Stripping wallpaper

Stripping wallpaper from previously decorated surfaces, it is often a first step in redecorating. The basic technique for stripping wallpaper is the same whatever type of wallpaper is being stripped although there are variations depending on the type of wallpaper.


Protect the flooring and any furnishings in the room. Use plastic sheeting rather than 'old curtains' ('old curtains' and similar fabric will allow any spilt water through to the floor or furnishing underneath). Even if working on bare floorboards it is worth putting some protection down otherwise you can end up with pieces of wallpaper stuck to the floor.

Lay newspaper or old curtains along the foot of the walls as you work, these will absorb any water which runs onto the floor and keep things relatively dry.

Have some bin-bags (or similar) to hand so that as the wallpaper is removed, it can be kept tidy.

Always use water (or steam) when stripping ordinary wallpaper - don't just pull off loose, dry pieces.

Different wallpaper types:

  • Paper patterned and plain wallpapers - generally using just water with washing-up liquid will suffice.
  • Emulsion painted wallpapers - use water technique, it may help to abrade the surface of the paint.
  • Washable and other painted wallpapers - abrade the surface then use the water technique. However, even once abraded, it can be tough using just the water technique, better to use a steam machine.
  • Vinyl wallpaper

Vinyl wallpaper normally has a peelable top layer which should just peel off leaving a backing paper attached to the wall. Two problems are usually encountered:

  1. Problems getting hold of the peelable layer.
  2. The peelable layer 'running' to the edge once you have started peeling it.

Try to get a hold of the peelable layer at the top or bottom of a strip, try to get as wide a strip as possible. If you find that it is tending to 'run' to the edge (i.e. the strip you are peeling is getting narrower as you pull it), try pulling it sideways.
In theory, the backing paper left after peeling the vinyl layer can be used as a lining paper onto which you can hang the new wallpaper - generally this is not feasible as the backing paper will be damaged anyway. Use the water method to remove the backing paper, it should be very easy.

Abrading the surface

Some wallpapers have a surface which is hard (or impossible) for water to get through, this may either be the original wallpaper surface (as in washable papers) or a coat of paint applied after the paper was originally hung.

It helps the wallpaper absorb the water or steam if the surface is abraded before water or steam is applied.

If stripping wallpaper with one of these finishes, before applying water or steam use a coarse abrasive paper to scratch the wallpaper surface to expose the underlying paper base, do not be too enthusiastic or you could go through and damage the wall. Use a circular motion and there is no need to remove every last piece of coating, providing there are scratches, say, every 10mm or so, the water/steam will get through.

Special tools are available with small blades which will score the wallpaper surface and these may be worthwhile if you are stripping a lot of walls with tough wallpaper.

Using water

Unless a particularly tough type of adhesive was used, or there are many layers of paper, start by using some warm to hot water containing a little washing up liquid. If this proves inadequate, you can always more on to tougher techniques.

Use a rag or sponge to soak the wallpaper, start at the top of the wall and move down and along. Leave the water to soak in for about half an hour.

Using a wide (75 to 100mm/3 to 4 inch) scraper at about 30° to the wall surface, try to lift a section of the paper off of the wall;

If the paper lifts easily, carry on and strip the paper starting at the top and working down the wall. Occasionally apply more water if removal gets harder.

If after the first application of water it is found that the wallpaper is still sticking to the wall, repeat the application of warm/water water and let it soak in for a while (quarter of an hour) and try the scraper again.

If trying to lift the paper is still hard, this may be due to very porous walls absorbing the water or a very strong adhesive. The best thing to try now is using a steam stripping machine.

Using a steam wallpaper stripping machine

A steam stripping machine offers an effective way to remove stubborn wallpapers and is easy to use in principle.

The machine works by heating water and piping the resulting steam to a flat plate which is held against the wall. The steam impregnates the wallpaper, loosening the adhesive and allowing the paper to be removed with a scraper.

A steam stripper machine can be purchased or hired (buying one is quite cheap but hiring one will give you a better machine). When using a steam machine, do not use washing up liquid in the water and follow the instructions.

The normal procedure is to hold the steam plate against the wallpaper for a minute or so, lift the plate and scrap off the paper. Then apply the steam plate to another area of wallpaper and repeat the process.