How to remove wallpaper

Ready to rethink a dated wallpaper scheme? Here's how to remove wallpaper, whether you're planning to use a steamer or chemical stripper...

Graham & Brown wallpaper of the year Tori
(Image credit: Graham & Brown )

Whether you've inherited a questionable floral paper, have grown tired of an outdated wallpaper trend that you once loved, or simply want to strip your space back to basics as part of a complete redesign, our guide to how to remove wallpaper talks you through the best approaches.

While it can be tempting to paint or paper over existing wallpaper, this won't achieve as smart a finish as you might imagine. So, whether you were planning on using a steamer or chemical stripper, our handy step-by-step instructions are designed to help you achieve a professional result.  

Looking for more decorating advice, tips and buys? You'll find everything you need (and more) in our decorating essentials sourcebook. There are plenty more step-by-step guides over on our decorating hub page, too.

1. Prepare your room for removing wallpaper

Before you can start thinking about how you'll strip wallpaper, you'll want to ensure your space is prepared for the work that's about to be undertaken. In real terms, this means:

  • Clearing your room of any furniture, accessories or objects that you don't want damaged during the process of removing wallpaper.
  • Covering the floor with old sheets, to prevent damage.
  • Turning off the electricity, as well as covering any light switches or electrical outlets with decorating tape. If you're unsure, consult an electrician.

2. How to remove old wallpaper

If this isn't wallpaper you've put up yourself, you might find many layers or crumbling plaster beneath it. So, before committing to a wallpaper removal method, gently peel back a corner of the wallpaper to see what you're dealing with. Ideally, you'll want to figure out how many layers of wallpaper there are to remove and how easily each of those layers can be prized from the wall.

As a general rule, steam strippers – which (as the name might suggest) use steam to penetrate wallpaper – are the best option when tackling large areas of wallpaper; old adhesive; woodchip wallpaper or wallpaper that's proving particularly stubborn, and can dramatically decrease the time required to remove wallpaper.

Alternatively, if you're removing a single layer of wallpaper from a small area such as a feature wall, a simple solution of warm, soapy water, sponged on, or a chemical stripping solution, which actively dissolves adhesive in order to release the wallpaper, will both make short work of removing wallpaper.

3. How to remove wallpaper with a chemical stripper

Decided on using a chemical stripper to remove wallpaper? We'd recommend picking up the Polycell Wallpaper Stripper from B&Q. Pay special attention to the instructions that accompany your chemical stripper, as some will require diluting before use.

You will also need...

Then, use the following instructions to successfully remove wallpaper with a chemical stripper:

  1. Cover your papered walls in chemical stripping solution, before giving the solution some time to work its magic. Pay special attention to the instructions outlined by the manufacturer.
  2. Once it's loosened up, use a stripping knife to gently remove the wallpaper, being mindful not to cause any damage to the wall behind. While it can be tempting to work quickly, taking time to ensure you don't dig your stripping knife into the wall is worth it for the eventual outcome.
  3. Pay attention to areas where the chemical stripper is beginning to dry out and make sure to reapply, as necessary.
  4. Dispose of any removed wallpaper as quickly as possible – it has a tendency to stick to the sheets if you don't.

4. How to remove wallpaper with a steam stripper

The Performance Power Wallpaper Stripper, available from B&Q, is a great option if you've decided steam stripping is the way forward. To complete the job, you will also need...

Then, use the following instructions to successfully remove wallpaper with a steam stripper:

  1. Fill your steam stripper with warm water and wait for it to heat up. When you can see your steam stripper releasing steam, you'll know it's ready.
  2. Starting at the bottom and working upwards, section by section, hold your steam plate against the wallpaper you're looking to remove for approximately 10 seconds, or until the wallpaper becomes damp. Be mindful not to use your steam stripper on one area for too long, as this can damage the plaster below.
  3. Gently pull off the damp wallpaper, using a stripping knife to tackle any stubborn sections. While it can be tempting to work quickly, taking time to ensure you don't dig your stripping knife into the wall is worth it for the eventual outcome.
  4. Continue this process, working section by section, being mindful to work from the bottom upwards.
  5. Often, steam strippers come with small attachments designed to help you tackle more difficult areas. Use these as you see necessary.

5. How to remove woodchip with a steam stripper

Generally, the same approach to removing wallpaper can be used when tackling woodchip, so we'd recommend using the instructions above in order to achieve your desired outcome. If you're unsure, just take a little more time to deal with the new material. Ensure floors are well protected and that you have old shoes and clothes on – stripped wallpaper is sticky, and woodchip in particular.

