Bathroom, Tutorials, Walls n' Windows

Stripping in the Bathroom

Got your attention?  Good.  Now get your mind out of the gutter.  I’m talking about wallpaper.

When I bought my house a year and a half ago, I naively thought I could remove the hideous wallpaper that covered FIVE rooms without much effort.  No big, I thought.  A little hot water/fabric softener/stain remover/insert-product-here and it will be smooth sailing.  Famous last words.

Over the next year and a half, I successfully removed the wallpaper from one wall in the guest bedroom.  The rest of the rooms – both upstairs bathrooms, my kitchen, and dining room – were hopelessly fused to paper.  Trying to “dry peel” it off the wall would typically tear into quarter-sized pieces.  Every now and then, I’d catch a good one – something bigger than my palm would begin to fall off the wall – and then I’d hit a point where the paper would take the drywall with it in massive, gouged strips. Every attempt at scoring the paper, wetting it down, or tearing at it in a blind rage would leave me in a helpless, defeated, infuriated wet mess.  I would then usually leave the room in frustration with tiny pieces of paper stuck to my bare feet and cursing the wall’s existence.

Not good.

After time, I just gave up.  I focused on other rooms that didn’t have a paper barrier thwarting every attempt at modernizing my home.  Inevitably though, I would be reminded that I’d have to find a solution someday if I ever wanted this house to look the way I saw it in my head.  I’d brush my teeth each morning staring at my previous failed attempts – and sigh a long, sad, defeated breath.  What a good way to start each day, right?  Reminding myself that I’d failed.  Hard.

A year and a half later – tired and a little burnt-out on the whole remodeling thing – I decided to give it a go one last try.  I’m not sure how I heard about Safe and Simple, but I’m sure it was some blog somewhere, and the name stuck with me.  One random Google search on one random day, and I found myself ordering their formula 603 wallcovering remover.  Why not, I figured – the gamble would cost me less than $10.

When it arrived, I didn’t even take it out of the box for two months.  I was sure it wouldn’t work and I wanted to delay the inevitable crying fit that I knew would follow when I realized that there simply was no hope and my wallpaper would be sticking around for good – and I’d have no choice but to paint over it.  The image of awful, painted-over wallpaper floated around in my head and insisted just please, wait a little longer to open the box.

Then, the day finally arrived and I couldn’t use the excuse anymore.  Okay, so there really just wasn’t anything good on TV – but I opened the box.  I poured a tiny bit of the solution into a spray bottle.  And added lots of water (this stuff is highly concentrated and requires suspension in water to work, so it’s important to dilute it).  Since the product had the words “non-toxic” and “biodegradable” all over it, I didn’t bother using any gloves or eye protection.  And since I’d filled the spray bottle in the master bathroom, I saved myself the trouble (sheer laziness) of picking up my feet and turned to the wall I was facing.

I started spraying.  I began first on the wall directly across from the vanity and toilet and aimed directly at a visible seam in the wallpaper.  Then, I waited.  Not long, and not for the recommended 15 minutes as it directs on the bottle, but I showed a small amount of patience (though I really wanted to just tear away as usual).  And then, I grabbed a small piece with my fingernail and pulled.  The top layer of the paper came away, but the fuzzy bottom layer of the wallpaper remained stuck to the wall.  It reminded me of old sticker residue or the fuzzy edge of torn construction paper.  I don’t think that the paper separation really had much to do with the solution because the paper layer was still very dry.  I think perhaps it was a combination of pulling the paper at an angle away from the papered edge (about 45 degrees) and pulling a little more slowly (I was hopeful instead of frustrated like usual).  By not peeling down to the specific layer where glue meets drywall, very little gouging took place.

The instructions on the bottle pretty much dictate that you want the bottom paper layer to remain.  It’s here that the solution can work it’s magic.  Without the topmost and more durable layer of wallpaper on the wall, the remaining paper is absorbent and allows the solution to fully soak.  And believe me, you’ll need to saturate the wall to get those glue proteins to break down.

Again, I used no protection for myself or the floor.  I just allowed it to drip where it may as I sprayed.  I’d already painted the floor and expected to remove it later, so I figured why bother protecting anything?  When you do this, you’ll probably want to take more precautions than I did, because it is meant to disintegrate glue proteins – just because it’s non-toxic doesn’t mean it won’t remove what you want to stay!

