Do-It-Yourself: How to remove vinyl wallpaper

By Gene Austin
Saturday, May 15, 2010

Q: The walls in my bathroom are covered with Sanitas, which I want to remove so I can paint. Is there an easy way to get the wall covering off? -- M. DeStefano

A: Removing wallpaper is seldom easy. The wall covering you have is probably vinyl (Sanitas is a brand name), which has some special problems, because wallpaper removers and steamers don't penetrate it easily. The first step is to remove the vinyl layer. Use a wide joint knife or a sharp wallpaper scraper to loosen the top corner of a panel of vinyl. Get a good grip on the corner and carefully pull it downward. Many vinyl coverings can be stripped off in large sheets. If the vinyl tears, loosen another corner and proceed until you have removed all the vinyl. The wall will probably still have some of the vinyl's paper backing as well as a lot of adhesive residue. To remove this, spray the wall with a chemical wallpaper remover such as Dif, available at most wallpaper-supply stores.

If the wall is plaster, you should have few additional problems cleaning it; if it is drywall (found in most houses built after about 1970), use as little liquid as possible. Let the remover work for about 10 minutes, then use a scraper to clean the residue from the wall. After the first scraping, you will probably need to use a rag moistened with liquid remover to clean up the last traces of adhesive and backing paper.

The removal process can damage walls, especially drywall. Minor nicks and gouges can be patched with spackling compound or wallpaper joint compound after the walls dry. Let the patches dry, then prime the entire wall with an acrylic-latex primer. When the prime coat is thoroughly dry, the walls can be painted.

If the walls are severely damaged, they will have to be skim-coated with drywall compound before painting. Skim-coating is a tricky process, and unless you have some skills in this line it is best to have the work done by a professional painter.

Q: I have a fiberglass entrance door that is finished with a gel stain and water-based polyurethane. The door is in full sun. I have to do a lot of maintenance on the finish every year. The door manufacturer told me I should be using an oil-based stain and marine varnish. What is your opinion? -- Steven

A: Manufacturers usually know what is best for their products. However, I don't think you are going to avoid regular maintenance no matter what you do to the door, unless you paint it. Marine varnish or spar varnish generally holds up much better outdoors than polyurethane, but multiple coats (at least four or five) must usually be applied and frequent recoating still might be needed to protect the finish from the ultra-violet damage caused by strong sunlight. Removing an old finish and starting over is also a major project, and it usually requires removing the door and propping it on a horizontal surface. Wood Kote has a finishing system for fiberglass doors that might interest you. Therma-Tru, a leading manufacturer of fiberglass doors, also offers finishing kits. Incidentally, one of the best marine varnishes available is Epifanes, made in the Netherlands.

Q: We want to paint some walls and ceilings in our apartment, but my wife mistakenly bought exterior instead of interior paint. We don't have the receipt, so we can't return it. Can we use it indoors? -- Lou

A: You could probably use it for some indoor work, such as painting woodwork and trim, but it is not a good idea. Exterior paint often has ingredients and emissions that could be unpleasant or harmful indoors. Also, the paint might not be the correct gloss or color for trim. I think you should try to return the paint even without a receipt and exchange it for interior paint suited for walls and ceilings. If the dealer won't accept the paint, go to another paint store and buy the proper paint. Paint is not so expensive that you should take a chance on messing up your apartment. Also, there are special interior paints for bathroom and kitchen walls, and interior paint will give you a better choice of colors. Discuss your project with paint-store employees and they will help you pick the products you need for a successful and long-lasting paint job.

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