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How to remove wallpaper without damaging your walls

Wallpaper being removed from a wall with a metal hand tool, representing an article about how to remove wallpaper
Removing wallpaper (Image credit: Shutterstock)

Knowing how to remove wallpaper is always useful, whether you’ve just moved in and want to change the hideous walls, or simply fancy a new stylish pattern.

Unlike learning how to paint a room, knowing how to remove wallpaper without damaging your walls can seem challenging. This is often the case if you have layers of wallpaper that stubbornly stick to the walls, making it harder to strip. In addition, if you damage the wall or plaster underneath, this will be more costly.

Luckily, learning how to remove wallpaper is not as hard as it seems. With a little patience and care, you'll be able to create a clean and blank canvas for you to wallpaper a room like a pro. In addition, wallpaper can instantly add character and style to a lacklustre space. So whether you want to makeover an entire room or a feature wall, here’s how to remove wallpaper and transform your room. 

How to remove wallpaper

What you'll need

Drop cloths

Ladder

Putty knife or wall scraper

Water

Soap

Steamer (optional)

Spray bottle

Wallpaper stripper

Scrub brush

Scoring tool (optional)

Sponge/rag

Gloves (optional)

Before you start, open any windows or doors to make sure there is plenty of ventilation in the room. This is often the case if you opt to use a wall steamer, as the space can get very warm.

1. Protect the room 

A room covered in drop cloths, with tools and ladders in shot, ready for decorating

Room covered in drop cloths decorating (Image credit: Shutterstock)

First, clear the room as much as possible. Remove pictures, wall hangings, and light switches from the wall. Move heavy-duty furniture into the middle of the room, and cover wall sockets. Shut off the electricity and cover any power outlets or light switches with painter’s tape. Finally, lay drop cloths down against the wall to protect your flooring from mess. 

2. Peel off the surface layer 

An image showing gray wallpaper being peeled off by hand using a putty knife

Peeling off wallpaper by hand (Image credit: Shutterstock)

Start by pulling off the wallpaper by hand without using any water. Peel it back from the corners or edges slowly to ensure a smooth lift-off. A scoring tool can be helpful to get into the corners that are difficult to lift. Then, use a paper scraper or putty knife like this Amazon Basics 2" Flex Nylon Handle Putty Knife ($6, Amazon (opens in new tab)), to help lift and remove any stuck-on paper.  

3. Spray the wall 

Wallpaper being sprayed with a water gun and scraped off using a putty knife

Spraying wallpaper (Image credit: Shutterstock)

Next, fill a spray bottle with warm water and generously spray the wall. This will help to soften and easily separate the paper from the wall. Wait up to 15 minutes until the water has soaked into the wallpaper before stripping.

For stubborn wallpaper that can’t shift, you can use a wallpaper removal stripper like this Rust-Oleum 249055 32-Ounce Dif Quick Wallpaper Stripper ($14, Amazon (opens in new tab)). Or if all else fails, invest in a wall steamer like this Wagner Spraytech 0282036 715 Power Steamer ($76, Amazon (opens in new tab)) to tackle tough jobs. Just remember to wear protective gloves as it can get very hot.  

4. Strip off the wallpaper 

A person sliding a putty knife under a section of tan-colored wallpaper

Taking down wallpaper layer (Image credit: Shutterstock)

Next, take your putty knife or scraper to gently strip off the damp layers of wallpaper. Strip off wallpaper until it’s all removed, and if you find another layer underneath, just repeat the process. Don’t use too much force with metal tools, or rush the job, as you might scratch or badly damage the wall underneath, especially if there's old, fragile plaster underneath.

5. Wash the wall 

A surface being washed down with yellow sponge. The hand holding the sponge is wearing a purple kitchen glove.

Washing wall down with yellow sponge (Image credit: Shutterstock)

Once you’ve removed the wallpaper, wash the wall to get rid of excess paste or primer. Dampen a sponge or rag with water and wipe down the wall thoroughly. Experts recommend going over the wall several times to prepare it for your new, beautiful wallpaper. 

6. Repair, sand and prime the wall 

A wall being sanded down by hand. The hand holding the sanding block is wearing a white fabric glove.

Sanding wall by hand (Image credit: Shutterstock)

Depending on the condition of the wall, you’ll need to repair any holes or gouges with a suitable filler. Then, sand the wall smooth using a hand sander and 120-grit drywall sanding paper. Before reapplying wallpaper, always prime a wall with a good quality opaque/white primer. This helps the wallpaper paste to stick properly and do its job. 

Can I paint over wallpaper? 

Yes, you can paint over wallpaper with either a latex or oil-based paint. However, experts always recommend removing old wallpaper (and laying new wallpaper if desired) before painting to get a far superior finish and longer-lasting results. In addition, the extra moisture from painting may cause the wallpaper underneath to loosen its adhesive, and eventually peel off the wall. 


If you’re giving your home a makeover, be sure to check out our guide on how to paint a ceiling without making a mess. And if you’ve made a mess, here's how to get paint out of the carpet. If you want to know how to decorate a rental property without annoying your landlord, you may also want to know how to clean painted walls to remove stains

Cynthia Lawrence specialises in Homes ecommerce, covering all things homes and garden-related. She has a wealth of editorial experience testing the latest, ‘must-have’ home appliances, writing buying guides and the handy ‘how to’ features. 


Her work has been published in various titles including, T3, Top Ten Reviews, Ideal Home, Real Homes, Livingetc. and House Beautiful, amongst many.


With a rather unhealthy obsession for all things homes and interiors, she also has an interior design blog for style inspiration and savvy storage solutions (get rid of that clutter!). When she’s not testing cool products, she’ll be searching online for more decor ideas to spruce up her family home or looking for a great bargain!