Peel It Like A Really Bad Sunburn (More Wallpaper Removal)

That post title is my version of “Shake It Like A Polaroid Picture” and it is best when sung at the top of your lungs while peeling wallpaper. But we’ll get there in a minute.

Let’s talk about what we’d like to accomplish before this baby comes for a second. In our first house when we were preparing for Clara’s arrival, over those nine months we tackled a few rooms that were still on our redo list (mainly the full bathroom and the nursery) since so much of the house was already done (our kitchen reno was all finished, the hardwood floors had been redone, we had opened up some walls and closed off others, etc). This time around, there’s a baby on the way but this house is much less finished than our first one was, so our goals before baby are more about getting it to a nice blank slate than a fully finished after.

And in case you’re wondering, my mantra is: Go Prego, Go Prego, Go (a la the Three Ninja’s “Go Ninja, Go Ninja, Go”). Update: I have just been schooled by Ninja Warriors commenters who rightly recognized this song from Ninja Turtles 2 (the video editor just laid it over 3 Ninjas). My greatest ninja apologies for the mix up.

I chant it while I strip wallpaper and paint trim. It keeps me going.

You see, I’m a mom on a mission. And that mission is to get rid of all of the old wallpaper, old carpeting, and blue trim before this baby comes. So that means chipping away at seven spaces over the next six months:

  • de-blue-trim-ifying and de-wallpapering the dining room
  • finishing Project No More Graph Paper in the kitchen
  • stripping the blue wallpaper in the sink/tub area of the master bathroom
  • ripping up the old carpet runner on the stairs (our new runners finally came after being on backorder, woot!)
  • painting the blue trim in the office
  • removing the old carpeting on the steps that lead from the garage into the kitchen (don’t even know if we’ve shown those…)

Of course we also have other updates on our radar that we mentioned in this post last Friday – like adding built-ins to the bedroom, amping up the office, packing in a few guest room updates, and creating a nursery of course! But man I’ll be a happy momma to slowly but surely send the blue trim, the peeling wallpaper, and those old stair runners packing. Out with the old, and in with the new, baby! Or should I say out with the old and in with the new baby? Somehow they both work.

And we actually get to cross off that second bullet already, thanks to a few days of the serious wallpaper battle that I waged on the kitchen graph paper wallpaper. Ahh, look at that clean wallpaper-less wall, complete with a big ol’ intercom. Can I get a hootie hoo?

Every time I tackle wallpaper I try out a different method just to see what works better (I’m like Anderson Cooper with this hard-hitting investigative journalism) so you can read about how boiling water worked here, and how a steamer worked here (spoiler alert: so far the steamer is in the lead). And this time my method of choice was warm tap water and Dr Bronner’s soap. I hear that soap can help cut the glue from the wallpaper a bit more than plain water can. Some people swear by a Downy + water mixture, but since my tummy is so easily rebellious these days (morning sickness tends to go until about the half-way point of pregnancy for me) and my nose is turned up to “bloodhound mode”, I opted for a less fragrant soap that still cuts grease/tackiness : Dr. Bronner’s.

I just added about seven squirts of Dr Bronner’s to my wonky spray bottle (remember when I nearly melted it with boiling water here?) and filled the rest of the bottle with hot water from the tap (so it wasn’t boiling, but it wasn’t lukewarm either). Then I sprayed down this entire wall, let it soak in for about three minutes, and got to work peeling like a madwoman.

This is my third attempt at wallpaper removal and my third attempt without a scoring tool. Going into this I assumed I’d try one out one of these times, but thanks to many large sheets coming off like this, I’ve actually become afraid of a scoring tool since it seems like it could create a lot more work for me (peeling off ten million scored pieces instead of one big sheet).

So the best removal methods certainly seem to depend on a multitude of factors (how stuck your wallpaper is, what glue was used, what prep work was done to the wall under it before it was papered, and how old it is, how many layers there are, etc). My recommendation would be to try peeling it without scoring first, and if it just won’t budge you can then move onto scoring things to get through the paper and loosen things up. I just think it’s a smart secondary step in case your wallpaper comes up in larger sheets like ours has so far (if it helps anyone, this wallpaper was all applied around 30 years ago to our knowledge, and we believe the walls were properly prepped beneath it with primer, which definitely helps with removal).

