Dan Brady’s 10 Quick Tips for Painless Wallpaper Removal

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Master painter Dan Brady provides do-it-yourselfers with 10 quick tips to use to make sure wallpaper comes down the same way it goes up -- in full sheets.

Professional painter Dan Brady shares 20 years of painting knowledge in his Tricks of the Trade video.

“Often people call us to find out if we can take down their wallpaper because they’ve heard horror stories from friends or neighbors about scraping wallpaper off the wall strip by tiny strip.”

Wallpaper removal doesn’t need to be a wrestling match between the do-it-yourselfer and the old paper. Professional paint contractor Dan Brady, creator of Tricks of the Trade: How to Paint a Room Like a Pro, has assembled 10 Quick Tips to make any wallpaper removal project easy and painless.

Key to a good wallpaper removal job is knowing the type of wallpaper you’re taking down and having the tools you’ll need to accomplish the task. There are two main wallpapers – commercial and residential. Most commercial paper has a strong vinyl backing, preventing it from tearing when you pull it. That lets you dry strip the paper from the wall. But you’ll still need to get the wallpaper adhesive off before you prime and paint. Residential papers used in most homes are paper backed and tear easily if you don’t use a wet solution to loosen the adhesive holding the paper to the wall.

Products and tools you’ll need
Key tools include a rubber-backed drop cloth. You’ll use a wet solution, so make sure you protect your flooring with a waterproof drop cloth.

Tape to cover your wall outlets. This has a practical purpose – avoiding the potential for electrocution if you accidentally spray wet solution into the socket. It’s best to turn off the electricity to the room and bring in halogen lighting from another room.

DIF concentrate wallpaper solution. "I don’t endorse products unless we use them out in the field and they work. This one does," Brady says. “Using it properly is key."

DIF has enzymes in it that soften the wallpaper adhesive. Once the adhesive softens, you can pull the paper off the wall. Mix according to the instructions. DIF comes in a liquid concentrate and a gel. The gel works well on wallpaper borders.

Paper Tiger™ – a scoring tool to roll across the wall to put tiny holes in the wallpaper. Those holes allow the DIF solution to get behind the wallpaper and begin softening the adhesive.

PaperScraper™ – scrapes left behind paper backing and adhesive after you pull the wallpaper. Used properly it won’t gouge the wall.

A pump-up garden sprayer. It’s a quick, easy way to saturate the wall quickly with DIF.

Look for these tools at local hardware stores and big box stores.

Tip #1 -- Start Small
Before tackling all the walls in your room do a small sample area of the wall to see how the paper comes off. If you follow these tips and use the suggested tools and products the wallpaper should bubble off the wall easily. If it doesn’t, chances are the drywall behind the paper was not properly primed or sized. When that's the case, the adhesive used to adhere the wallpaper to the wall impregnates the facepaper of the drywall, making it nearly impossible to remove without damaging the drywall. This needs professional intervention.

Tip #2 – Score the wallpaper
Score the wallpaper with your Paper Tiger. Apply enough pressure to pierce but not shred the paper or gouge the drywall. This is a critical step.

Tip #3 – Spray DIF carefully
If your ceiling is unpainted, shield it with a piece of cardboard when applying DIF to the wall with a pump sprayer. DIF stains unpainted ceilings. If you’re painting the ceiling, shielding is unnecessary.

Tip #4 – Use Really Hot Water
Lesson from an old wallpaper guru: when mixing DIF use the HOTTEST water you can get. Hot water works MUCH better than cold water.

Tip #5 – Don’t Skimp
When applying DIF, saturate the wallpaper until the solution starts to run down the wall. Don’t skimp. DIF won’t hurt your drywall and saturating the paper is critical to taking it off in full sheets.

Tip #6 – Don’t let DIF dry on the wall
If it dries on the wall it won’t work. That’s why you need to use a garden pump sprayer. It helps you quickly saturate the wall.

Tip #7 – Go get coffee or a soda
LEAVE the room for 15 minutes after saturating the walls with DIF. The wallpaper will begin bubbling off the wall almost immediately after you saturate it. RESIST too human urge to start picking at the bubbling wallpaper. Picked at wallpaper won’t come down in full sheets. Return to the room only to make sure the walls are not drying out. If they are, re-saturate the wall. DIF needs a full 15 minutes to work.

Tip #8 – Now the fun begins
When the 15 minutes is up, loosen a lower corner of one of the sheets of wallpaper and begin pulling. Most of the time it will come off in a full sheet. If it tears or doesn’t come off easily, reapply DIF and leave the room again for at least 10 minutes. With a second application, wallpaper comes off easily 99% of the time.

Tip #9 – Scrape away
Use the PaperScraper to get any remaining paper and drywall adhesive off the wall. Wipe it down with a Scotch Brite pad dipped in DIF. Do a final rinse on the wall using a sponge dipped in fresh water.

Tip #10
It’s impossible to get all the adhesive residue off the wall before painting. That’s why you need to prime. If you paint right over the walls, the residue from the wallpaper adhesive will crack your paint. The result looks like a decorative paint technique gone bad. Talk with your local paint store about the correct primer.
Follow these 10 quick tips and take the pain out of your next wallpaper removal project. These tips, combined with the educational information on the Dan Brady Painting Tricks of the Trade video, help novice painters turn out a professional job. Brady’s 17-chapter HGTV-style DVD costs $24.95 or it can be purchased as a convenient on-line subscription for $14.95. The video has been purchased by do-it-yourselfers internationally.

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