How to remove wallpaper
Easily and neatly strip walls to prepare for a fresh new look
Before refreshing your room with new wallpaper or a fresh coat of paint you’ll need to prepare the walls by removing any existing wallpaper or woodchip. It is worth spending time and care stripping the wallpaper to get smooth, clean walls before decorating.
It is much easier to wallpaper over a stripped wall as it avoids creases and air bubbles appearing when you hang the new wallpaper. Painting over wallpaper doesn’t always give a smooth finish and it is much harder to remove in the future. Removing wallpaper also means you get a great finish and your new wallpaper or paint lasts much longer.
In this guide we’ll walk you through the best way to remove wallpaper, and show you how to:
- clear and prepare the room, including protecting any sockets
- choose the best way of removing wallpaper for your room
- select the right tools for removing wallpaper
- clean the wall after removing the paper
There are two methods for removing wallpaper. The following tools and materials will be required regardless of the method of wallpaper removal you take. There will be additional things that you will need depending on the method you choose - these are listed in the relevant sections.
- Dust sheets - cloth or polythene dust sheets are usable for this task. Polythene sheets are more moisture resistant, so a good choice if you have carpets, but can be at risk of tearing. Cloth dust sheets can be beaten outside to remove dust, washed and be reused. Some cloth dust sheets also have a polythene backing to help stop spills from penetrating.
- Polythene sheet/plastic bag - to protect switches and sockets
- Masking tape
- Bin bags - to collect removed wallpaper
- Cloth or rag - to dry the wall
- Rubber gloves
- Socket tester (for sockets) or voltage tester (for switches)
- Scissors - to cut a plastic bag/polythene sheet
- Wide stripping knife – we recommend a 4 inch (“)/100millimetre (mm) wide stripping knife
- Step ladder
- Metal rule /straight edge
- Utility knife
- Stiff broom
- Large sponge
- Keep chemicals and adhesives out of reach of children.
- Always use a suitable ladder when working at height.
- Safety goggles should be worn when stripping paper to protect eyes from falling paper, debris and hot water.
You have two options to choose from when it comes to removing wallpaper from walls. Your choice depends on how easy the existing wallpaper is to remove and how much there is (in terms of the size of the room as well as the number of layers of paper to remove). The two options are:
- a chemical stripping solution
- an electric steam wallpaper stripper
Chemical stripping solution
A stripping solution is a chemical liquid that can be applied to walls to help remove wallpaper. Solutions are available as a ready-to-use mixture, while some may need diluting with water. It can come in a bottle or as a spray for easy application.
Chemical solutions help to dissolve the adhesive and actively release the wallpaper, doing more of the hard work for you. Solutions are ideal for one or two layers of wallpaper in one room, or if you're removing the wallpaper from a small area, like a feature wall.
It’s possible to make your own homemade stripping solution with hot water and liquid detergent, however we recommend using a ready-to-use chemical solution. It saves time and some untested detergents may not give the same results, or they could be harmful or damaging to the walls.
Electric steam wallpaper stripper
A steam stripper consists of a tank with a hose connected to a steam plate. The tank is filled with water, which is heated until it boils. Hot steam comes out of the steam plate, which is held against the wall. The steam penetrates through the perforated wallpaper to the old adhesive underneath, moistening it enough to loosen the paper from the wall.
Electric steam strippers are perfect for large areas of wallpaper and are recommended to remove stubborn wallpaper, including woodchip. They make stripping wallpaper much easier and faster. And they are a great investment if you’re likely to want to remove wallpaper again in the future as they can be used again and again.
If you’re not sure which method is best for you, follow these steps to help you decide.
Remove a small section of the wallpaper from a corner first with a stripping knife. This will help you find out how many layers of wallpaper there are to remove.
Try peeling the paper away to see if it can easily be removed without tearing. Some wallpapers are designed to easily release when they are pulled away from the wall dry. Even if only the top layer of the wallpaper is removed, it will save you some work and you will only need to remove the backing sheet and the adhesive.
When you have decided on the best method for your project, the next step is to prepare your room ready for the wallpaper removal.
Clear the room as much as possible. Anything that has to stay should be moved into the centre of the room and covered with dust sheets.
Take everything off the walls, including vents. Mask the openings with masking tape and plastic sheeting (a section of plastic bag or polythene dust sheet is ideal for this).
Turn off the electricity for the room, in case of water or steam getting into electrical sockets or switches.
If you have any light switches on the wall, you might need to loosen or remove the faceplates to allow you to remove any paper that is stuck behind them (the faceplates might clip off or are fixed with retaining screws which you can loosen with a screwdriver).
Before you do this, you should turn off the mains power at the fuse box / consumer unit completely or isolate the circuit you are working on.
- For an old style fuse box (with rewirable fuses), switch off the main power at the fuse box. Isolate the circuit you plan to work on by removing the circuit fuse. Put this in your pocket to avoid accidental replacement. And turn the power back on.
- For a modern consumer unit (with miniature circuit breakers) switch off and lock the relevant circuit breaker.
- If necessary, attach a note to the unit to advise you are working on the circuit.
Check the correct circuit has been isolated and is dead. On a main power circuit, use a socket tester to confirm the power is off. On a lighting circuit use a voltage meter or voltage tester to confirm.
Check your test equipment against a known source of power (or proving unit) to prove that the tester is working correctly.
If in any doubt or for more information, consult a qualified electrician.
