How To: Removing wallpaper, patching drywall and painting, without the dust

Q. I would like to remove the wallpaper in the living, dining and family rooms of my house. Is there a way to remove it and prepare the walls for painting without having to sand? I have a severe dust allergy, and sanding would create a lot of health problems for me.

— Silver Spring

(Tim Ridley/TIM RIDLEY) - Man peeling wallpaper

A. It’s not usually necessary to sand walls when you want to repaint after stripping wallpaper. And if it is, you can eliminate most of the dust by misting the wall and sanding while it’s damp.

Some wallpaper is designed to be easy to strip. Try prying up a corner of a sheet with a putty knife, taking care not to gouge the wall. Once you have lifted up a good-size tab, see if you can peel back the sheet. Peel it back at a sharp angle, not straight out. Work slowly and pay attention to what’s happening to the wall underneath. If chunks of drywall are coming off with the paper, adjust the angle. Once all of the wall covering is off, spray a section of the wall with warm water and wallpaper removal solvent, sold at paint and wallcovering stores. Scrape off the moist residue with a wallpaper scraper. If your walls are drywall, not plaster, be careful to work in sections that you can complete in about 15 minutes; saturating the wall longer than that may also loosen the paper covering on the drywall and force you to later patch the wall — the step you want to avoid.

If you can’t easily peel off the wallpaper or if only the decorative layer comes off, you’ll need to moisten the surface before you strip and then scrape off everything. If you have a vinyl, foil or other nonporous wallcovering, you’ll need to perforate the surface first so water can penetrate. Paint and wallcovering stores sell a tool to do this.

Once the wall is clean, allow it to dry thoroughly. If you see paper on the drywall bubble up, you’ll need to seal the surface first with a primer recommended for this purpose before you paint.

Only if you gouge the wall will you need to patch the holes with drywall compound. To eliminate dust, allow the compound to dry, then mist the surface and sand it while damp. Wipe off the residue with a slightly damp cloth.

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The Checklist: Read Jeanne Huber’s roundup of home-improvement tasks you should tackle in August, like upgrading your locks.

 
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