Saturday, March 28, 2009

DIY: how to steam wallpaper (and what were they thinking with that nasty paper?)

I am sure it happens to other DIYers... you are talking about a project you are working on, and when people find out that you are doing things yourself, they say, "Really????" Putting a HUGE emphasis on the really like they cannot possibly believe what you just said. I could have told them I poop purple leprechauns and gotten the same reaction.

There hasn't been a project yet that we have been afraid to tackle, electrical, plumbing, carpentry, plaster, all that... Yet, I can understand some people's hesitation at some things. Electrical can seem a bit scary, yes. But other projects are darn right easy, if not a bit tedious. Steaming wallpaper is one of those. I know people who'd rather paint or wallpaper over the top of existing wallpaper than to remove the old. They say, "It is too difficult and time-consuming."

Time-consuming, maybe. Difficult? No way. Not if you have plaster. Now, if you have drywall and you need to remove wallpaper, well... you have my sympathy. That job sucks. You will need to use a Paper Tiger (a little rotary tool that pokes walls in the paper), a chemical remover (or vinegar in a spray bottle) and a ton of elbow grease. Do not use a steamer. Drywall does not like water.

But if you have plaster, you are in luck... removal is pretty easy.

First, you will need to assemble a couple supplies. You will need a wallpaper scraper. I have one made by Zinsser that you will see in the photos below, and I like it. But there are others so do experiment and find one you like.

You will need a wallpaper steamer. I bought a Wagner Power Steamer 705. It was reasonably priced, and felt it made sense to buy rather than rent when I have wallpaper in so many rooms of the house.

Finally, you will need a bunch of towels to put along the floor since the water will run down and you don't want it pooling on your floor or base boards.

Now that you've rounded up your tools, you are all set.

Step 1
Lay out your towels. Put water in your machine and get ready to have fun. Well, not really. But I do like to put on some wallpapering music. Tonight it was Alice Cooper's Greatest Hits. I don't know if Alice is a home improvement guy, but I am sure he could mess it up with a steamer if he wanted to. But I digress...

My wall was papered half way up and then they put a thick foam border along the middle like a chair rail and along the top like crown. Bonus! Pull off the face paper so that you can start steaming off the border. If you don't have border, skip down a few steps.

Step 2
Once you have peeled off the border's face paper, steam the backing paper off. (Getting rid of the border first gives you access to the main wallpaper, which is probably buried under the border). Just a minute in each spot will get the paper good and steamy. Too short a time, the paper won't get wet enough and you'll leave a bunch of adhesive behind. And for some reason, the adhesive on borders is the worst!
Step 3
Use you scraper to take off the border. You'll need to dig in a bit to get rid of the glue gunk. If it doesn't all come off, you can use some cleanser later to get rid of any stragglers.
Step 4
With the border out of the way, we have access to the top edge of our wallpaper now. (Lucky you if you didn't have a border... you can start here!) Fingernails are handy for getting the top edge of the facepaper... tear all the face paper off. Some people will swear by using the Paper Tiger and punching holes in the paper and steaming it off in tact. But I find it just makes the paper tear off in annoying little strips. I like to do it this way.
Step 5
With the face paper gone, you can start steaming the backing paper. Again, just a minute will give good saturation.
Step 6
Use your scraper to remove the wallpaper backing paper.

Step 7
Repeat, repeat, repeat and do a happy dance when you are done. Then cry when you see the ugly paint the previous owner left behind for you. Then quickly, cover that crap up with new paint!!! HURRY!!


All those little wallpaper scrappies on your floor... hurry and sweep those up before they dry or someone steps on them. When they dry, they will stick down to your floor and are a total pain to scrape back up.

Oh, you might notice I am wearing a sweater here. 1) It freaking snowed today - where is Spring? and 2) steamers will drip/leak very hot water. Don't wear short sleeves - long sleeves offer some protection. Even through your clothes the water is very hot and will let you know if it hits you!


Bea said...

ok - i also thought that wallpaper is the devils work after spending countless hours, days and weeks removing old crappy stuffy at our last house.

now? I know it's the devils work, we spent 2 days putting UP some (beautiful) patterned wallpaper this weekend.

by the grace of god, we are still married and still talking to each other.

Unfiltered Meghan said...

*shudder* I'm having flashbacks to the condo my mom and I used to live in. Psychedelic neon flowers and country French flashbacks.

It snowed here yesterday. I was absolutely horrified. I had to close all the curtains so I wouldn't have to look at it.