Using A Steamer To Remove Wallpaper

Things are getting steamy in the foyer! As a refresher, we have five rooms full of wallpaper and we’re attempting to take five different removal methods for a spin, just to see what ends up working (and what bites the big one). For our first time at the wallpaper removing rodeo we used hot water and a spray bottle, which actually worked out pretty well. And in this week’s hard-hitting Wallpaper Exposé we’ll be tackling the foyer with this guy. His name? Steamer. His game? Steaming clothes. He’s actually John’s sister’s, but it was free to borrow and we thought we’d see how it worked out for wallpaper too.

But first, a moment of silence for the small blue flowers.

Ok, let’s get it going. This is the first area of the foyer we tackled, and our method for this area was for John to run the steamer all over that section of the wall and then I followed behind him, yanking all the way.

It worked pretty well (some areas left the backing when I peeled so they had to be resteamed and reyanked, but it wasn’t too bad. I’d score it as working a smidge better than the boiling water method simply because it was probably 10% faster/easier since around 10% more of the backing seemed to come off so it didn’t have to be removed in a second pass. But when you factor in the expense of buying or renting a steamer I’d say it was only marginally better than our first (free) method of hot water in a spray bottle. So it’s kind of a toss up. Do you want to pay $20-50 for something a little bit easier or would you need it to be a whole lot easier to spend that loot? Of course someone else might swear by a steamer and say it worked in two minutes, so the paper and how it’s applied are definitely a factor too.

Oh but it got a little hairy when we had to get the tops of the walls.

Since we were only dealing with a clothes steamer the hose wasn’t built to stretch very far, so it wasn’t quite long enough for the steamer to rest on the floor while we did the upper areas (which we never thought about until we got to that part). It wasn’t too much of a big deal, but John did get a nice workout holding up the equivalent of a gallon of milk as he worked his way around the top part of the foyer. So that’s just something to think about (definitely rent/buy a wallpaper steamer over a clothing steamer if you’re actually going to spend money on something).

Around halfway through we decided to try another method, which was pulling the paper right along with the steamer, so instead of John doing a big area and then me following behind him peeling, I literally peeled as he went like so:

This method was awesome. In almost every case it removed both the wallpaper and the backing behind it so the wall was bare and perfect underneath. Must have been because there was more heat on the part we were actively peeling instead of pulling the paper off after it started cooling down and John had moved on to another area.

Another reason this second steamer method was awesome was because one person can do it, so if you have a solo meeting planned with a wallpapered room, don’t fret. You can do it. And you can look this sexy doing it:

So I’d rank this second faster-peeling steamer method as around 30% quicker & easier than the hot water/spray bottle method. Although we were tackling a larger area than a small bathroom, so it was still a substantially longer process for us. Especially when we hit this Amazing Race-ish Road Block. Layered wallpaper.

For some reason, there had been two layers of wallpaper applied to the entire front door side of the wall. But it wasn’t an older paper underneath, it was exactly the same stuff.

You guys. It was like GROUNDHOG DAY. Basically we had to do that wall twice and I’m not gonna lie. There was whining. But we got ‘er done. Eventually.

The funny thing is that we have no idea why it was doubled along that entire wall. Our only guess was that something didn’t match up so they redid it with a second layer of wallpaper to correct whatever got crooked or mismatched.

Oh and we did have one “incident” where we think the paper was glued a lot more in one spot for some reason, so our drywall’s top layer got peeled off. Pretty, eh?

My plan is just to skim coat that with some spackle and then sand it down so it’s hopefully flush with the rest of the wall and just as smooth.

After we wrestled all of the paper down I went over the walls with a spray bottle full of half vinegar and half water (not hot, just room temperature) and used the rougher scrubby side of a sponge to make sure there wasn’t any glue residue anywhere. For the most part it had all come up with the backing so there wasn’t much to scrub, but a few tacky areas were a lot smoother after this step, so it’s definitely worth adding onto the end of your peeling project.

 So that’s how we steamed things up, all in the name of deflowering the foyer.

Obligatory before shot from our walk-through. You know, for closure.

Oh but you’ll notice that the closet and the bathroom doors are off in the second to last shot, since we’re actively working on taking those from blue to white. We’re also about 20% into the blue trim out there, so we can’t wait to get that done and share the photos, hopefully sometime next week (four coats = Barfville).

