Using Hot Water To Strip Wallpaper

Send out the ravens! (yes, that’s a Game of Thrones reference). Wallpaper stripping has commenced.

I was actually really excited to tackle the half bathroom’s wallpaper removal project, because I am a strange breed of human and that’s my idea of a good time. And since we have five rooms full of wallpaper (the foyer, the half bathroom, the kitchen, the dining room, and the master bathroom), I decided that I would try a different removal method for each one and report back with the pros/cons about each approach as I went, all in the hopes of sussing out which ones bite the big one and which ones seem to work the best. I’m telling you guys, I’m like one of those people who works in “risk management” and gets their kicks watching paint dry. So hold onto your hats, it’s about to get crazy up in here.

My first step was to clear things out (the soap pump, mirror above the sink, toilet paper, etc). Just so I don’t have any accessories in the way of the serious peelage that I was about to dive into.

Then I removed the wall plates to free up some edges of the paper and hopefully make the removal process easier (there are two light switches and an outlet). I couldn’t help but marvel at the dedication that was once put into this wallpaper job – the outlets were papered and the flowers even matched up.

Next I boiled a pot of water on the stove, since the method I’m trying this time is intensely simple, but I’ve also heard that it works like gangbusters. Get ready for my method guys. Here it comes. Oh my gosh, it’s…. boiling water sprayed on the wall. That’s it. No scoring, no steamer, no spackle knife, no application with a weed sprayer, no fabric softener. While I’ve also heard awesome things about those methods, the simple boiling water applied with a spray bottle approach seemed like a good place to start. If it stunk, it was the smallest room (and if it straight up didn’t work I could abandon that method and move onto something else).

And speaking of moving onto something else, this approach almost went off the rails immediately? Why? Well, I had this vat of boiling water on the stove and I was holding my spray bottle thinking “how am I going to fill this without dripping hot water all over myself?” – seriously I stood there a solid minute wondering how I was going to avoid giving myself third degree burns filling the bottle. I stared at my ladle and thought “no way, that’s going to drip out all over my hands” and then finally slipped the empty capless spray bottle itself into the boiling water and used the ladle to hold it under the water. I heard that comforting glug-glug-glug sound as it filled itself up, which was music to my apparently burn-a-phobic mind. Then I used the same ladle that I had used to submerge it so it would fill itself up to fish out the bottle without touching the boiling water itself.

I used one of those silicone pot holder things to hold the bottle as it came out and then attempted to secure the top of the spray bottle and that’s when I realized – DUH! – that the bottle had warped from the boiling water…

Guys, what was I thinking? I have no idea. I blame it on wallpaper-stripping-excitement. I was as wired as a kid hopped up on four boxes of Nerds. But I realized that the spray bottle still sprayed even without a perfectly shaped bottom or a perfectly attached nozzle, and in a very “the show must go on” moment I walked into the bathroom and just started spraying. Worked just fine.

What I learned:

  • Spraying the entire room with boiling water and then attempting to peel the paper is a lot less effective than saturating small sections at a time (ex: half of one wall) and then peeling while the paper is still wet and loose. When I attempted to spray the whole room first (even a small room like a bathroom) by the time I got back to the first part I sprayed it was starting to dry and re-attaching itself to the wall. It came off much easier when I moved in smaller sections.
  • Constantly spraying that bottle does get a little old (your wrist/forearm gets a little Jillian Michaels-ish workout) but it wasn’t bad enough that I cried or anything. I’ve heard that filling one of those plastic weed-spray containers from Home Depot gives your arm a huge break, so that might be helpful in a larger room, but I had such little wiggle room in the bathroom (there was a chair in there with me sometimes so I could reach a few high parts) that a big gallon sprayer would have cramped the room even more.

  • I needed to use a silicone pot holder to hold the bottle the entire time I was spraying since the bottle itself was still really hot, but the super hot water really seemed to get the paper off the wall well, so it was worth it to bring the heat, so to speak.
  • Almost all of the front of the wallpaper came off in the first round of spraying and peeling, which took about 1.5 hours. Then I re-sprayed the entire wall again since the backing/glue was still there in most places, and that came off in a second round of peeling, which took about 1.5 hours. So all told, it was about a three hour project from start to finish.

But when I was done I had a garbage bag full of wallpaper and white walls!

Glorious, glorious, de-flowered white walls.

