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.

Comments

  1. Sophie says

    I have a hatred for dated wallpaper. Seeing that ‘after’ picture felt like taking off a pair of 5 inch heels after a night on the tiles- BLISS!

  2. Mamaw03t says

    Ya gotta love the dedication to the wallpaper…the outlet is perfect. Very nice work. Bathroom already looks great without the wallpaper. Way to go.

  3. michelle p says

    What a difference! That blue trim still cracks me up! Just an fyi, I use the same method but just use really hot water from the faucet. No need to mess with boiling ;-)

  4. says

    haha! Next time use a funnel for that hot water. The soft plastic bottles at the dollar store should hold the hot water without warping too.

    Whodunnit is basically awesome. I need to be on that show. Do you also watch Big Brother? It’s the best.

    • says

      We don’t watch Big Brother but we watched The Mole back in the day, so it reminds us of that. We have all sorts of theories about everyone flying around the whole time we watch Whodunnit. Haha!

      xo
      s

  5. Mary says

    I am in the likes to apply and remove wallpaper category! I did my fair share of wallpapering in the 90s and more than my fair share of removal in the last couple of years.

    The house we are currently living in has ‘orange peel’ texture on the walls. And there were 4 rooms of painted over wallpaper over the orange peel texture! The worst! Every room was different in what worked well depending on how many coats of paint were on top and how many coats of paint were underneath the wallpaper. I’ve used every method that you are going to test! And I always wash down the walls when I’m done with vinegar water to remove any remaining glue residue as it will eventually make the paint bubble even with primer.

    The clean white walls look awesome!

  6. Emily says

    I have a wallpaper boarder removal horror story. I was 18 and was working at my high school as a summer janitor. We cleaned classrooms, waxed floors, shampooed carpets, etc. A teacher had decided to add a wall paper boarder to the ladies faculty bathroom and we were going to repaint it so my boss wanted it gone.

    Me, being 18 and not into the home renovations yet I knew nothing about removing wall paper. He, being 60 and close to retiring and a guy also must not have known much about wall paper removal. He sent me up there with buckets of different chemicals to try and remove it. I spent HOURS scraping at this wall paper boarder (of course which was over my head). He kept checking on me and offering different things (never water) and nothing worked. It wasn’t until one of my coworkers stopped by and asked why I didn’t just try water. I was dumbfounded. Seriously?! That’s all I had to do?! I sprayed it with water and it was down with in 30 minutes. Gah, I was so mad. And of course this was 10 years ago so it wasn’t like I had a smart phone handy so I could google it.

    I still have nightmares about wallpaper.

  7. says

    The people who wallpapered my room when I was a kid did the slats in the AC vents. My mother spas over the moon with their attention to detail. In retrospect, I think they were insane. Can you imagine the time that took? And the pattern matched up when you closed the slats.

    My mother hired them again and again. Some day, someone will curse us for that as they try to remove it all!

  8. says

    Boiling water?! That’s it? I never would’ve thought.

    I remember the ole days when I was a pre-teen when I would go to the wallpaper stores and sit while my mom studied options upon options to buy for our house. One day I’m sure it’ll come back around and I’ll torture my kids the same way.

  9. Sarah says

    Oh… I’m so going to try this. My house currently has 6 types of wall paper (down from 7!) but we’ve been in the house for 3 years already. I may have started picking at one of our bathrooms already (windowless upstairs bathroom with black floral wallpaper) making it worse than how it started.

  10. Laurie says

    I’ve used this method but I boiled the water in a kettle…it was very easy to pour into the spray bottle. I was wearing oven mitts (those Silicon ones weren’t invented yet) and I did drop the bottle a few times but it worked pretty well. Much better than the stuff we bought to take it out…that didn’t work at all.

    You get your kicks in strange ways lady! LOL

  11. Vicki says

    Wow – talk about a blast from the past… I recall how hard I worked 25+ years ago on a wallpaper project to get some flower petals to match up exactly on a switch plate cover! I will never complain about “just painting” again….

  12. Tiffini S. says

    I had a small bathroom full of cat butt wallpaper. Seriously, the kind where the cat is walking away from you and it’s supposed to be “cute.” Not sure what is cute about looking at a cat’s chocolate starfish, but whatever.

    I went in armed with a scorer, a scraper, glue solvent, a steamer: the whole nine yards. They used some type of super glue, though, and nothing really worked. I finally just used hot water out of the tap in the solvent bottle, a scraper, elbow grease, and yes, lots of swear words. It took 2-eight hour days to get this stuff down. Maybe I should have boiled the water, but seriously I’m not sure it would have helped. I’m pretty sure this was .38 Special glue, because it “don’t let go.”

  13. says

    Straight up water didn’t work for us – we needed a steamer. Wallpaper on all the walls & ceilings of all our rooms. LAYERS thick.

    Next time I’ll just use a hammer and put up fresh drywall. It would probably be faster.