Painting over wallpaper – why it can be a good idea and how to get a pro finish

Painting over wallpaper is a controversial topic in the DIY world but it can be worth it. This is how to get a professional result with tips from the experts.

Painting over orange wallpaper with pink
(Image credit: Getty Images)

If you've fallen for a gorgeous paint color for your already wallpapered room or have inherited an outdated pattern from the previous owner, you might find yourself painting over wallpaper out of sheer necessity, in order to create the decor scheme you want.

You could call in a pro to help, but honestly this is an easy DIY job where you won't have to compromise on great results. All you need is some expert guidance, the right tools, a little patience and precision. To complete your 101 on how to paint over wallpaper, we’ve called in some expert decorators too for their top tips.

What kind of paint do you use to paint over wallpaper?

You can use the paint you prefer to paint over wallpaper, whether it’s oil based or water based. However, before your topcoat goes on, you’ll need to use an oil-based primer on the walls. 

Never use a water-based primer because it can cause the wallpaper to become loose – which is definitely what you don’t want. 

How to paint over wallpaper

As a rule, if you ask experts if painting over wallpaper is a good idea, they’ll probably advise you to strip it off the walls and start over instead. But it’s possible that you may uncover issues with the wall below you can’t know about if it wasn’t you who hung the wallpaper in the first place. 

The other complication is that what you’re looking at might only be the top layer of wallpaper with many below, and layers of wallpaper are more challenging to remove. 

The takeaway? You can remove existing wallpaper and make any necessary repairs to the wall, but if time is of the essence it’s perfectly viable to paint wallpaper.

Take note, though, that you can’t go straight in and start painting over wallpaper. Find out how to prepare wallpaper for painting, as well as how to paint over it below.

You will need: 

  • Protective eye wear
  • Dust sheets
  • Cloth
  • Mild detergent or TSP for greasy walls
  • Wallpaper adhesive, if required
  • Painter’s tape
  • Small angled brushes
  • The best paint brushes or roller
  • Oil-based primer
  • Water or oil-based paint

1. Clean the walls

‘The first step in painting over wallpaper is to make sure the walls are completely clean,’ says Emily Perez, Head of Design at Kitchen Infinity. ‘It is necessary to ensure that there are no particles of dust or other dirty things. The priming process is hampered if the wall is not properly cleaned.’

To get the walls clean, use a cloth to remove any dust or grime. It should be barely damp as you don’t want to wet the walls.

If the walls are greasy, you could use a mild detergent solution but you may need to use a TSP solution instead. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions and make sure you wear safety gear. 

Allow walls to dry thoroughly. 

2. Make any wallpaper repairs

If any of the wallpaper is peeling or its seams are loose, now is the time to deal with these issues otherwise primer and paint could make the problems worse. Use wallpaper adhesive to secure them.

‘It is best to cut any peeling or ripples off if possible followed by sanding down and filling in the wall,’ says Chris Moorhouse, Category Director for Timber, Building, Décor and Garden at Wickes.

3. Mask baseboards and trim

Use painter’s tape to mask off the baseboards, window and door trims, and molding to avoid getting any primer or paint on these surfaces.

4. Prime walls

Apply primer to the walls. ‘It’s important to use an oil-based primer for this, as a water-based one won’t work,’ says Thomas Jepsen, CEO of Passion Plans. ‘A water-based primer would simply be sucked up by the wallpaper whereas the oil-based one provides that outside layer you need to be able to paint on top of.’

Start by cutting in the corners and edges using a small angled paint brush. After that it’s easiest to use a roller, but you can apply the primer with a paint brush if you prefer. Make sure the room is well ventilated as you work.

Leave to dry thoroughly according to the manufacturer’s instructions. 

5. Apply the topcoat

When the primer is dry, you can apply the topcoat. As with the primer, use a small angled brush to cut in around doors and windows and along the baseboards. Then use a paint roller to apply the paint to the wall. 

Start in a corner and paint in horizontal bands from the top of the wall to the bottom.

Allow the paint to dry completely. Check the tin for approximate drying time but remember that weather conditions can affect how long it takes. 

6. Finish with a second coat of paint

For best results, and particularly if the wallpaper is dark in color or has a bold pattern, you’ll need to apply a second coat of paint. Allow to dry thoroughly. 

Remember to remove the painter’s tape before the paint is cured. Check manufacturer’s recommendations, but generally it should be removed when the paint is dry to the touch, about an hour after painting. Pull it off slowly and at a 45 degree angle. 

Why should you not paint over wallpaper? 

You shouldn’t paint over wallpaper if the risk is disappointing results. ‘Painting over wallpaper that contains glitter or is a metallic design tends to be tricky as these textures will leave you with an uneven finish,’ says Jason Hines, Trading Director for Decorative, Homebase.

‘If you’re not sure whether your wallpaper can be painted over, but you’re sure you want a change, I’d always test a small, hidden patch first before committing to a whole wall.’

Bear in mind, too, that in one scenario painting over wallpaper won’t be possible. ‘If it’s fabric-backed vinyl, you’re also not able to just paint over it,’ says Thomas Jepsen.

Old wallpaper, meanwhile, can be painted but the finish might not be great. The best strategy here again is to test in a small area making sure that the old paper doesn’t bubble up or come away from the wall.

It it’s OK, use emulsion paint – but always full strength – as a first coat and apply with a brush, or roller.

Old wallpaper that’s not suitable for painting or metallic wallpaper? Then you need to strip the wall.

Get your brushes out!

Sarah Warwick
Sarah Warwick

Sarah is a freelance journalist and editor writing for websites, national newspapers, and magazines. She’s spent most of her journalistic career specialising in homes – long enough to see fridges become smart, decorating fashions embrace both minimalism and maximalism, and interiors that blur the indoor/outdoor link become a must-have. She loves testing the latest home appliances, revealing the trends in furnishings and fittings for every room, and investigating the benefits, costs and practicalities of home improvement. It's no big surprise that she likes to put what she writes about into practice, and is a serial house revamper. For Realhomes.com, Sarah reviews coffee machines and vacuum cleaners, taking them through their paces at home to give us an honest, real life review and comparison of every model.