The walls of my friend Melinda‘s house have several layers of wallpaper. They ain’t pretty, and about a week ago she told me of her plans to get serious. She rented a wallpaper steamer, picked up some supplies, and a day later wallpaper was falling to the floor.
Look around on the web a bit, and you will learn there are several different kinds of wallpaper, such as strippable and traditional. Whereas the strippable can be removed with a water-based chemical like DIF, the traditional type must be taken down with a steamer and good ol’ elbow grease.
Here’s how to do it:
- Rent a heavy-duty steamer, such as the Warner 5687. It runs about $28/day in the San Francisco area, with a deposit varying from $100 to $500.
- Unless you don’t care about the floor, cover it with a tarp. Melinda used Easy Mask Tape & Drape, which has masking tape attached to one end so it’s easy to apply to the top of baseboards. The tarp is thin; use care not to put holes in it.
- Get a wallpaper scraper and a scoring tool.
- Remove cover plates of all electrical receptacles, light switches etc, and make sure the power is shut off. Because of that, you will most likely need an extension cord for the steamer. Use a grounded, 12 gauge cord, and not one of those thin ones; the video explains why. Our steamer had in-line GFCI protection. If yours does not, and if the cord will reach the kitchen or bathroom, plug it into a GFCI outlet for added safety.
- The steamer takes a good half hour to heat up all the water, so fill it with hot water from the tap to speed this up. Wear long pants to protect your legs from the steamer’s hose. It gets hot!
If you have lath and plaster under the wallpaper, you’ll be able to clean it, patch whatever cracks you come across, and paint. If you have drywall, especially unprimed drywall, you will have to prime all surfaces before you can apply a skim coat of drywall compound. I recommend that you leave the skim coat to a drywall professional, as it takes some experience to produce an even, smooth surface. Texturing is more forgiving.
Should the plaster be damaged and/or has lots of cracks, it may make more sense to cover it with a layer of 1/4″ drywall. Before you decide to do this, take a close look at how the added wall thickness affects the look of baseboards, crown-, door-, and window moldings, and so forth.
If your wallpaper is in good shape and well-adhered to the substrate, you may want to consider leaving it in place. Prime all surfaces with an oil-based primer (there are fast-drying primers such as Kilz), then use drywall tape and compound to cover and feather out the wallpaper seams. Prime the taped areas again, and you’re ready for painting.