If there is a job more tedious and messy than removing wallpaper, I don’t want to know about it. I spent days, with the help of a friend who used to install wallpaper, and the occasional, half-hearted help of my children, getting that stuff off the plaster walls. It was hot outside, and the A/C wasn’t working.
If you’re wondering why we bothered removing the wallpaper, the answer is that some of the walls were still in good enough condition that we hoped to keep the plaster intact. In the end, we were able to keep about 3/4 of the plaster walls with a bit of patching and crack repair.
We tried a combination of methods, including pulling the wallpaper off in sheets (only kind of worked for some patches of the painted wallpaper) wallpaper stripping gel, a stripping tool, a steamer, and a car washing sponge with hot soapy water. The latter worked the best. It was also the biggest mess. For plaster walls, you have to keep the wallpaper soggy until it softens up enough to scrape easily, with long strokes of the stiff putty knife. As soon as it becomes work (you shouldn’t have to chip away at the wallpaper, it’s awfully hard on your body), get out the sponge again. I’m not even going to pretend to have a clue about removing wallpaper from drywall. Somehow, I don’t think saturating the wallpaper would be a good idea for drywall. It might be easier to just move.
We found that most of the layers of wallpaper came off together, if allowed to soak long enough. I had to repeat the whole process to remove the first layer, which had been applied over bare plaster. Maybe soaking longer would have helped, but I think the water just couldn’t penetrate that far before it began to evaporate off. The last bits came off with a ScotchBrite pad.
We found both good and bad surprises after removing the wallpaper.
The good: There was a brick chimney under some wallpaper in the dining room.
The bad: the water damage around one of the dining room windows was every bit as bad as we thought. That’s a story for another day.
More Bad: there was a very poorly done concrete patch on the dining room wall. The wallpaper was very difficult to remove in this area, and John wound up using a wire wheel to smooth the wall out. Like so many things in this house, it’s far from perfect, but I doubt I’ll look this good when I’m 100 years old!
We had plastic drop cloths and bits of sticky, stinky wallpaper all over the floor for days. Our only saving grace was that we were in a drought, so at least the outdoor humidity level wasn’t horrible.
Once all of the wallpaper was removed, we were left with dreary grey walls. They stayed dreary and grey for several months while we worked on other projects in the house.
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