Now that the paper layer was fully soaked, I let it sit.  For me, the only thing that allows me to be patient is music – and working on another as-yet-unpeeled section of the wall.  I couldn’t just sit there and stare at the wall, waiting until my fifteen minutes were up – I had to be productive.  And since I didn’t really have to go (we’re in the bathroom, after all), I just started peeling more paper.  I wound up going in this method across the parts of the wall that my short five-foot-two frame could reach without grabbing a stepstool; peel the wallpaper, spray; peel more wallpaper, spray.  Usually by the time I finished carefully peeling the top layer of wallpaper and fully soaking it down, the first section I’d already sprayed was ready for it’s second soaking.  That’s right – I sprayed each section twice before trying to peel off the remaining paper layer.

Then, I held my breath – and slowly peeled the wet paper layer off the wall.  To my utter astonishment – it came off clean!  No putty knife necessary, no cursing, no dreaded I-give-up huff.  Time for a happy dance.

So I cranked up the volume on Spotify and got to work.  I found that starting the peeling movement from the bottom up peeled it off faster and easier than any other direction.  How convenient for a shorty like me, eh?  At the end of my second evening working on the bathroom, it’s a complete mess, but it makes me happy.  It’s progress – and it’s getting done.

The pictures for this tutorial aren’t very interesting – it’s literally pictures of a wall going from boring wallpaper to what’s under boring wallpaper.  I’ve decided instead of the usual tutorial post to create more of a tear sheet like the project sheets you see hanging in the middle of an aisle at the craft store.  I’ve attached it below and on my Facebook page if you’d like to print it out.

Next up on the to do list is to remove the last of the paper from the master bathroom, cover any gouges with joint compound, sand, prime, and paint.  I’ll probably then move on to the guest bath (since my full-time day job creates a need for a working shower at all times, I must complete one bathroom before starting the other), and from there the dining room and kitchen wallpaper.  The small bottle of Safe and Simple 603 that I purchased is supposed to be able to do four rooms, but we’ll see how that goes – chances are, my double-soak method will leave me needing a little more at the end.  If that’s the case, it’s only another $10 – well worth the satisfaction I feel right now!

Disclaimer:  While I’m whole-heartedly endorsing this product, I was not compensated for this review.  Word of mouth is the sincerest form of flattery marketing, so when I find a product that actually works, I tell my friends!  For safety reasons, it is important that you read all of the label before trying this product out for yourself.  Protect your eyes for the simple reason that you only have two, and they look better in pairs – mmkay?

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  1. says

    Fun post to read. I thought the same thing about my house I bought ˆlast yearˆ… wallpaper covering the entire stairway and every bedroom upstairs. a year and a half later I've just completed the bathroom stripping, and half way done with the bedroom. I too found a better way to do it, but it still doesn't make it quick or fun!

  2. says

    THANK YOU!! I have had terrible experiences with wallpaper in my days. I read your post on here (I've read the ENTIRE blog), and thought, I must try it. I ordered a bottle, used it today. IT IS AMAZING!! I removed wallpaper in an entire bathroom (from the 80s) in under two hours. The paper came off in whole panels on some areas!!! SO WONDERFUL!! THANK YOU!! Seriously… I'm telling everyone I know about it and will be marching over to Home Depot in the AM to scold them for not carrying it. :o)

  3. says

    I gave in and bought a steamer at Home Depot for $50. It literally cuts the time in half to remove the wall paper, and it comes off easily. Plus, you're not inhaling harsh chemicals. It's also nice if you have a lot of rooms with wallpaper.

  4. Anonymous says

    OMG, why didn't I find this post before I spent 8 hours taking the wallpaper off the top half of my kitchen?

    2 layers…convinced 2nd layer was wheat paste.

  5. says

    Even with a steamer, and some pirhana stuff, my 8×11 kitchen took over 10 hours to remove paper and scrub off the glue. now to the skim-coating – but first painting the kitchen cabinets with the rustoleum product. Love this site!

  6. says

    Oh my gosh, I'm so excited to remove our bedroom wallpaper which I've been living under for 2 years now because I thought “it's never coming off.” I'm ordering some stuff TODAY! Seriously, thank you!