Protect any switches and sockets from debris and drips with masking tape and plastic sheeting.
Lay dust sheets down against the wall to protect your floor covering and make the clean-up process a lot easier afterwards.
Score the wallpaper with an orbital scorer.
Scoring allows the steam or solution to penetrate the wallpaper. It loosens the adhesive against the wall and makes the job of removing wallpaper a lot easier. Painted wallpaper will usually repel water, so scoring is key to aid penetration.
Use the tool to score evenly and consistently over the wallpaper without damaging the plaster underneath. You don’t need to press too hard, just enough to allow the teeth to cut into the surface of the paper. Don't use a knife or scissors to perforate the paper, as it’s very hard to score evenly without damaging the wall .
Now your walls are ready to strip using your preferred method.
For this project, we will use a ready-to-use spray on solution. Some solutions might need diluting in a bucket of water, applied by sponge. Check the product instructions .
You will need:
Spray the solution onto the walls as instructed and allow time for it to do its work. Some solutions spray a non-staining yellow formula, allowing you to see where you’ve sprayed so you don't miss any patches.
Use short sharp movements with the stripping knife to remove the paper once it’s loose enough, but be careful not to damage the wall as you work. Keep the knife as flat as possible and try not to let the corners dig into the surface.
If areas begin to dry out, apply more of the solution as per the instructions.
Remove stripped paper from the dust sheets regularly. Once the paper dries it can stick to the sheets making it difficult to remove .
Now you’ve stripped the wall, move on to the section on how to clean the wall after removing wallpaper.
Woodchip tends to cover up old wallpaper or uneven walls, so you might find a few more layers of wallpaper underneath the woodchip. It can be removed from walls in the same way as wallpaper.
Woodchip is also often used on ceilings. If you are removing woodchip from a ceiling, hold the steam plate to the ceiling for 10 seconds then move along to the next section. Scrape off the woodchip with a wide stripping knife from the sections you have steamed.
You will need:
- Steam wallpaper stripper
- Wooden board to sit the steamer and plate on – or you could use a wooden tray. This protects surfaces from the heat of the steamer when it’s not in use or cooling down.
- Protective gloves – heat resistant
- Jug – to fill the steam stripper
- Always read the product instructions before you start
- Open doors and windows to help ventilate the room
- Wear heat-resistant gloves
- Keep the boiler on a level surface
- Never leave a steam stripper unattended when it is turned on
- Never move it by pulling the hose, and don’t detach the hose while it is switched on
- Do not allow the steamer to boil dry.
- Turn off the power and leave to cool for two minutes before refilling the tank.
Fill the steam wallpaper stripper with tap water using a jug . Filling the tank with warm water will bring it to the boil faster. Once you see steam starting to be released from the steam plate then it is ready to use and it can be applied to the wall.
Hold the steam plate at the bottom of a wallpaper length for 10 seconds at first, until the paper around it appears damp. The hot steam will have penetrated through the wallpaper to the old adhesive underneath softening it enough to loosen the paper from the wall.
Move the pad up onto the next section, while pulling off the damp paper below. Loosen stubborn areas with a stripping knife.
It’s worth experimenting to see how long you need to keep the pad on the wall for. Too quickly and the paper won't come off, too long and the steam will penetrate the plaster and cause damage (you’ll hear a popping noise, a sign that the plaster is cracking).
Continue working up the wall, stripping each length of wallpaper from bottom to top. Working from the bottom is best as the steam rises, making it more efficient and allowing for bigger pieces of wallpaper to be removed by pulling them upwards.
Use short sharp movements with the stripping knife to remove the paper, but be careful not to damage the wall as you work. Keep the knife as flat as possible and try not to let the corners dig into the surface.
Remove stripped paper from the dust sheets regularly. Once the paper dries it can stick to the sheets making it difficult to remove.
For small or awkward areas, for example above door frames, around radiators or around sockets, some steam strippers are supplied with an additional smaller plate (pictured). Unscrew the larger steam plate from the hose and screw on the small plate.
When you’ve finished removing the larger strips of wallpaper, you’re likely to be left with some small pieces and residue. Remove these to ensure that your wall is smooth, making it ready for decorating.
Brush the wall down with a long handled stiff broom and scrape off any small leftover pieces of wallpaper with the stripping knife.
crape off any small leftover pieces of wallpaper with the stripping knife.
Use a metal rule or straight edge and utility knife to gently score the paper along the edge where the top of the wall meets the ceiling. This is to avoid the paper or paint on the ceiling from being damaged and coming off too, as you remove the paper from the walls.
Scrape away the thin bits of paper from the top of the wall.
If you are left with any stubborn wallpaper paste on the wall, use a wallpaper stripper solution to remove the residue . Let it sit for the recommended time as per the product instructions. Scrape off the residue until it has completely gone with a stripping knife.
Rinse clean the wall with a sponge and water.
Dry the wall with a clean cloth or rag and leave to dry out completely. Once you're satisfied that the walls are completely dry, you can turn the power back on.
Now your walls are stripped of wallpaper and cleaned you may find that some parts need repairing. Read our guide for preparing walls for painting for step-by-step advice on repairing and sanding walls before decorating. The same steps apply if you will be hanging wallpaper.
Once you've completed all of these steps and made any necessary repairs, you're ready to decorate. Whether it's a fresh coat of paint or a new layer of wallpaper, our guides will walk you through the process so you get a smooth, professional finish.