Which was definitely a welcome sight after seeing this for the last few weeks…

And now I can make loud proclamations, like “hear ye, hear ye, my house has four different types of wallpaper instead of five!” Not that I’m anti-wallpaper (I actually linked to a few options in this post that I’d love to see in here someday). Oh and I saved a small flowery wallpaper remnant from my removal process because I think it would be fun to frame little squares of each one of them somewhere – just for the memories. So… one room (and one wallpaper method removal) down, four to go…

Psst- OK, who’s watching Whodunnit? We saw the first episode last night and we’re hooked.


    • Shellie says

      My fool proof method for getting an actual human being when stuck in a phone tree of a large company is swearing profusely while mashing on 0. I swear they can hear me and go “Ohh man, this lady means business”

    • Melissa says

      Shellie is so right! That is how I made to a live person and out of the maze that is press 1 for ___, press 2 for ____, press 3 for ____. They really don’t like the f-word.

    • says

      haha! I completely agree with you Victoria! I (very painfully) scraped about five layers off every wall and ceiling downstairs in our 1900 mill house. It is AWFUL, and I think the swearing helps. It strikes fear in the wallpaper glue.

      Sherry, so glad yours came down easy AND you managed to use boiling water without hurting yourself! :)

  1. Julie T says

    So not that you could notice it before but that is a really nice vanity! Such an awesome little bonus hidden under those flowers.

  2. Katie says

    I’ve been waiting for these posts. When you said there was wallpaper in your house, I’ve been waiting to see how you remove it…now I need to wait 4 more times to see how the *best* way to do it is. We have wallpaper in our bathroom and I tried to get it off, but gave up until I read your posts, so now I will wait (impatiently?) until I can find out how to do it the best/easiest/most efficiently.
    Also, I can’t believe how much more open your bathroom looks. I can’t wait to see until you start painting and making the house yours.

    • Annie says

      Don’t get too excited, every room is different. It will depend on the wallpaper, the prepwork they did and the way they applied it. Especially whenthey didn’t prime and oaint over patches of spackle before papering. A better test of methods would be doing four walls of one room.

      Most likely it will be a simple wet and scrape routine for the backing. Depending on the quality ofthe paper you’ll either be able to just peel the front layer off after wetting or have to score then wet then peel.

  3. jennifer says

    You are one crazy lady if you are excited about stripping wallpaper! It does feel so good when it is done, though, doesn’t it? I will anxiously await the project using your little pieces of wallpaper from all the rooms you strip. I did the same thing at my last house and then totally lost them. Whoops!

    So, which room is next? Are you going to do one right after the other or give your peeling arm a rest?

    • says

      I definitely plan to space them out, just so you guys don’t have to read a million wallpaper posts at a time, and so my arms can get a bit of rest. I’m torn between doing the master bath next or the foyer, so we’ll have to see how it goes…


    • Candice says

      I’m holding on to white subway tile being forever classic. It has to be. After installing it countertop to cabinet in our kitchen…it HAS to never go out of style. I’m not sure this is a project my husband will allow me to get sick of in a few years.

  4. says

    I think a large part of how well the wallpaper comes off the wall is due to the quality of the paper as much as the removal technique. The cheap stuff tends to separate more than the good stuff.

    Also, I wonder if in 20 years people will be looking at our design choices and shaking their head as much as we’re all shaking our heads at your blue trim and flowerdy wallpaper?

    • Martha says

      I think I read some comment on Apartment Therapy–dark granite countertops will be the shag carpet of our generation. HA!

    • laura says

      So true, some of the wallpaper in my house came off really easy, other spots required hours and hours of meticulous scraping…

    • Annie says

      So true! No doubt our grandkids will be looking at stainless steel appliances, granite countertops and the abundant use of gray paint the same way our generation sees avocado/harvest gold appliances, gold speckled laminate countertops and flowery wallpaper!

    • Gretta says

      They def. will be laughing at our choices! I predict that awful brown-beige and burgundy red you see in so many houses will be what dates places.

    • Kate S. says

      I think another large part is due to what kind of surface it’s attached to – my house was built in ’88 and all the wallpaper was put on while the house was being built and nothing was primed in anyway – it was on the drywall! So every room had to be resurfaced since the removal tore through to the drywall ‘insides’ in many places. I am thrilled to see clean, white walls here under your wallpaper!

