Spray old wallpaper with water until it comes off easily

March 9, 2011 

Our bedroom was rebuilt by the previous homeowner after a fire with what I'm guessing is an old style of wallboard; wallpaper was then put directly over that wallboard. I've been trying to remove the wallpaper, but it is completely an uphill battle.

Where the seams were spackled, the wallpaper comes off easily when dampened with water. But on most of the rest of the space, the paper might as well be glued to the thin layers of cardboard-like wallboard. Once the paper is saturated and scraping is attempted, trying to get it off often tears or gouges the surface of the wallboard. Dry scraping works only on the spackled areas.

I’ve used a commercial product to help get the paper off more easily, but it doesn’t make a difference in this case.

The process is so tedious and the results so poor that I can only stand to do a little at a time before I get frustrated and disgusted.

The reason for doing it myself rather than trying to hire someone is to save money, so I don’t want to call someone in.

I also don’t want to drywall the entire room, which is 19 by 19 feet, but I’m not getting a paintable surface.

Will the whole room require a thin layer of joint compound to be lightly sanded to smooth out all of the rips and gouges on the paper surface before I can prime and paint the room?

I have been in your situation several times, and I agree that removing wallpaper from a surface that wasn’t sized is a job and a half and more.

Wallpaper sizing is a liquid coating applied to a surface – in effect, you are priming the wall with it. Sizing a wall before papering not only helps the paper better adhere to the surface, it facilitates easier removal with fewer nicks and gouges.

Although many paint manufacturers contend that the latest generation of primers for new drywall accomplishes the same task, I prefer sizing the walls. The sizing can be easily washed from the surface for painting.

Painting contractor David Magargee, of the venerable Magargee Bros. in Germantown, Pa., also applies a coat of clear sizing to the walls before paper.

“You should think about the homeowners who follow you,” he suggests, quickly adding that his firm subcontracts with a wallpaper-removal company to do the dirty work.

First thing in the morning, the workers put down protection for the flooring. Then, using a hand pump, they squirt water all over the walls — yes, just water, no particular temperature.

“Then they wait, and after a while someone gets up and tests the wall, and if the paper doesn’t come off easily, they spray it again and wait until it does,” Magargee said.

They are so good at this that the paper, glue, and sizing all come off, and they don’t have to wash the walls, he said.

Removing wallpaper from plaster walls is never a problem, he said. When the paper has layers of paint on top of it, it is scored with a broad knife to let the water seep underneath for easy removal.

If you want to paint over it, and since there is no interior oil-based paint anymore, use an acrylic paint. Zinsser has products that seal the paper before you paint.

Make sure you spackle the seams before you paint, Magargee said. Otherwise, they can open up and ruin a paint job easily.

For customers with really bad walls, Magargee uses something like an artist’s canvas as a substratum for painting.

The canvas is applied to the wall to hide most if not all of the imperfections before his crew begins to paint. The canvas comes in 12-, 16-, and 20-ounce weights, although he said the 20-ounce material “is getting harder to find.”

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