How to Paint Over Wallpaper

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Paint Away Your Problems: How To Paint Over Wallpaper

So you've been living with wallpaper you've hated for ten years. But, you're finally going to DO something about it! Good for you!

Then you look around the room and see just how much wallpaper there is to remove. You've heard the rumors, the myths, the stories about how labor intensive removing wallpaper can be. Don't let that stop you, because we've got GREAT news: You may not need to remove it at all!

Painting over wallpaper is possible. In some cases, even the professionals will opt that over removing it. Good examples would be wallpaper that has been applied to plaster walls or over unprimed drywall.

Estimate Time: 3 to 5 hours, depending on wall size

Shopping list & Materials:
  • Clean sponge
  • Plastic bucket
  • Lightweight surfacing compound (otherwise known as "Spackle") - you'll probably only need a small container unless there are a great deal of problem areas to cover.
  • One piece of 220 grit sand paper (also referred as "fine")
  • 2" Painter's blue masking tape (you will have to decide the number of rolls depending on the area you're working on. Just remember, it's a good thing to have around the house because you'll use it in most projects. So, I'd say - err on the extra side!)
  • Drop Cloths
  • Latex or vinyl gloves
  • Shellac-Based Stain-Blocking primer - tinted in a color close to your paint color
  • Wallpaper adhesive - small container
  • Paint
  • Rollers
  • Brushes
  • Paint trays
  • Paint stirring sticks (2) - optional

    Things you should already have in your home:

  • Clock radio or portable stereo
  • Screwdriver, flat head
  • Rag(s)
  • Utility knife or razor blade
Before Getting Started Before getting started: Make sure the surface is in good condition and is smooth. To get the best results, check to make sure the wallpaper is securely attached to the wall and that all the seams are close together and firmly attached. If it's not, you can use a bit of wallpaper paste (also known as adhesive, glue or our favorite - "stuff that sticks wallpaper to the wall") to stick it in place.

Next, paint a test patch area to see if the wallpaper will hold - don't skip this step! If it dries and the wallpaper stays smooth, then you're ready to get started. If the wallpaper starts to break away, that could be an indication that the wallpaper is just too old and brittle. In this case, unless you're going for a really unique textured look, you're probably going to have to remove it.

Okay, are you ready? Great! Let's get started.

  1. Start by wiping down your walls thoroughly with a damp sponge - wallpaper paste dries clear and, like most glues, can cause problems for paint to stick to it. Besides removing old glue, you want to make sure the wallpaper is free of other dust and grime. BUT: Make sure the wallpaper is dry before taking the next steps!
  2.  CircuitGo to the circuit breaker panel and turn off the power to the room you plan on working in. Hopefully, your circuit breakers are already labeled (so you know which breaker belongs to each room) to make this easy. If not, we suggest plugging in a clock radio or boom box and put the volume up high enough so that you can hear it from the breaker box and can tell when it shuts off. (It's a whole heck of a lot easier than going back and forth to check each time). Check all of the switches and plugs to be certain before proceeding, as some rooms are covered by more than one circuit breaker.
  3. Use Flathead Screwdriver Using your flathead screwdriver, now remove all of the swith/outlet covers from all of the walls that you want to work. Once you've done this, cover or "mask" the outlets and the switches with blue painter's tape.

    JANE TIP: From this point on, we suggest wearing latex or vinyl gloves and safety glasses. Getting wall dust in your contact lenses is no picnic!

  4. Go over the walls with your bare hands to feel for any surface imperfections that will become apparent once the wall is painted. Repair any dents or scratches with a surfacing compound such as Spackle. Let the spackle dry and lightly sand (using 220 grit paper) any areas that don't feel smooth. Remove any residual dust with a damp cloth before continuing.
  5. The last step of preparation is to tape any areas that lie next to the wallpapered area that might get paint on them (ceiling, baseboards, window trim, etc.). So, cover those areas with painter's blue masking tape. Place plastic or cloth drop cloths on the surrounding floors. If you can, try to attach the drop cloths to the tape on the baseboards, this should help keep paint off of the floor. JANE TIP: Disposable plastic drop cloths are usually very inexpensive and easy to manipulate. They are available at any home improvement center.

    Keep Forging Ahead! The prep is usually the 'hard' part!

  6. Stir the primer and as long as you've already done your test patch (see "test patch" above), apply it to the walls. This will help the paint "stick" to the wallpaper.

    Trick of the Trade: When you buy your primer have it tinted to half the amount of the same pigment you are having them put in your paint. It's free and it will allow for faster coverage with the paint and fewer coats of it. Meaning, you'll save $$$!!!

  7. Before applying the paint, you'll want to be 100% certain that the primer is dry, so we find it best to wait 24 hours. Mainly because the wallpaper will absorb the primer and take longer to dry than if you were just painting directly onto the wall.

    Trick of the Trade: Repair any minor blisters or bubbles that may have formed overnight by slitting them with a utility knife and then glue them to the wall with wallpaper paste. Allow it to dry and wipe off any excess with a damp sponge.

  8. Once all of your spot treatment areas are dry, if the coverage looks good, you're ready to paint!
  9. Make sure to stir the can of paint prior to applying it to the wall.

    JANE TIP: When buying the paint, consider that you may need an extra coat depending on the design in the wallpaper and the coverage of the paint. For help with painting, see our Painting 101 section.

  10. Give it 24 hours to dry, put back on the outlet and light switch covers and say "bye-bye wallpaper!"

Great job Jane! You did it! Now pour yourself a glass of wine, (or beer or juice or water), put on a relaxing CD and enjoy your new room!

Related links:
Prepare Your Home’s Interior for Painting
Painting Technique – Faux Leather
How to: Denim, Ain’t Just for Pants Anymore

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