6. How to remove a wallpaper border

Wallpaper borders can be tricky to remove; particularly if they're old, have been stuck to the wall for a long time, or were attached using a questionable adhesive. 

Generally, there are three options available when seeking to remove wallpaper borders: a hairdryer, chemical stripper or steamer. We talk you through each of the options, so you can finally say goodbye to an outdated wallpaper border...

Removing a wallpaper border with a hairdryer

  1. Tackling an edge first is the easiest way to ensure success when using a hairdryer to remove a wallpaper border. So, take a hairdryer on its highest setting and hold it over an edge for up to 30 seconds, this should be long enough to loosen the paper.
  2. Use a stripping knife to gently lift the wallpaper border away from the wall, keep working at it until you begin to feel resistance.
  3. At the point of resistance, take your hairdryer again and hold it against the wallpaper border for another 30 seconds, or so.
  4. Repeat the process of heating and prizing away the wallpaper border until everything has been removed.
  5. Remember, some wallpaper borders won't respond well to the hairdryer approach, so you may need to consider an alternative option. Whatever you do, don't force it.

Removing a wallpaper border with wallpaper stripper

Before following our tips on how to remove a wallpaper border with a wallpaper stripper, you'll need to think about what kind of stripper best suits your needs. 

If you're looking for a natural solution, and are removing a wallpaper border from paint, as opposed to paper, consider combining apple cider vinegar and water, in order to create your own DIY wallpaper remover. Alternatively, warm water alone may work, though this depends entirely on the materials you're dealing with.

If you're dealing with a slightly more heavy duty adhesive, you might consider combining liquid fabric conditioner with some water, or going all out with a chemical wallpaper stripper.

Once you've decided what kind of wallpaper stripper you want to use, prepare it for use in a spray bottle and follow these simple steps:

  1. For ease, you may wish to start by perforating your wallpaper border. This can be achieved using a perforating tool, or by using a knife to create diagonal scores across the length of the border.
  2. Next, you'll want to saturate your wallpaper border with your chosen solution. More is more in this instance, so soak the paper as much as possible, then leave for at leat 15 minutes so the solution can work its magic.
  3. Use a stripping knife to gently lift your wallpaper border from the paint or paper below.  If you hit any stubborn sections, apply more solution and begin the craping process, again.
  4. Repeat this process until you've removed all of the wallpaper border.

Removing a wallpaper border with a steamer

If you're removing a wallpaper border from a papered wall (and intend on removing the base paper, too) you may consider using a wallpaper steamer. This is a quick and effective solution which has the added benefit of being chemical free.

As mentioned previously, the Performance Power Wallpaper Stripper , available from B&Q, is our preferred model, though there are many options available. Once you've prepared your wallpaper steamer, follow these easy steps to remove your wallpaper border:

  1. As with regular wallpaper, steaming is most effective when you work from the bottom upwards. So, begin by steaming the bottom edge of your border, working at the increasingly loose edge with a striping knife.
  2. Once you've loosened the bottom section, work your steamer upwards, gently pulling away at the wallpaper border. It should be fairly easy to remove.
  3. Work section by section until you've removed the entirety of your wallpaper border.

7. How to remove wallpaper glue

Once the main wallpaper removal process is over, you may find that you're left with the odd bit of wallpaper glue residue. You'll want to ensure it's completely removed before you can begin decorating.

Use a brush and stripping knife to remove any leftover bits of wallpaper, then create a solution by mixing warm water, washing up liquid and a little bicarbonate of soda. For particularly stubborn wallpaper glue, you may consider adding a little vinegar to the solution, too.

Dampen a sponge with your solution, then tackle your walls using gentle, circular motions. You should notice that the glue begins to lift. Take a dry cloth and attempt to rub the glue away, in most cases this should be relatively easy, though you may need to use a stripping knife on any areas that are proving particularly tricky.

Take time to be thorough, as even the smallest remnants of leftover glue can detract from the finish of your soon-to-be redecorated room.Leave your wall to dry and, once you're satisfied, turn the power back on. After some minor (or major) repairs to your plasterwork, it's time to get decorating.

You'll find advice on the next steps in our specialist guides:

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Emily Shaw
Emily Shaw

Emily first (temporarily) joined the Real Homes team while interning on her summer break from university. After graduating, she worked on several publications before joining Real Homes as Staff Writer full time in mid-2018. She loves a second-hand bargain and sourcing unique finds to make her rented flat reflect her personality.