5 Tips to Remove Stubborn Wallpaper

Removing wallpaper is often tricky, but it is especially hard if you are renovating an older property and the décor has been in place for quite a few years. From multiple layers of thick, embossed wallpaper to fragile plaster, encountering problems is common.

Most of us will turn to a wallpaper stripper or steamer to get the job done quicker, and while they’re a popular product for good reason, over-steaming and oversaturating already fragile walls can have dire consequences. So, you may need to go slowly and adapt how you do the job.

Before you start to remove wallpaper, ensure your flooring is covered, all furniture is moved out of the way, and you have turned off the electricity supply to the room if you need to remove any plug sockets to free any paper behind them.

Also, wear PPE. A dust mask and eye protection are a good idea to protect you from any particles which will be freed from the wallpaper, and you’ll also want to wear gloves when working with any tools.

Try to analyse the job you have ahead of you. Start in a corner, where it is easy to remove the wallpaper, and try to peel some back. This will give you an idea of a) how many layers of wallpaper there will be to remove and b) how difficult the paper will be to remove.


Watch our guide on How To Use a Wallpaper Stripper below:


How to remove stubborn wallpaper

Wallpaper may be stubborn because of the adhesive used or because it has been on the wall for decades. You may also encounter several layers of wallpaper or be cautious of damaging the plaster underneath.

Not to worry; the below tips will help to budge even the most difficult of wallpaper.


Tip 1: Use a wallpaper steamer

Using steam to remove wallpaper is a proven way to get the job done quicker. The steam perforates through the wallpaper to the adhesive beneath, helping to free it from the wall. A steamer works on tougher wallpaper well too, such as woodchip.

However, using a steamer can be risky if you’re renovating an older property and are unsure about what is underneath the paper. Over-steaming the walls could mean damaging already fragile plaster, which can be expensive and messy to repair. So, if you think steaming is potentially risky, read on to find out some other tips.


Tip 2: Score the wallpaper first

Damp wallpaper is easier to scrape away than if it is dry. As you will know if you’ve ever been given a paper bag on a shopping trip, the paper will immediately start to lose its strength when it gets wet. But for a layer of wallpaper to truly get soaked, you need to score it first.

Some wallpaper is waterproof or has been varnished over, especially if used in bathrooms. Scoring it first will break this waterproof seal.

Dedicated wallpaper scoring tools are available. These are round tools with little spikes on the end which you roll over the paper, to make tiny holes in the surface. When the water is sprayed onto the wallpaper, it will soak down into the surface rather than sit on the top.

  • SPEEDY TOP TIP: When wetting wallpaper, really soak it. Leave for a few minutes to allow it to penetrate the paper then spray again before starting to scrape

You don’t have to buy a dedicated tool, though. A scoring knife or the corner of your scraper will do the trick, but don’t scratch too deep and always be careful when using sharp objects. A dedicated scoring tool will be safer and easier if you’re concerned about using sharp objects.


Tip 3: Spray with hot water and fabric softener

Some pastes are unfortunately resistant to just using water to soak the paper. Sometimes, the wallpaper is designed this way to prevent damage from dampness or humidity. So, a mix of 80% hot water and 20% fabric softener will work better.

The heat and fabric softener helps to break down the glue holding the paper to any other layers or the wall. Again, scoring the paper first will help the liquid to soak in better.

Vinegar can also work if you don’t want to waste your expensive, lovely-smelling softener.


Tip 4: Peel by layer

If you have an older home, there may be a few layers of wallpaper to remove. Unfortunately, for reasons such as cost and uneven walls, it was once common to just wallpaper over existing wallpaper.

The top layer of wallpaper is usually more peel-able than those below. You should be able to find a starting point for the peeling, whether it be the join of the wallpaper or around an electricity socket. Get as much of the top layer off as possible and then liberally soak the next layer.

The second layer will often be a backing paper or similar. This is easier to dampen, and the water will soak down into the next layers.


Tip 5: Sand it off

Of course, not ideal for removing an entire wall of paper, but you will probably be left with stubborn patches which really won’t budge.

Use fine grit sandpaper on these patches to literally grind down the paper. You will either be able to get down to the plaster beneath or just get the paper sanded down enough to paint over as it is undetectable.




Thank you for reading our Speedy Services blog. We hope you found these tips for removing stubborn wallpaper useful.

If you want to start with a wallpaper stripper, read our guide on how to use a wallpaper stripper before beginning any work.  

Plus, there are plenty more tips and how-to guides on the website. Please visit our Skills and Projects page.

You’ll find all the power tools and hire equipment you need right here, why not start planning your next DIY project today and open a Speedy account online or in-store for all your tool hire needs.


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