    • Marjorie says

      Oh, Kate S., I’m so sorry. Our house is a billion years old (well, 100) and the people in the last several decades who “improved it,” did things like that. Misshapen drywall badly applied over uneven wall studs. When I peeled the paper off in the upstairs hall, I had to fill gaps with drywall compound before priming. In the living room, we removed 70s faux-wood paneling sheets that had been glued on with Liquid-Nails by an eight-year-old. That got the texture paint treatment for now (covers many sins), which I’m not a huge fan of but all the insulation and drywall has to go someday so its temporary. Sigh. (But it’s better than a $3000/mo mortgage, I think.) Sorry so long; felt good to rant.

  5. says

    Oh Sherry… Where was this post a month ago when I spent hours with my blow dryer peeling glue remnants off my walls?! (Hint to all DIYers… No, it’s not a miracle that your wallpaper just seems to come off without any resistance.)

    I’m totally excited to see your other methods in action, though!

  6. Amanda says

    So glad I saw this today. Glad it is so simple (well almost except for the about the boiling water meets hands part). I would frame some of that wallpaper. It would work better than framing the wallpaper inspired carpeting that we pulled out of our house.

  7. says

    Dang! I was pretty skeptical about the boiling water suggestion (it just sounded too easy), but it looks like it worked really well! The bathroom looks better already! I kind of wish I had some wallpaper to peel–it seems like it’d be fun…

    -Katie at AdventuringAtHome

  8. Elyse B says

    When we removed the wallpaper from our hall bath we just used our room temperature bottle of water and vinegar (that’s what we use to clean a lot) and it worked probably as well as your boiling water it sounds like. So to anyone reading, you might want to just try room temperature water first before going to the trouble of boiling water?

    • Keisha says

      Ditto. In our first house I just used a spray bottle with water and a wide plastic putty knife.

    • alisha says

      I think a spray bottle of warm water was what my sister’s MIL used to removed the terrible wine bottle and grapes border around her dining room/kitchen area. It just pulled right off in almost one strip!

      My sister was sooo bummed she waited 7 YEARS into living with it before trying to remove it…right before moving out *sigh*

  9. says

    What a difference!
    We had this gorgeous wallpaper in the breakfast nook of our house. It was mauve and powder blue with ducks who had bows around their necks. I mean, if I had a sample, I’d send it to you because it would probably match the wall paper in the rest of your house. I wasn’t quite as industrious as you, though. I just covered mine up with wainscoting.
    Technically it’s still there…lurking, waiting for the moment when it comes back in style. Which hopefully is never.

    • says

      I was thinking you could heat up the bottle of water in the microwave – just screw the top on when you pull it out hot enough?

    • Elizabeth says

      I would boil it in the microwave in a big pyrex measuring cup (I know they say that sometimes the glass can crack in the microwave, but I’ve never had that problem) and then pour it using that into my bottle. If I had wallpaper to strip. :)

    • Barbara says

      That was my thought…for filling small openings with anything…FUNNEL. I use mine a lot.

    • says

      In the absence of a funnel, my mom has used the top piece to the coffee pot on more than one occassion. She had a coffee pot that just had a round plastic piece with a hole in the center.

      And IKEA has some cheap cute funnels – cause you guys will surely be doing some shopping for the new place right?? right?? lol

    • alisha says

      I was thinking the same thing! Maybe even a utility funnel from the shop would work?

    • Heather says

      Why not just boil the kettle? That was my first thought, quicker than boiling on the stove as well!

    • says

      Hi guys,

      Has anyone else brought up boiling water in an electric kettle? That’s just about the easiest way to transfer hot water to your spray bottle.

      (My family is in the coffee business, so boiling water, and it’s safe transfer, is a daily concern of ours.)

      By the way, I’m so glad to finally have a useful tip for you — after all the good advice you have given me over the years. :) Not sure if there are heat-proof spray bottles out there, though…

      Good luck with the other rooms!

    • says

      Glad the kettle is a popular suggestion! I forgot to mention that the longer-necked kettles give you better control when pouring.

  10. Heather W. says

    Congrats Sherry!!! In my home I had wallpaper installed the same way over lightswitches and outlets etc. in 5 rooms in which 3 were my bathrooms. I have used the same method in all sprayer/hot water not even boiling and I am wallpaper free. I did try the fabric softner and it didn’t seem to help that much and just made a mess to clean up. Do you plan to address each room one at a time now or strip as your ready to decorate? Good Luck

    • says

      I think I’ll give my arms a little break and maybe try to tackle one room every few weeks or so? I think my not-strict-at-all-goal is to have all of the wallpaper down within the next six months or so, but large rooms (like the kitchen and dining room) might have me crying for weeks over how long they take, so it could be an unrealistic guess…


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