Stripping Wallpaper, Damaged Sheetrock

Digital Image

Digital Image

Digital Image

Digital Image

Digital Image

Digital Image


These days, I am hanging wallpaper in lots of new homes, which have never had wallpaper before. So today, when I had to strip off existing paper before I could hang the new, it was like a step back in time. And, since the first installer had skipped an essential step, it was a long step!

The navy-blue-on-white savoy pattern (Photo 1) was a nice paper that had been hung, unfortunately, directly on new Sheetrock, without a wallcovering primer, nor even a coat of paint. In this setting, most wallpapers will bond with the drywall, and can be very difficult to get off. Going too fast, or trying to force the paper to succumb to you, can severely damage the walls. To avoid this, I do it in steps.

The first step is to wet all the wallpaper with a damp sponge. That seems to strengthen the top layer of paper. Second, I strip off the top, inked / colored layer of paper. This leaves the backing / substrate – which in my photos today is a white paper. This white backing layer must then be soaked with a wet sponge. Unlike the top, colored layer of paper, which has a thin vinyl coating, this white backing layer can be penetrated by water. Once the water soaks in, the paste beneath it is reactivated. And once enough time has gone by and that paste is wet enough, the wallpaper can be removed.

If you are lucky, it will peel away easily. More likely, you will have to use a stiff 3″ putty knife to carefully scrape every inch of wallpaper backing away from the wall.

If you are lucky, it will come away with no damage to the Sheetrock. More typically, you will have some tears, and will have to do some repair work to the drywall.

The second photo is a wonderful shot of the various surfaces you might find when stripping old wallpaper. First is the layer with the pattern and color. When that has been removed, you see the white (or sometimes yellow) paper backing. Once that backing has been removed, you are left with other sub-surfaces. In the photo, the white is the areas that have been spread with “mud,” or joint compound, which is used over the tape that spans joints in the drywall. Another surface under the old wallpaper that is not shown in the photographs is paint, which you find where it has been oversprayed along the ceiling or next to where the woodwork was painted. The grey area is the top layer of the Sheetrock.

Wallpaper will stick to all these materials differently – It sticks to paint “kind of,” but can be removed with no damage to the walls; it sticks to joint compound not really well at all, but removes easily also with no damage to the walls, but leaving a thirsty porous surface beneath; and when it comes to raw drywall, wallpaper actually bonds to the surface, and can be a bugger bear to remove.

Usually, as in this case, pulling off the old wallpaper causes hairs on the unprimed drywall to pull up, so you end up with a gritty surface, which can leave bumps under the new wallpaper. Worse is when the top grey surface of the drywall de-laminates and pulls off, leaving the torn brown paper layer you see in the third photo. This is really bad, because, when hit with wet primer or wallpaper paste, this layer swells and likes to bubble up, leaving ugly bumps under the new wallpaper.

The cure for this torn Sheetrock is to seal it with Gardz or a similar penetrating sealer / primer. Then the area needs to be “skim floated” with joint compound (similar to plaster), sanded smooth, wiped free of dust, and sealed again.

All this takes a lot of time, eats up materials, makes a mess, and costs money.

As you can see, it would be much better if the builder and / or original wallpaper installer would prime the walls before hanging the paper. Or, at the very least, not ideal, but at least it would protect the walls, if they would slap on a quick coat of paint. And, when it’s time to redecorate, it would sure make removing the paper a whole lot easier.

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