Our house is covered in wallpaper: standard, textured, vinyl, wood chip. All the rooms. All the walls. All the ceilings, too, in fact. Since wallpaper removal was a bit hit or miss in our last house, we’ve been asking ourselves: what is the best way to remove wallpaper?
The two most obvious choices are to use an adhesive remover or to steam the wallpaper off. We discussed buying a steamer, but ultimately decided to try out the adhesive remover first. Not as hot, and it feels less prone to user error. I can easily imagine myself going overboard and damaging walls with too much steam.
That discussion brought us to the Zinsser Paper Tiger (affiliate link), which is a scoring tool for wallpaper. It has little blades on wheels, and as you gently roll it over the wall, it pokes little holes into it. Then you apply a solution of warm water and DIF Wallpaper Stripper (affiliate link), which works its way through the holes you just made and breaks down the adhesive. After it soaks a bit, you scrape the paper off the wall (Zinsser make their own scraper (affiliate link)). Done.
This post is going to be a work-in-progress, and you can expect regular updates as we tackle different types of paper, and refine our technique in general.
How to Score Wallpaper with a Paper Tiger and Get the Best Results for the Least Effort
Here’s a key principle to the Zinsser Wallpaper Removal system: the more holes you make in the wallpaper initially means the more wallpaper stripper that will soak through, which means you will remove more wallpaper in one go. So, how can you make the most holes in the wallpaper with the fewest passes? Here are our tips:
Don’t roll the Paper Tiger around in random circles
I’ve seen this technique in videos, and on the back of the package itself – to score the wallpaper, you move the Paper Tiger around the wall in loops and circles. However, I’ve noticed that when you do this, the Paper Tiger only scores the wallpaper about half the time. It seems that when the wheels aren’t lined up with the direction you are moving the Paper Tiger, it just doesn’t score very well. When you are moving the Paper Tiger in a circle, there is often a lag where the wheels haven’t quite lined up with the direction you are going, and so it isn’t scoring the paper.
Move in vertical lines up the wall, in a vague ‘diamond’ pattern
If you hold up the Paper Tiger vertically, you’ll see that the wheels have a heavy side that naturally falls towards the floor. You want to keep them that way as much as possible. With the wheels aligned like this, move the Paper Tiger in a straight line (or slightly diagonally, to make diamond shapes) up the wall. This motion will result in scoring the paper well in almost every pass.
Press lightly – or rather, don’t press at all
Press too hard with the Paper Tiger and you’ll end up with little holes in your wall instead of just the wallpaper. If you aren’t getting good results from the Paper Tiger with a minimal amount of pressure, make sure you’re moving it bottom to top, more or less vertically. It shouldn’t be hard.
Go around the room methodically; Do three passes along the wall: floor, standing, steps
If you want to score the wallpaper well, then don’t go at it like a crazy monkey waving your arms all over the place. Unless you are very short or very tall, you should be able to do the wall in three passes. Start in a corner at the bottom of the wall and work your way along kneeling, scoring the wallpaper from the skirting board to as high as you can reach without standing up. When you get to the end of the wall, or around the room, work your way back standing. Score the wallpaper as high as you can reach without needing the steps. Then do the highest bit with a set of steps. Again, doing a thorough job now means less work later.
Go ahead and start the ceiling when you do the top level of the wall
I so hope that you don’t need this advice, but sadly, a lot of people at some point thought that wallpaper on the ceiling was a good idea. So. I recommend starting on the ceiling as you score the top section of the walls. The main reason is that it is tiring to work with your hands above your head. I think it’s good to be able to go back and forth between walls and ceiling to give yourself a break and not get worn out with it. It also means that you are moving the ladder around the room a bit less!
Don’t use the Paper Tiger directly above your head
This may be obvious (she says, wiping dust out of her eyes), but the Paper Tiger isn’t exactly poking holes in the wallpaper. It’s tearing away little bits of it. And if you are tearing away little bits of paper right above your head, there is a good chance they will find their way into your eyes, ears, nose, mouth, et cetera. So pop off the steps, move them a bit, and then get the section you missed, and avoid a 15 minute break for rinsing your contact lenses.
How to Use Zinsser DIF Wallpaper Stripper Solution to Remove Wallpaper
I think this stuff might be magic. If you do a good job scoring the paper, it makes removing the wallpaper a breeze. Here’s how we used it.
Get out your protective gear
This stuff isn’t nice. Think about what it’s doing – breaking down adhesive so you can get that stubborn wallpaper off. You do not want this doing that on your skin, or any part of your body. So: long sleeves and trousers and gloves, as well as goggles and a face mask. Play it safe. While you’re at it wear old shoes too so you don’t have to worry about drips or treading on wet sticky bits of wallpaper.
It’s also worth mentioning that you might want to put something over your hair if you are removing wallpaper from the ceiling – otherwise you might be combing bits of paper out of your hair until your next shower.
