Here’s a dreaded task that no one likes to do. I’ll show you how to do it quickly, easily and with household items you likely already have.
I was faced with removing 30 year old kitchen wallpaper. I tried to tackle it using the most common methods; I sprayed it with wallpaper remover solutions and let it soak, and waited, tested it, waited more, etc. I sliced the surface and sprayed more. I tried vinegar, ammonia, soap, and commercial removal solutions. When I took a scraper to it – a really sharp, wide blade putty knife, only small tears at a time would come away and the glue underneath was still left to deal with. It was going to take a long time and a lot of hard work to remove it properly.
I’ve used steamers before but they were agonizingly slow. Luckily this was a paper based wallpaper, not a vinyl wallpaper – not waterproof. I had to devise a way to get it off quickly and in big sheets with little or no glue left on the wall surface because the walls would be painted when I was done. This method may not work on waterproof papers such as vinyl but if it is paper, you can do the same following this method.
You will need:
- a terrycloth towel remnant about 18in. square size. You can cut it from an old bath towel.
- a plastic washing basin or pan- a 10 x 12 x 4″ deep is fine.
- plain tap water – no chemicals
- an old clothes iron that you want to replace, or don’t plan to use for ironing laundry any more. Do not fill with water for steam -in fact, make sure it is empty.
- a pair of rubberized work gloves (highly recommended to protect from steam.)
- Eye protection of in close quarters
Fill the washing pan with about 2″-3″ of tap water. Plug in the clothes iron and set it to cottons. Ensure it is in a safe place so no one or nothing gets burned. The cotton setting is pretty hot. Remember to ensure there is no water in the internal water reservoir.
Put the gloves on your hands and if the cuffs don’t reach halfway up your forearm, wear a long sleeve work shirt.Take the terrycloth towel remnant and soak it in the water. Wring out partially so that it does not empty its water onto the floor. It should be wet, but not dripping much.
Wipe the area of the wall where you will be removing the wallpaper about 1 strip wide. Start from the bottom ending at the top. The wallpaper should be wet with droplets of water after you wipe it. Try to cover only one strip at a time, although it won’t hurt to get the adjacent wallpaper strip and seams wet.
Once you get to the ceiling, ensure the iron is ready. Dip the towel into the pan of water again and wring out most of the water as before. Hold the iron in your dominant hand (righty or lefty.) In one motion, use your non-dominant, gloved hand to place the towel between the iron and the wallpaper and the steam will blossom (be careful not to burn yourself with the steam) when you ‘capture’ the towel between the iron and the wall.
Slowly pull the towel and the iron across the top of the wallpaper strip like you are ironing it flat, letting the steam drive into the wallpaper. Continue the motion going from side to side across the wallpaper strip. Once you get the hang of it, you can move the towel across the wallpaper using just the iron and steam the first 1-1/2 feet of the strip from the ceiling.
Holding the iron against the towel, use your other hand to simply peel back the strip starting from the ceiling. Once it starts, you will need to move the steaming towel/iron combo back and forth and lower with each pass across the strip.
The wallpaper should continue to pull away and down to the floor. If it rips, just give the sticking area another shot of steam.
Warning: do not fill the iron with water – even if it is a steam iron because you will undoubtedly be turning the iron upside down sooner or later. Scalding water will come out of the iron. When you use the towel method as I described, the water will harmlessly drip down the wall if it is too wet, or evaporate into steam.
Keep a large bin or refuse container nearby to place the removed wallpaper strip into as you remove it. You can fold it flat so more will fit before it gets full.
Sometimes there is an area that the point of the iron or the whole iron won’t fit into. Simply get as much wallpaper off as you can then place the heated towel in a wad on top of the difficult area. If it’s thick enough, you may be able to place the iron on top of the wadded up towel, generating the needed steam. Holding for a minute with your gloves on should not be dangerous. Then slide your putty knife under the area and lift the edge. Using your non-dominant hand, pull diagonally until the entire top of the strip is off the wall. If necessary, re-wet the towel and use the iron to keep the wallpaper steamed. Then pull the strip away from the wall and stay ahead of the loose paper with the iron/towel. Use the heated towel to remove any excess glue that remains on the wall. It comes off quite easily once it has been steamed. Now repeat the process on the next strip.
Working with steam can be dangerous if you aren’t careful, but this is the quickest way that I have found to remove large strips of wallpaper. Commercial or retail store steamers are not this quick at removing wallpaper and require a lot of setup. Note that some vinyl wallpapers may not be able to take the heat or get fully steamed through the other side well enough to remove easily. You can test it in a small area to make sure it doesn’t deform or melt under the steam. If this is the case, reduce the heat and score or pin-prick the paper first. (but now you’re back to the old ways which don’t work so easily.) Still, this method will soften the glue underneath and minimize the scraping and picking at scraps of wallpaper.
The rubberized gloves will keep your hands protected from the steam and keep them relatively dry.
When you set the iron down, make sure it is in a safe place out of your immediate work area.
If the iron’s cord is too short, you can unplug the iron and it will remain hot enough for 2-3 minutes which is more than enough to remove 3 or 4 feet of a strip.
Also note that you must keep the towel wet. If it dries, it won’t make any steam and it will get too hot and you could scorch the towel or even the wallpaper. If this happens, pull the towel away from the iron and re-wet thoroughly. If you can’t get it off the iron, unplug the iron and carefully touch the flat surface to the water in the basin. It will generate steam so wear your gloves! Once it has gotten wet, the towel will peel off easily.
Refresh the water in the basin often. After a few strips, it will contain more and more glue residue and cause the towel to become somewhat sticky.
If your arm gets tired or you can’t handle a hot iron against a wall, don’t take a chance using this method. Most irons weigh very little these days especially when the have no water in the reservoir.
Irons are relatively cheap so you may want to buy one specifically for this job. When you’re done, keep it with your tools if you have room.
Again, be careful with the steam.