Removing wallpaper is never easy. No matter what technique or product is used, it is a messy, time consuming chore.But it can also be exciting detective work for underneath the first 10 layers may be an old house's original wallpaper.
Wallpaper was used as ornamentation in American homes as soon as the colonists could afford it.
Even if the owner of an old house does not want to restore the house to its original condition, it is a good idea to keep samples of whatever wallpaper is found. In addition to being an interesting reminder of a building's past, such samples can be valuable to future owners in planning any restorations.
For whatever reason the samples are taken, the technique used is the same for as that for removing any old wallpaper. Steam a small section of wall, using either a rented wallpaper steamer or a small clothes steamer.
When the paste is softened, scrape under the bottom layer with a putty knife or a thin knife blade. Separate the layers after the total sample is off the wall. Keep track of the sequence of the layers and put them in a notebook for future use.
It is always best to remove all of the old wallpaper before papering or painting a wall. One more layer of paper may be more than the old paste can stand-and all the old layers, plus the new paper and all the owner's efforts, will peel away from the plaster.
Dyes from the old paper may bleed through and discolor the new paper or paint. Strip it off and nothing can happen.
A wallpaper steamer is the most efficient and least messy way of removing old wallpaper. If it is not possible to rent a machine, there are commercial wallpaper removers that are added to water and sponged onto walls. Squeegee mops are good applicators. With either method, wait until the paste has been softened and use a putty knife to strip the paste from the bottom of the wall to the top.
If the wallpaper has been painted or varnished, use coarse sandpaper to break the seal created by the paint or varnish. If this is not done, neither the steam nor the water will be able to reach the paste.
Special care should be used when scraping off the old paper to keep from gouging, scratching or otherwise damaging the plaster. Gentle treatment is also needed in houses where wall board (sheetrock, gypsum board, drywall or any other name used to describe the 4x8-foot sheets that replace plaster and lathe walls has been used.
The paper covering the wallboard can be scraped away along with the wallpaper. It can be repaired but never will be as smooth as the original surface. One solution is to cover the entire wall of wallpaper with several thin coats of gypsum joint compound (the cement used to bond sheets of wallboard)! This will effectively seal in the old paper and give it a smooth surface.
Beverly Reece is associated with the Preservation Resource Group, a firm that conducts perservation workshops for homeownershere,