Stripping Wallpaper – Unprimed Drywall: The Underlying Surface Makes A Difference

Digital Image

Digital Image


When stripping off old wallpaper, you never know what you will be getting into. Some people say, “It all came off so easily!” And others will spend days on one room, damage their Sheetrock, and endanger their marriage. 🙂

Several factors come into play, some being: the surface below the wallpaper, the type of wallpaper, the technique used by the person attempting to remove the wallpaper – and his patience level. 🙂

And it’s helpful to understand the process of how homes are put together.

Shot in a corner, under a window, and above a toilet with the cover removed, this photo illustrates the first factor. First of all, the previous installer did not prime the Sheetrock before hanging the paper, and that is a big no-no. A primer will make installation of the new wallpaper easier, help it cling to the wall better, and will protect the wall from damage when the paper is removed later.

But you are not just looking at unprimed drywall.

Above the toilet tank, the grey area is drywall. There are some darker grey areas where the drywall has absorbed water used in the removal process. Wallpaper will stick to bare drywall like its life was staked on it, and, depending on the type of wallpaper and the paste used, can be the Devil to get off. If you are lucky, the wallpaper will release from the drywall easily. But more likely, the wallpaper will stick tight, and will take careful persuasion from a stiff putty knife to scrape it off the wall. It’s very easy and common during this process to tear the top layer of the drywall, and that is very bad, because the inner layer will bubble when new wallpaper or latex paint is put on top of it, and you will also see a visible dent or bump or ridges under the new surface.

To the left of the toilet, in the corner, the white area is joint compound (“mud”). Joint compound is a smoothing agent (like plaster) and has many uses, the main one being to smooth over seams in sheets of drywall. But it is also used to cover nails or screws, patch holes, or to smooth out uneven or textured areas. When it has not been sealed or primed, it is dry and porous and thirsty, and will suck the paste right off the wallpaper. Meaning, that wallpaper will “kind of” adhere to this surface, but will release very easily. Sometimes, all it takes is a little water to reactivate the paste and then the wallpaper will come off easily and cleanly. Other times, the wallpaper will never really stick well at all, and will kind of hover over the mudded areas, and can sometimes even cause a bubble in the wallpaper.

At the top of the photo, under the window molding, you are looking at another white area. This is paint – overspray from when the painters sprayed enamel onto the woodwork. The good thing about paint is that it protects the drywall and will prevent tears when removing the wallpaper. Also, the wallpaper sticks to paint much better than it sticks to joint compound, but not as aggressively as it sticks to bare drywall. So, usually, all you need to do to remove the old wallpaper is soak the backing sufficiently and then use a stiff putty knife to scrape the backing away from the paint. If you are careful, there will be no damage to the drywall. The bad thing about enamel or any gloss-finish paint, is that, contrary to what I just said, wallpaper will not stick to it, because it is glossy and slick – kind of like Colorforms, so it will “kind of” stick, but when stressed by torque or humidity or other factors, can curl at the seams, or even give way entirely.

Bottom line: When hanging wallpaper, always use the proper primer. It will save you a lot of grief down the road.

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