After doing that big wall next to the table, I just inched my way around the room, spraying, waiting three minutes for it to soak in, and peeling.

Once again, there were some nice big sections that came off…

… but of course from these piles you can see that there were also smaller sections that took a little longer after the big chunks came down (I just resprayed those more stubborn areas and picked at them with my fingernail until they came off). I should also mention that I tried a spackle knife since I’ve heard those can be helpful but I found that it caused little dents in the wall so I quickly abandoned that. I’d rather take my time getting the paper off and have pristine walls in the end than ding them up getting the paper off faster (but then have to spend time spackling those spots to get things smooth again).

I ended up getting around to the other side of the kitchen (where the built-in desk is) about three hours into the removal process, which is when this momma needed a break.

So I posted this Instagram picture of the mess I made, and curled up in the fetal position for a while. Wallpaper will do that to ya.

About four days later I had more prego gusto as I like to call it (every few days I get bursts of energy, and dang it if I don’t capitalize on them) so I ran into the kitchen with a battle cry of “Arrrggggghhh!” and scared the dog got to spraying and peeling again. I had this side of the kitchen to do this time, which was easier in some aspects (the backsplash is a lot smaller of a space to peel, for example)…


… but there seemed to be more glue going on, so it took a while longer to make my way around.


More glue in some areas meant that I was left with more of the paper backing on the walls in some areas, which looked a little bit like white tiger stripes wherever it stuck to the wall.

Here’s where I tried an entirely new method, that worked LIKE GANGBUSTERS. Guys, if you have that paper backing mocking you silently from your freshly peeled walls, here’s what to try. Fill a bowl with as-hot-as-you-can-get-it tap water and a few pumps of Dr Bronner’s soap (I’m sure other soaps could work, but I had luck with DBs). Then just dip a paper towel or a rag into it and dab that over the paper backing right on the wall. It saturates it a lot more than the spray bottle (without giving you hand cramps from squeeze-squeeze-squeezing) and…

… even giant chunks of that stubborn backing should peel right off in one giant piece. At least that’s what worked this time. Look at me go.

So in some parts of the room it felt like I was really peeling wallpaper twice (since it was a few hours of wallpaper removal followed by a few hours of backing removal) but when the dust cleared, we had a wallpaperless kitchen! Hurrah!

It’s still dark as heck with faux brick linoleum and a big ol’ garage-looking light on the ceiling, but it’s definitely a step in the right direction. As for how long the entire process took, I’d estimate that it was 8 hours of work when you add it all up.

But those blank walls sure do feel good. Now all I need to do is wipe them down with a vinegar and water spray (that has worked to get rid of any lingering glue residue in the past for us) and we can paint our little hearts out.

Aaaand, just because I like to cross things off…

  • de-blue-trim-ify and de-wallpaper the dining room
  • finish Project No More Graph Paper in the kitchen
  • strip the bold blue master bathroom wallpaper
  • rip up the old carpet runner on the stairs (our new runners finally came after being on backorder, woot!)
  • paint the blue trim in the office

Oh and in case you’re wondering, the steamer still wins as the easiest/fastest method, but neither the boiling water or the hot tap water + soap approaches were that bad (and they’re 100% free) so they’re pretty decent back-up options – at least to try. Next up, I have my eye on the bathroom wallpaper (I think I need a smaller space to give my arms a break) and the carpet runner on the stairs’ days are numbered too. Be afraid, be very afraid (if you’re our carpet runner or bathroom wallpaper – if not, no need to be afraid). Is there anyone else out there with a deadline and a list of non-negotiable house stuff they’d like to accomplish? Honestly I’m so excited about the nursery that I’m hoping to rush through all of those other bullets so we can get to the fun stuff.

Psst- Clara’s having conversations again. And as usual, she’s cracking us up.


  1. Todd Kelly says

    I love when you take down the wallpaper. My OCD needs that paper gone ;) And how about that intercom – so retro! It’s like an Atari 2600 hanging on your wall!

    • says

      Haha! I want to start an intercom club. We can talk about what buttons still work and how big the hole behind them in the wall is (we checked in our bedroom and it can best be described as “gaping”).


