Wallpaper has been around for centuries. In its modern form, wallpaper has been popular in Europe since the 16th century. In the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, wallpaper has gone in and out of fashion. But the general fashion trend in the last several decades has been away from wallpaper and towards plain painted walls. That leaves a lot of homeowners who want to get rid of their aging wallpaper. Some think it’s a DIY project. Unfortunately, we have seen our share of damaged walls from botched wallpaper removal attempts. As a contractor, if you are asked to remove wallpaper, you have a few options. Read on for some great wallpaper removal tips for contractors.
Wallpaper has been in production in one form or another for a very, very long time. But what we normally think of as wallpaper today mostly came into fashion in the West during the Renaissance. Early production methods were laborious manual processes. Wallpaper could be manually stamped with wood blocks, hand-painted, or some combination. Often, outlines were stamped and then later hand-painted with colors and detail.
Fashions changed, but at first, the fashion leaned toward large images and scenes, often created over server rolls or sheets of paper. This style was reminiscent of the tapestries that hung in the homes of Europe’s wealthiest elites. Wallpaper was a cheaper alternative used to emulate the tapestries at a much lower cost. However, wallpaper remained expensive and unavailable to the general public.
With industrialization in Western Europe, England and France became major producers of wallpaper. Wallpaper remained mostly a luxury item until the nineteenth century. In 1813, the steam printing press was invented in England. That allowed English wallpaper manufacturers to produce faster and cheaper, finally bringing wallpaper to the masses. By the end of the nineteenth century, wallpaper was a staple in working-class homes. It was a great way to brighten up what were often small, dark spaces, especially in cities.
In the U.S., wallpaper was a huge hit as homebuilding boomed in the post-war period of the 40s, 50s, and 60s. That has left millions of homeowners even today with older homes full of no-longer-fashionable wallpaper. If a client is renovating a space, it is very likely that one of the first things to go will be the wallpaper. But any good contractor knows better than to paint over wallpaper. To paint where there is wallpaper, you will first have to remove the wallpaper without damaging the wall.
How is Wallpaper Attached
How you remove wallpaper and how easy or difficult it is has a lot to do with how the wallpaper was installed. Almost all wallpaper paste is made with modified starches or methylcellulose. For most papers, the adhesive is applied to the paper so it can begin to soak in. Once the wallpaper is coated, it is placed on the wall and lined up correctly. Wallpaper paste is generally slow-drying, giving installers some time to perfect the placement. The great thing about this wallpaper (from the perspective of the contractor removing it) is that starch-based paste breaks down easily.
In older or historic homes other glues may be used. Although starch-based pastes are standard, some homes may use other adhesives or animal-based glues. This is rare, but if you come across it, you may have to adjust your removal strategy. Similar to removing carpeting, the most significant factor in removal is just how much adhesive was used. If the wallpaper was installed professionally, you can expect a relatively thin, even layer of paste throughout. But if the installation was a do-it-yourself job, there can be areas where the adhesive has pooled. Those areas will be harder to remove without damaging the wall.
For some specialty papers that aren’t prone to shrinking, the adhesive is actually applied first to the wall, not the paper. If a tight bond is created with the wall, there should be little difference between placing the glue on the wall and the paper. However, where the adhesive was applied to the wall, there is a slightly higher chance of wall damage if you don’t take proper care to avoid it.
Removing wallpaper is part science, part art. No two situations are exactly alike. The age of the wallpaper and the conditions it has been in, including heat and humidity, will affect the removal. The most important rule with wallpaper removal is to go slow and gentle. Trying to force wallpaper off or tearing it from a wall can damage the wall and make the rest harder to remove. If the wallpaper is not coming loose, you need to do more to dissolve the adhesive, not just tug harder.
The primary goal of wallpaper removal is to dissolve as much of the adhesive as possible so that the wallpaper just peels right off the wall. There are different methods for doing this. In the past, many contractors used steam to destroy the adhesive and free the wallpaper. The first steamers were powered by gas. Today, the contractors who still use steam use electric steamers, which are safer and cleaner. But many contractors prefer other methods.
A home-remedy type method is to use a 1:1 solution of water and white vinegar. Apply the water-vinegar solution with a spray bottle and cover the wall thoroughly. The acidity of the vinegar will help to break down the starches in the wallpaper paste. After the wall is well treated and allowed to soak, give one corner of the wallpaper a little tug to test if it is ready to come down. If it isn’t, there are three possibilities. It is possible that the solution just needs a little more time to work. If the wallpaper is vinyl or otherwise not porous, you may need to use a scoring tool to gently score the wallpaper and allow the solution to penetrate to the adhesive. It may also be necessary to use another type of adhesive loosener.
Chemical Wallpaper Strippers
Today, there are many chemical wallpaper strippers available. You can find them at a paint store or most hardware stores. They come as a concentrated chemical that has to be mixed with warm water and sometimes vinegar. Once the solution is prepared according to the manufacturer’s instructions, apply it to a test area of about three feet by three feet. Try lifting the wallpaper from an edge to get a sense of which way the grain goes. Wallpaper can be torn horizontally, vertically, or sometimes even at an angle.
It may take several coats of wallpaper stripping solution to saturate the wallpaper and dissolve the adhesive. If the wallpaper is vinyl or the solution just isn’t’ soaking in, you can use a scoring tool to pierce the surface. Just be careful not to press too hard and damage the wall.
Needo Can Help
Whether you are doing a small job renovating a home or a huge construction project, Needo software can help you to do it better. By keeping track of your labor, your vendors, and your costs, you can know exactly how much time and expense to bid for on your next project. At the end of a project, all of that information makes it easy to produce a beautiful and detailed invoice, so you get paid fast. Contact Needo to find out more about how we can help you do what you do better.