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A Strip Show That Can Drive You Up the Wall

October 14, 1990|From Popular Mechanics

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 removing tools, teamed with time-proven methods, the job is easier than ever.

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

Slightly more difficult to remove are old, untreated and uncoated wallpapers. They simply need to be wetted and scraped loose.

The most difficult to remove are the paper with vinyl coating (washable wallpapers) or those with laminated surfaces of woven fabric or foils. Wallpaper that's been painted falls into this category. These papers are difficult to strip because water doesn't penetrate their surface as readily as with uncoated paper.

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. These porous papers absorb water, hastening the decomposition of the paste.

Stripping the paper 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 paper 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 face to soften the glue. Wallpaper remover is not as effective on coated papers as uncoated. The solution is to steam the paper loose, then scrape it off the wall.

You have to prepare these papers before steaming them. 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 paper 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 individual layers, but it's much faster than trying to steam down through individual layers.

Strippable wallpapers simply peel off the wall when gently pulled from a corner. At a seam, lift the corner of the paper with a putty knife or scraper and pull 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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