Has anyone else taken a steamer for a spin? Did you do the follow-right-away peeling approach, or the steam-a-section-and-then-peel method? So far we’ve loved that we’ve never had to score anything and haven’t even needed a spackle knife (hand-yanking has done the trick). So I’d definitely put that in the pro column, right along with the zero dolla (holla!) cost so far.


  1. says

    I love the magic of the internet…we get to appreciate amazing before and afters (well, eventually, though this is much improved already) without having to do any of the hard stuff! Wallpaper removal is one of my least favorite things, so good work and congrats on having one more wallpaperless room!

  2. Allyn says

    I wonder if the former owners follow your blog . . . perhaps they will reveal the secret of the double wallpaper caper. As much as I like wallpaper, I’ve removed so much of it in my time that I’m highly reluctant to use it anymore. Paint sure is easier!

    • HeatherB says

      I’m with you. There are some really beautiful papers out there right now, but I have had so many nightmare experiences removing wallpaper that I just can’t quite bring myself around to biting the bullet. For now, I’m sticking with paint…

    • Dustin says

      I love wallpaper and I’m not afraid of it either. Paint is OK but it can be very boring. I’m actually sick of seeing so much paint everywhere. Design has gotten dull. Remember when people did what they wanted to, rather than worry about resale? It made life more interesting that is for sure.

  3. says

    That method looks like something that even *I* could handle!! Ugh man, that blue trim. I bet you can’t wait for that to be gone. If I lived closer I’d offer to come over for a painting party to help usher it out quicker.

    Oh yeah and I don’t know if you’re keeping that return or not but a few months ago on Kevin and Amanda’s site they showed this cool cold air return at Van Dyke’s Restorers website (not listing the site so Google doesn’t pick it up as “spammy”) but the name of it is “Worth Home Luxury Return Air Grille – Premier (Primed)” if you want to give it a gander. I think it would look really good there!

    • says

      I want to do that the same teal color that’s on the front of the door once the trim/sidelights are white so it doesn’t look like a weird dull-blue-on-teal sandwich.


  4. Sophie says

    It is amazing how much lighter the foyer looks without the wallpaper. Can’t wait to see what you guys are going to do with it!

    Also, I am totally trying out this method the next time we have to remove wallpaper. We spent two days on our living room last summer, that was with four adults working! Who would put three (!!) layers of different wallpaper on a wall?
    xx Sophie

    • Michelle says

      Someone who doesn’t want to strip it! Sorry for your extra work, that would have been frustrating.

  5. says

    I wonder if using a chair with wheels (perhaps with a back for stability) would help to carry the steamer for spots that are high. Then the steaming person could just gently guide it around the de-papering area.

  6. says

    Can I just say I really enjoy your writing style? It’s a great mix of informative and funny, without trying too hard. I mean, who can make wallpaper removal sound fun? You can. Well done, on both writing about it and doing it.

  7. Lisa E says

    It looks a lot brighter when you compare the before and after shot. I never thought to use a clothes steamer, very clever! That’s wonderful that the backing is coming down so easy as well. I took down wallpaper in a bathroom in my first house and just wanted to scream and cry in frustration. They obviously didn’t use sizing and the backing took a LOT of effort to come down. Awful! Thankfully in our present house bathroom that wasn’t the case. Looking good Petersilks!

  8. Valerie says

    We borrowed a wall paper steamer from my sister (free!) and peeled as we steamed. Two differences from your method: we scored the wallpaper first (using this kind of thing, which worked great compared to the small amount we tried pre-score, and we used a wide flat putty knife on the edge of the wall paper as it peeled. Took EVERYTHING off with no backing or glue residue. It was fantastic! We still did the vinegar wash, just to be safe.

    • Bonnie says

      Was just coming on to recommend the paper tiger! I used it to remove the all the flowered wallpaper in my first home. Made removal so much easier.

    • JenB says

      Ditto. The Paper Tiger Scorer is great! We rented a steamer to remove a TON of wallpaper in our first house before we moved in. I felt like it was well worth the money since we had so much to remove. Also, they recommended putting a little ammonia or vinegar in the steamer. That worked great, too.

