If the old paper requires stripping, this should be removed before any other work is carried out. Many old vinyl papers are easily stripped by simply peeling them off, having lifted a corner with the aid of a stripping knife. Some people say you can leave the backing paper behind as a lining – but DON’T. This rarely works, and when it doesn’t it actually puts you back a couple of steps, wasting your time and effort.
When working with water or steam, be sure to turn off the power to the electrical items in the room to guard against electric shock. Be careful not to allow water to access electrical items.
Easy to strip papers
To strip ordinary wallpapers, soak the surface with warm soapy water or a paper stripping liquid.
This can be applied using a decorator’s sponge (which holds a lot more than a cheap one) or a brush.
Leave the paper to soak for a good ten minutes or so before scraping a little to see how much it has loosened.
Difficult to strip papers
If it is still hard work, give it a second soak.
Only soak as much as can be removed before it has dried out, otherwise, you’re back to square one.
If you can afford the cost of hiring a steam stripper, you can reckon on halving the time it takes to get the paper off and reducing the number of blisters on your hands.
How to score the surface of the wallpaper
Stubborn papers, and those coated with layers of paint, will need to be scored first to allow the steam or soapy water to get through to the adhesive. A simple block of wood with nails set in it protruding by a few mm makes a fast job of scoring the surface.
You can buy wallpaper perforators, which have a series of spikes on rollers. These are rolled across the surface producing thousands of tiny holes. When you hire a steamer, which I would strongly recommend for stubborn papers, you can also hire a perforator for a few pounds more. This will be of industrial quality and make light work of the process.
Using a wallpaper steamer
The steam stripper works on the principle of a kettle, sending steam along with a hose to a distribution plate. This is held against the paper for a few seconds, pushing steam through and dissolving the adhesive. This in turn makes the paper easier to strip.
Filling the tank with hot water saves waiting around for cold water to come to the boil.
Steam stripping technique
By holding the plate against the paper with one hand and scraping with the other, you can build up a system so that the next section is being soaked while the first is being stripped.
Do not allow the steam to work on any area for too long, however, as it can also be an effective way of blowing the top layer of plaster!
Take care, steam can easily burn you. Always allow plenty of ventilation to the room while working with a steamer. Open windows and doors – otherwise you’ll end up with a very wet room. It’s not unheard of for a steam-filled room to soften an old lathe and plaster ceiling in poor condition sufficiently to bring it down – think ahead!
When scraping off the paper, use a stripping knife, which is designed specifically for this job. Don’t use a filling knife, as this will flex and gouge the surface.
The knife should be held at an angle which is enough to get under the paper but not enough to dig into the wall.
Try to work methodically as this will actually make the job easier.
By getting the blade of the knife under the paper, you should be able to edge it along using small “back and forth” strokes. If your angle becomes too shallow, you will simply come back through the paper again. The trick is to maintain an angle which causes it to sit between paper and wall all the time.
The easiest method is to work upwards, so starting at the bottom of the wall is best. Using a scraper downwards makes it much more difficult to control and requires a great deal more effort.
Cleaning after stripping the paper
Once the paper has been stripped, look at the surface to see what’s left.
When dry, any slight roughness of the surface can be smoothed easily by light sanding with a flat block. Chances are, in a modern house you’ll have reasonably decent plaster. However, in an older house, it is possible that you will encounter a chalky or powdery surface, which is likely to be distemper.
Don’t leave stripped paper all around the room – as the adhesive dries, it will stick just as well as it did the first time around.
Do not leave bagged-up paper indoors as it generates heat when compacted producing a possible fire hazard.