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Monday, April 16, 2012

Guest Bathroom: A Rip Roaring Good Time

You might remember that I dreaded this bathroom remodel from the minute we found out there was painted-over wallpaper we'd have to remove.  I knew it would take time and tedium to remove said wallpaper, especially if the lovely builders of our home didn't do us the favor of preparing the drywall before they installed the wallpaper.  Which they didn't.

Mr. Great Indoors had just about finished repairing the drywall on the back wall of the guest bathroom last week, so it was my turn to tackle the wallpaper.  I took a deep breath and dove in, and I figured I'd share what I learned in the process. I've said it already, but remember we were working in a room where the drywall wasn't prepped before the wallpaper was hung, so those of you lucky enough to have prepared drywall probably won't have to go through the mess we did.  I didn't keep very good track of time doing this project, but it took me three evenings after work to get this done at probably 2-3 hours per session.  So go ahead and count on a full day's work to remove all the wallpaper in a small room.  Oh, and these are not pretty pictures (even the "after" photos), so go ahead and prepare yourself for that. 

First off, I'll tell you how NOT to remove wallpaper.  I started on the wall behind the bathroom door, and as everything I read stated, began by scoring the wall and ripping from the ceiling down.  It went okay this way, but you can see the diagonal marks where I took out the wallpaper in sections.  Each time the wallpaper dried, I re-wet it with solvent-- but it still ended up taking parts of the drywall with it.  No good.  Here it is after about 30 minutes of work...

And after another half hour...

After an hour of work, I had run out of solvent, and Lowe's closed just as I ran out.  So after a brief online search, I tried a 1:1 vinegar:water solution.  Thirty minutes later, I had only managed to pull down this one tiny section of wallpaper (remember it took me the same amount of time to get down an entire expanse of wallpaper with the solvent), it was taking tons of the solution to do anything (meaning there was a bunch of water running down the wall), and I was doing more damage to the drywall than with the solvent.  From this I learned that it really is worth it to buy the good stuff.  The type we used, Piranha, claimed to be environmentally friendly and non-toxic, and if so that means there's really no reason not to try it.  Plus it's about $7 for a 32 oz spray bottle and $6 for 32 oz of concentrate (makes 5 gallons of spray).  And $13 is enough for my sanity.

So after using trial and error on one wall, I figured out how to do it on the next wall.  I found that I could start by ripping off the dry, brittle wallpaper that wasn't attached to the wall very well, then come behind and use the solvent to take the adhesive off.  This method seemed to do the least damage to the wall, and I also didn't have to use the wallpaper scorer to do this (although try it out yourself in case it works better in your situation). I spent about 20 minutes at the end of my second night just ripping all of it off, then took the third night to remove the rest of the adhesive and wallpaper.

I'm not sure why the wallpaper ripped off so easily, but I took advantage of it.

Once you've ripped off everything you can by hand, work in small sections (5-6 square feet) and spray solvent on any visible adhesive.  In this picture, the dark tan is the drywall, the whiteish is the wallpaper adhesive, and the peach is the painted-over wallpaper. 

Give the adhesive about fifteen minutes to soak in, respraying every five minutes or so.  You can easily work ahead once you get started by spraying multiple sections at once.  Then, with the tip of your painter's tool, gently edge the tool between the drywall and the back of the adhesive.  You don't need a special wallpaper scraper for this if it's anything like my experience, just your painter's tool.

Slide the painter's tool across the back of the adhesive and separate the adhesive from the drywall. If it doesn't come off easily (literally like a knife through butter), you're doing it wrong.  Trust me on this.  If it feels like you're having to work to take off the adhesive, spray it again with your solvent and WALK AWAY.  Then come back to the section in five minutes, test it, spray, and WALK AWAY.  Catch my drift?  You'll only end up doing damage to the wall if you mess with it before it's ready, and your husband who has toiled away at the drywall for days already will be angry he has to fix more.  Make him happy and have the guts to WALK AWAY FROM THE WALLPAPER.  :-)

Then you can take hold of the freed adhesive strip and gently rip it down.  Repeat until you've taken off all the wallpaper!  Another good thing to keep in mind is to find the seams and work with them, one sheet at a time, from the ceiling all the way to the floor.  I think that was part of my problem on the first wall-- I was working from the ceiling to the floor with the entire expanse of wallpaper, rather than focusing on one sheet at a time.  Remember that you're just doing the opposite process of what they did to put the wallpaper up. 

The only weird spot I ran across was a section of the wall above the tub.  I had ripped off most of the easily removable wallpaper when I found all sorts of damage underneath.  See the dark brown spots under the adhesive? 

Here's the same wall with the wallpaper removed.  I didn't do any of this damage removing the wallpaper-- it was all there underneath the wallpaper.  What in the world happened to cause all this damage, anyway?  We've plotted a way to cover this up, which I'll fill you in about when we get there.

The walls still aren't beautiful, but they are, at the very least, unwallpapered.  Woohoo!

There was also damage above the door jamb that I couldn't do much about.

A few other random tips for you:

Your best friends in this process will be the wallpaper solvent you choose, your painter's tool, a mask (even if the solvent is non-toxic, better safe than sorry), and a form of entertainment. I listened to a few audiobooks on my phone to make the time pass more quickly (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The Bells of San Juan, and Aesop's Fables, all free on the Audiobooks Android app, which is also free).  Use a shallow bowl to amplify your phone/iPod speaker so you can hear it as you work.  Can't remember where I first heard to do that, but it's definitely a keeper.

Since we had so much construction dust from the drywall repairs, and because wallpaper adhesive can be gross and sticky once it's off the wall, I worked in sock feet.  When I was finished for the evening, I stripped off the socks and my gross clothes right at the door to the bathroom so I wouldn't track it through the house.  Hubba hubba.

If you decide to use a wallpaper solvent (I definitely recommend it), test the product first with a 32 oz spray bottle to make sure you like it, then buy the concentrate and mix up your own batches.  To refill your spray bottle, use 32 oz (4 cups) of water, and 2 oz of concentrate.  The directions say 1.5 oz of concentrate for every 32 oz, but I found a bit more did a better job.  And I nuked tap water in a glass measuring cup for about three minutes to get it to the recommended 120 degrees Farenheit.*  Of course, this is for Piranha solvent, so read the directions on your solvent, since it could be different.
*sorry if this came through weird for you; turns out it ended up Greek for some of you the first time!

Have you tackled wallpaper removal in your house  or have you put up any wallpaper?  I hear it can be just as much of a process to put up wallpaper as it is to remove.

I was definitely not paid or perked by Piranha, although I was obviously happy with their product.  Just want to share my experience in case it'll come in handy for you!

Follow along with the rest of our bathroom adventures: our dream, the before, mildewwww, drywalling, the goodies we've bought so far, plus my Pinterest boards for the guest bathroom and master bathroom.


  1. Oh my...what a job! I have 2 wallpaper removal projects on my list - kitchen & laundry room - and after seeing this post am dreading it just a little bit more than I already was! The best motivation is how great it is going to look when you are done!

    1. You can do it, Laura! I'm telling you, just get some music or an audiobook going, and you won't even know how much time is passing. :-)


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