  9. Stacey says

    OMW, how did the previous owners stare at that wallpaper and trim for so long without going bonkers?! I’ve started reading Bower Power too and cannot handle all the original rag-rolling either! Yuck, yuck, yuck!

    • Dustin says

      Well the combo is classic Colonial. I actually don’t think it looked bad. The Colonial style was very popular for many decades.

  10. Kelly says

    Just wanted to say really quickly…it’s still extremely weird seeing you guys in this house and not the other. I just can’t seem to wrap my head around the fact that you are in a totally new place. Just sayin…

    Oh, and as for wallpaper, I personally think it should be banned…like illegal to put up. I have tackled wallpaper removal before…and I will tear the drywall down and start over before I remove wallpaper again…

  11. djs says

    GREAT idea using a clothes steamer! Not as messy as a wall paper steamer. And probably hotter. Kudos.
    The slate floor looks so much better without the blue floral paper. More neutral. It will actually look beautiful once the blue trim is gone.

  12. Liz E. says

    How sad will you be when the blue is gone?! I shed a tear just thinking about it…

    Kidding! Looking great, Petersiks! When I helped my parents with their basement a few years ago (walls and waaaallllssss of tiny ivy-print wallpaper…my mom’s fault, she picked it!) we used a steamer and it worked wonders! (My prior non-eco-friendly go-to was DIF, but for that much paper we went the steamer route). Be grateful you only had one ripping-off-the-top-paper-of-drywall incident. We had more of those instances than we could count! The problem? The drywall hadn’t been properly primed/prepped for the adhesive. Boo. To top it all off, we had a terrible time getting a smooth coat of drywall mud over the patches. And now that I’ve been a total Debbie Downer: wishing you much more luck than we had! Excited to see if you have any tips for a smooth finish!

  13. Maggie S says

    I rented a wallpaper steamer and it worked like a charm! The pan was about 12″ X 15″ and I used the “follow right away” method. I only had 3 bedrooms to do but I did it in one weekend.


  14. Lisa says

    Before you skim coat the torn drywall, make sure to first seal it with an oil-based primer! Otherwise the water from the spackle or joint compound will be absorbed by the paper and cause it to bubble. (Go ahead – ask me how I know!) :)

    • Jill says

      Raw drywall paper or raw mud/spackle always needs to be sealed because it is absorptive and either causes problems as Lisa describes or, in the case of painting a patch, will be a noticeably different sheen from the rest of your wall if not sealed with something before being painted because the paint will absorb differently into the patch compared to the wall around it.

      But just a note about the oil-based primer she recommended for sealing the rip in your wall:

      The old standard for sealing raw drywall (like where your wall is ripped, or walls that are mudded and taped only) is using oil-based primer, but there is a guy online named Jack Pauhl who has taken all things wall-painting to the seriously the most impressive level of thoroughness (he’s a professional painter), and he tested literally over 20 primers for sealing raw walls and found that Zinsser Gardz was the best.

      You can see his extensive testing methods here:

      Here’s a bit just about using Gardz on new patches on finished walls:

      All in all, I was very thoroughly convinced when I first read his blog. I also liked that Gardz was not oil-based. When my husband and I did all the mudding and taping for our new bathroom drywall, we used Gardz all over the walls and ceiling as our only primer before painting, and it came out great. Gardz wasn’t particularly smelly or anything, which I really appreciated. We’ve also since used Gardz on a patch in another room before painting, and the patch blended right into the wall.

      Not that I didn’t think he was a thorough guy before based just on his testing methods and blog, by after this experience with a product he recommended, I really trust Jack Pauhl for painting advice.

      For your purposes, if you used Gardz over this little area to seal it from what Lisa experienced, then skim-coated with mud or spackle and sanded till smooth, then Gardz again to seal the skim coat, then painted, I think you’d be entirely happy with your result.

    • Lisa says

      I’ve used Zinsser’s Guardz , as well as trying the Kilz 2 Latex primer, before skim coating, but it was honestly just easier to seal with something oil-based and I didn’t have to worry about it failing down the line (it was a kitchen ceiling so that would have been a HUGE pain in the tush). Joint compound over that to skim coat and then usually the Kilz 2 latex before painting.

      (Just thinking about all of that again is making me tired!)

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