Dilute the concentrated solution in a pressure sprayer
The back of the package says you can apply the diluted concentrate with a roller brush or a pressure sprayer. If you stick around here long enough, you are going to learn that finesse is not my strong point. I tend to leave a trail of drips and blobs behind me wherever I go. So using a roller brush to apply this would mean getting more on the carpet than the wall.
Fortunately we have a garden sprayer (affiliate link) which is perfect for jobs like this. Decide how much you need, and mix the appropriate portion of water and concentrate. Screw the top on to the sprayer, give it a shake, and pump for a while. Double check you have your safety gear on, and then spray the wall. Don’t go crazy and soak it, but do your best to lightly spray the whole thing. You’ll probably need to adjust the nozzle to get a wide spray instead of a stream.
We only mixed small portions at a time because we didn’t have all day to strip paper. We used up a solution of 160ml concentrate to 2L warm water in about one to one and a half hours.
Carl got a bit over eager when we went to strip paper the first time and took the scraper to the wall almost as soon as he finished spraying. While it is still effective pretty quickly, it does mean that the solution has less time to penetrate the paper, and you are less likely to get the backing paper off when you take off the top layer. It really is best and more productive to wait 15 minutes like they say on the box.
Take the Scraper to the Wall: Removing the Wallpaper
This is actually the exciting part. Getting that paper off the walls and out of our lives!
Use the best tool for the job
We bought the Zinsser Wallpaper Scraper, which is basically a regular scraper blade held at an angle that will let you take off the paper without digging into the wall. It sounds a little gimmicky, but I am very prone to user error. The scraper is actually really easy to use and does a good job of removing the paper.
Be methodic (again)
Don’t go crazy. Start at one end and work your way around. It’s easier to do one patch completely than it is to go back and try to remove all the little bits you missed in your first pass, especially if they’ve dried out in the meantime.
Don’t work too hard if the backing paper won’t come off
Depending on how well you scored the paper, how well you sprayed the paper, and how long you waited, you may find that the top ‘pretty’ part of the paper comes right off, but the backing paper under it is still dry. Don’t bother trying to remove this part of the wallpaper. Remove all of the top layer and whatever backing paper comes easily. Then just spray again. In a short amount of time, the rest of the paper will scrape right off without a fight.
Removing Wood Chip Paper from the Ceiling
Wood chip paper is notoriously hard to remove, and having it on the ceiling adds the extra complication of working over your head. I have to say, though, that it is going really well with the Zinsser system. Much better than I expected, anyway. My best recommendation is to follow the above tips, but even more thoroughly. Because wood chip is quite glossy, thick, and almost feels water repellent, the more you can score it the better. Likewise, you really need to give the wallpaper stripper solution time to work, and you need to be prepared to spray again if it isn’t coming down.
I’m noticing that more of the backing paper is remaining than on the walls. My plan is to do two passes: the focus of the first pass is to get the outer, white layer off. On the second pass I will get the rest of the backing paper down.
Pros and Cons of Using the Zinsser System to Remove Wallpaper
There are a lot of things I like about removing wallpaper this way. It is almost foolproof, for one, with little opportunity to damage the walls. And it is very effective. If I didn’t have small kids, I could certainly see myself having a decent-sized bedroom stripped in a day.
That said, this system is still pretty convenient ever if you don’t have long stretches of time to get stuff done. You can score wallpaper for ten minutes together or an hour. You don’t have to mix up all your solution at once, you can just do enough to do one wall if you only have a bit of time. There isn’t any time pressure to get it done, like there would be if you hired a wallpaper steamer.
I also like that the tools themselves are lightweight, especially when working above your head.
However, we are finding that we are using more of the wallpaper stripper solution than the bottle suggests, and we’ve also purchased two Paper Tigers and two scrapers. Depending on how much solution we need and how well the tools hold up, it could be that it would have been less expensive to buy a wallpaper steamer. So far, we’ve used a whole 1L bottle of concentrate to do all the walls and half the ceiling of a 2.8×3.8m bedroom.
It is also a bit unfortunate that the Paper Tiger is very noisy. It put me off using it during nap times, which meant I was trying to find time when the kids were up – not always easy to do.
We are also fortunate that there is only one layer of wallpaper and that it was put on correctly in the first place. If the decorator had done a bad job, or been lazy and papered over old wallpaper, then the scoring tool probably wouldn’t have been as effective and we would have had a harder time removing the wallpaper in general.
The Best Way to Remove Wallpaper?
The short answer is: I don’t know. But I have had some messy, painful experiences trying to get wallpaper off of walls. And so far, with the Zinsser system I feel remarkably optimistic about redecorating the rest of the house.
What about you? Are you devoted to the steamer or are you a fan of the Zinsser system? Or is there another option we don’t know about?
Get Everything You Need to Remove Wallpaper with the Zinsser System
The following are affiliate links, which means that if you click through and make a purchase, we get a small commission at no extra expense to you. It’s like saying, ‘Hey, thanks for the advice!’. Here’s our full disclosure statement.
Available at Screwfix
Available at eBay
Available at Amazon