and there are several painted layers, most of the layers can be scraped off with a razor scraper. This is harder work than steaming off an individual layer, but it's much faster than trying to steam down through multiple layers.

Strippable wallpaper simply peels off the wall when gently pulled from a corner. At a seam, lift a corner of the wallpaper with a putty knife or scraper and pull it toward you. Carefully remove the adhesive left on the wall with a fresh blade in a razor scraper. Since the paste is dry and hard, most of the heavy residue can be scraped off. Then wash the walls with warm water and detergent.

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