retro-wallpapered-bathroom-1970s copy

Can I Paint Over Wallpaper?

Wallpaper can be a beast and it never comes down like you see on TV. Can you paint it? Let's find out now.

Can I Paint Over Wallpaper?


This eventually happens to all us. You decided some time ago that you just had to have that room wallpapered and boy did it look fantastic. All the friends raved how great it looked and that room was the talk of every get together for years.

Well that was 20 years ago and now everyone talks about it for far different reasons. You know its time to go but how do you go about that? Let’s talk about some different methods and then how we deal with different wallpaper scenarios when it’s time for a change.

1970s decorator house paint over wallpaper

What Are My Choices?

There are many choices to what you can do to remove your old outdated wallpaper. Lets talk about a few now.


steamer-remove-wallpaperWe have all seen the wallpaper steamer on TV. The sweet lady just fills it up with water and gently waves the steamer over the wallpaper and viola’, the paper just falls off the wall. Looks simple enough but will it work?

I have used a steamer a handful of times and it has never worked for me. It does steam but the paper does not fall off. I would imagine it has a lot to do with the type of paper, the type of wallpaper glue that was used, and the preparation of the walls before the wallpaper installation.

Scoring and Wallpaper Stripper

paper tiger in use paint over wallpaperBy scoring the surface of the paper with a wallpaper scoring tool like a “Paper Tiger”, you essentially create little tears in the paper to allow for a wallpaper remover liquid to penetrate the paper to wet the underlying glue. By re-wetting the glue, you are basically reactivating it so the paper will release.

This method will work relatively well on vinyl paper that water won’t easily soak through and also on standard wallpaper. It does not work well on grasscloth, string, or other heavy duty papers.

One drawback to the scoring is you must be careful not to press so hard that you actually damage the drywall. The last thing you need to be wetting the drywall so much that is starts coming off in clumps causing unnecessary repairs after the wallpaper is removed.

Remove the Top Layer and then the Backing

Almost all wallpapers are made in at least two layers. You have the top layer that you see and the backing layer against the wall. The back is glued to the wall and top layer is glued to the backing.

If you have a paper that you can just pull the top layer off first and the backing is staying on, you should have a relatively quick job. We have seen wallpaper come down in completely intact strips leaving only the backing on the walls. Once the top is off, you usually can use hot damp water to saturate the backing and it peels right off, sometimes complete sections as well.

This is the easiest form of removal for us and it is cost effective if this works for you compared with the other methods mentioned. 

Speaking of Grasscloth

Grasscloth usually comes down pretty easy. One reason is that is actually sewn together so it doesn’t tear like a standard wallpaper. 

It is normal for the entire strip to come off all at once but don’t expect the back to come with it. You will have to spend some time getting the back off. Depending on the type of glue used to hang the grasscloth, it may be a quick job once saturated.

0025710 anhui brown grasscloth wallpaper 600 paint over wallpaper

The Paper is Off. Now What?

Once the wallpaper and the wallpaper backing is removed, you need to make sure all of the glue is removed from the walls. The residual glue will damage painted trim and walls if left on them. 

The easiest way to remove the glue is to use warm water and a sponge or rag. You may have to go over the walls several times to get it all off. After wetting, if the glue is thick, take a 5″ or 6″ putty knife and scrape the heavy areas to remove as much as you can before wiping. 

If you have noticed some painted areas around where you have had wallpaper installed or removed that are starting to crack, it could be that the enzymes in the glue are causing the damage. You won’t see this damage until a while after working in the area so make sure the walls and surrounding areas are as clean as possible.

Repair the Walls

The glue is gone and you probably have several areas that have damaged drywall. Either from the paper tiger, the water, or from scraping. Its normal. Repair all the areas with drywall compound and sand before hanging new paper or (hopefully) painting.

There has to be an Alternative

Most people opt for the alternative. The alternative is to call a professional to come in and do the work. There are many ways to remove the paper but we have found the most economical way for our customers is to have us paint over the wallpaper.  Say What!?

That’s right, we paint over about 85% of the wallpaper we come across when doing our interior repainting. The wallpaper has to meet a certain criteria. It has to be adhered to the wall very well and it can not be embossed. Nobody wants to see the imprinting of roses on there newly painted dining room. Embossed paper must be removed.

Our Technique

We have all heard horror stories about when their friend painted over their wallpaper and the seam lifted and it looked so bad. Follow these steps and you will not have those problems. It’s all in the primer.

We start by removing the loose paper. This could be a corner coming loose or a tear in the paper. We pull that off to where the paper is adhered well. Then we take a razor blade and shave all the overlapping seams from the installation. We don’t want raised seams. Once this is done, we prime the wallpaper.

Priming is the secret. Water is the enemy of the paper so by merely painting over the paper with standard wall paint, you are essentially going to be reactivating the glue at the seams causing them to lift. That is not what you want. You must use a quality oil-based primer to seal the wallpaper. This is the only way we do it. We don’t patch holes or make any repairs until the paper is sealed.

Once the priming is done, we look for seams. If the seam can be seen or felt, we skim the entire seam with drywall compound before sanding. Wallpaper is then caulked all the way around. This includes to the ceiling, the baseboard, windows, doors, and cabinets. We want to permanently seal the paper from any outside potential water intrusion.

After the shaving, priming, repairing and caulking, we paint the walls like every other wall. If the walls were done correctly, you will never know there is wallpaper there and from here on out you would treat it as a regular painted wall.

In Conclusion....

Getting rid of wallpaper is no joke. If you are going to tackle it, don’t expect to be done in a day unless everything goes right or the space is small. You will most likely be using tools such as a ladder, razor blades, a drywall knife, and chemical removers so be careful.

Again, this job is not for everybody. If you have old paper you are tired of looking at and want to get the work completed by a professional, Call Carolina Painting and Pressure Cleaning. We have the experience needed to do the work and we would love the opportunity to provide you with a space you can love again!

If you would like to discuss your project with us, you can schedule your estimate below, have us contact you, or call us. We would love to talk with you to see if we can help.

Schedule Your Estimate Now

We can contact you!

Call us

Contact Us

Share this post