  7. says

    Can you tell me where you got the Safe and Simple? I googled, but the product I'm being directed to looks different than your bottle. Could be rebranding, but I don't want to risk getting the wrong product. :)

  8. says

    My hair is saved! I knew I would go grey trying to get the UG-LY wallpaper out of my kitchen. It’s already started to peel (who puts wallpaper over a sink?) and was taking the drywall with it.
    I’ve been confounded on what to do (so I can install a beautiful tile backsplash) and now I know!

    I do have a question, I read on This Old House website that you have to seal the drywall in high moisture areas like kitchens and baths (to prevent moisture from “venting” through the drywall and causing your paint to bubble, mastic to pull away, etc). Do you have any experience with this?

    After I tackle the kitchen the masterbath is next…an entire room wall papered in faux marble (BLECH!) and I want to make sure I do it right.

    Great tips. Well written and well photographed! Thanks again!

    • says

      Before I painted my walls in the master, I used oil-based primer, which helps to seal the drywall. It also helps design-wise so that the paint sticks and the sheen in the paint doesn’t get dulled by the mud (which becomes obvious in kitchens and baths, where you’d typically use a higher sheen like satin to help with wipe-ability). Also, just fyi, I’m using a special Valspar kitchen & bath paint in the laundry room that’s meant for mold & mildew prevention, which is a good idea in wet areas. I hope that helps!

  9. None says

    Vinegar seems to work on everything so last weekend I mixed vinegar and water and tried it out on the wall paper in the bathroom. Had the same effect as this. First layer came off then I had to spray the second layer. Let it soak in for ~5 minutes than was able to pull it off in long strips. Also tried out TSP but TSP left a mess. Water and vinegar works well so I am going to try it out again on the wallpaper in the bedroom. If it doesn’t work I will try your method. thanks for the tips!

  10. Linda says

    Hi all. When you read wallpapering books, they tell you to size the walls first. No, I’m not talking about measuring, but rather a cheap, nearly clear product you mix in water and just roll on. It dries fast. Many people say, “Why bother?” and don’t. Your problem probably started when the past owner said that. Sizing allows the wall paper to adhere, but when you want to strip it, it allows the paper to be removed….WITHOUT taking the drywall paper with it! Some wallpaper adhesive seems to be stronger than the bonding agent holding the drywall together and will pull off the heavier “cardboard”. Yikes!

    Wallpaper is two layers, as you discovered. The more modern paper is designed to allow you to simply peel the top layer off, no tools or sprays required. Easy! Then you use a spray on the second layer to re-activate the wallpaper paste, and then that layer should also peel pretty easily too. Some scrapping may be required for dry spots. Washing the walls should remove any residue.

    And you’re ready to re-wallpaper! But remember to SIZE it first! It’s your friend, use it! You (or the next owner) will thank yourself for it.

    • says

      Yep, after all of the work it took to repair the walls after taking the wallpaper down, there is no WAY I’m putting wallpaper back up. BUT, your advice is right on point. I can only sigh and shake my head at all of the damage I have to repair because of a previous owner skipping that exact step.

  11. Angela L says

    THANK YOU!! I found your blog in Pinterest just in time. I am doing the same with my bathroom and was trying to find a how-to, inexpensive, fairly easy way to get it done. Your photos look like my bathroom except my wallpaper is even uglier. I’ve been picking off the wallpaper (two layers) with my fingers. Someone papered over paper and then someone else painted over that twice! –Angela

    • says

      You’re welcome, and that sucks! I hear painted over wallpaper is the worst to try and remove! Good luck on getting it all down (sanity intact, of course).

  12. ellen says

    Liquid dawn with hot water in a spray botttle will also work. The object is to get under the vinyl or top layer of wallpaper. I use a serrated edge kitchen knife, cut large slatches in the top layer and spray. When that is stripped then I spray the bottom layers and they peel off easily leaving your drywall intact.

  13. says

    Hi Sarah!! Thank you so much for the suggestion -we have this problem in the home my boyfriend just purchased! We have taken your suggestions and ordered Safe and Simple, and let them know you recommended!! Thank you so much and wish us luck this weekend :)!!

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