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Stripping in the bathroom. Got your attention? Good. Now get your mind out of the gutter. I’m talking about removing wallpaper!

stripping 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.

Failed attempts

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..

wallpaper

Every attempt at scoring the paper, wetting it down, or tearing at it in a blind rage would leave me in a defeated, infuriated 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.

failed attempt to peel wallpaper

Removing stubborn wallpaper: finally, a solution!

A year and a half later, I gave it one last try. I’m not sure how I heard about Safe and Simple, but the name stuck with me. 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. My wallpaper was probably sticking around for good, and I’d have no choice but to paint over it. That image of painted-over wallpaper in my head insisted just please, wait a little longer to open the box.

how to remove wallpaper

Then, the day finally arrived and I couldn’t use the excuse anymore. 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).

1. Peel off the top portion of thick wallpaper first

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. Perhaps it was a combination of pulling the paper at an angle away from the papered edge (about 45 degrees) and pulling more slowly (I was hopeful instead of frustrated as usual). By not peeling down to the specific layer where glue meets drywall, very little gouging took place.

good vs bad examples of removing wallpaper

The instructions on the bottle confirm that you want the bottom paper layer to remain. It’s here that the solution can work it’s magic. The topmost is the more durable layer of wallpaper, but the remaining paper is absorbent and allows the solution to fully soak. Saturate the wall completely to get those glue proteins to break down.

remove wallpaper

I just allowed it to drip where it may as I sprayed. When you do this, you’ll probably want to take more precautions than I did and cover the floor, 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!

2. Soak the lower portion twice

Now that the paper layer was fully soaked, I let it sit. While I waited, I just started peeling more paper. I wound up repeating each part: peel the wallpaper, spray; peel more wallpaper, spray. Often, 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 a second soaking. I sprayed each section twice before trying to peel off the remaining paper.

Then, I held my breath — and slowly peeled the wet paper layer off the wall.

wallpaper removal

To my utter astonishment, it came off clean! No putty knife necessary. No cursing. And no walking away in a huff. Time for a happy dance.

3. Peel wallpaper fromt the bottom

I found that starting the peeling movement from the bottom & up peeled it off faster and easier than any other direction. At the end of my second evening working on the bathroom, it’s finally getting done.

removing wallpaper

Next on the to do list is to remove the last of the paper from the master bathroom, cover damage 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). 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!

how to remove wallpaper step by step

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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25 Comments

  1. We're right behind you, with a homemade cocktail in hand. Is this like one of the most unpleasant jobs or what?

  2. 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!

  3. 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)

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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!

  7. 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!

  8. 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. :)

    1. The link in the post takes you to the site where I bought it. It does look like the brand has a new logo, but the formula 603 is still for sale. Good luck!

  9. 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!
    THANK YOU!

    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!

    1. 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!

  10. 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!

  11. 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.

    1. 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.

  12. 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

    1. 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).

  13. 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.

  14. 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 :)!!

  15. Hmmm. I’ve got you all beat. I don’t even care anymore, I’ll say it. I’ve been living with partially torn, HIDEOUS, vinyl wallpaper that was stuck directly on the drywall for… Wait for it… ELEVEN YEARS. I don’t even notice it anymore. And I won’t allow anyone to come over either. I don’t know what to do and I can’t get anyone to come out and remodel it. (I live in the middle of nowhere) sooooo, maybe I’ll give this stuff a try.

    1. If you do, I hope it works for you! I saw some success, but some wallpaper is just stuck on too much. I wrote a post about repairing drywall if it just doesn’t go the way you planned. Lots of luck!

  16. ok my problem is i have 5 layers of wallpaper some close to 30 years old the last layer is hard to get off any ideas on easy way getting the last layer off

    1. That SUCKS Mary! I feel for ya. My home only had one layer of wallpaper in each room but was also around 30 years, so I don’t quite have any experience with 5 layers but I know it’s tough regardless. The tough part about old wallpaper is that it’s usually better installed than the newer stuff! The best trick is to get below the protective outer layer of the wallpaper so that the glue can be dissolved with a solution like this. You might have to score and steam with a rented steamer. In many places mine wound up tearing some paper from the drywall, even if using a steamer in my dining room, and I chose to repair the drywall if it did. You can find that tutorial here. Best of luck that you get it all off once and for all!

  17. Thank you so much for posting this!! I, too, bought my house a year and half ago, and the whole
    Place looks stuck in 1984. And every time I go in my bathroom I was faced with wallpaper I thought would be so easy to remove. My dad left me a heat blower that kinda melts the wall paper glue and you could peel away! Except it peeled away some of the wall too! It must not have been treated before the wallpaper was applied. Sigh… so I’m going to try this on the rest of it! I’ll still have to deal with the section I already tried to conquer, but it’s better than having to do it for the whole bathroom, right?!?