    • Megan says

      We have an intercom as well (circa 1988) in our new home! I can’t wait to see what you all (John and Sherry) do with yours. We have no plan as of yet.


    • Emily says

      I love the idea of an intercom, but WOW that one is dated :) It’ll be fun to see what you do with it. What about your trick of painting the outside electrical box the same color as the brick?

    • says

      Sadly it doesn’t fully work anymore, so we’ll need to update it with more than just paint. We’re leaning towards either a new system or just removing it and patching the wall if we can’t afford one.


    • megan e. says

      My inlaws have one of those intercoms. It’s works great as a baby monitor in a big house. No need to have to carry around one of those receivers.

    • says

      Yeah, I think in person it was more yellowed and peeling/ratty, so it won’t really be missed. I did save a big chunk of it for memory’s sake though! So far I have saved a strip of wallpaper from all three rooms I’ve peeled – I have dreams of a little shadowbox of them all or something to look back on. The wallpapered outlet plates are the best (I save one of them for each room too).


    • Lisa says

      Sherry, I was reading real quick and saw shadowbox. I at first thought you were going to make the space where the intercom is into a shadowbox. Have you considered that? That’s the kind of thing that is a real quirky, unique house thing, but could be cool.

    • says

      Haha, in a big acrylic box! That would be fun! Eventually that wall will be opened to the living room so I think for now we’re just going to see if we can get a new system (to play ipads from or something) and if that’s too expensive we’ll just remove it entirely.


  2. says

    Parents on a house-yard improving mission with deadlines! Absolutely!

    Our new house came with 3 greenhouses and 2 concrete ponds. The yard sat untouched for 18+ months. My goal is to get the yard back to a blank slate so next summer Susanna can enjoy it fully.

    Every time I look at the stuff we’ve done or are in the midst of doing, I think about her and that mission. It’s incredible how that love and desire for our children can inspire us to move on beyond what once was and to transform spaces for beauty, living, creating, learning, etc

    To all who are doing it, I raise a chain saw and pick ax, I light another pile in the fire pit, and I’ll jack hammer in a few days.

  3. Natalie C says

    Sooooo this might be off topic, but OMG $HER DOG HAVE YOU HEARD EMINEM’S NEW SINGLE ‘RAP GOD’? I heard it and I was like “My friend Sheri who doesn’t know I exist would probably love this.” Awkward. For both of us.

  4. Toni says

    Fantastic! I remember painting our living room walls until the wee hours of the morning and then rushing downstairs as soon as I woke up so I could enjoy it in the daylight. Hard work is rewarding!

    (By the way, you wrote budget instead of budge.)

  5. says

    I am SO impressed with how different that room looks without wallpaper! Maybe I missed this but are you planning on painting/replacing the cabinets? Now that the wallpaper is gone, I kind of like them dark!

    • says

      Unfortunately the cabinets are damaged/gauged/gnawed looking when you get closer (there was a pic on Facebook/Instagram a while back that people were like “oh, now I know what you mean by gouged and damaged!”) so our long haul plan is to paint them and use them in the garage down the line (to create some nice storage along one side that still allows for a car to pull in) and to save up for new cabinets eventually.


    • Aimee says

      I would so see if the damage could be repaired before I painted over wood. Cabinet quality is just not the same anymore as it was back in the 70s. I mean, if John could knock off those oddball cabinets in the previous kitchen, simple wood repair and stain matching ought to be a piece of cake in comparison.

    • says

      I think if I post photos you’ll see what I mean. Some of the bevels have been grinded down, there are gnawed marks around the base of the doors and framing like they were chewed on by a dog, etc. We’re just not confident that we’ll ever be happy with a patch job since we’re hoping to be here for the long haul. But who knows where we’ll end up!


  6. says

    So glad to see that wallpaper gone! Pregnancy is so funny, I totally remember those bursts of energy and you’ve got to go with them. I am really looking forward to seeing the stairs with the runner – aren’t you just so excited when you get a package with stuff for a new project that you want to do it right then and there?!

    • says

      Yes! Except John is the logical one, so he pointed out that we should paint the walls and ceiling of the staircase before we install the new runner so we don’t have to worry about dripping on it. Smart! But another step (boo!).


  7. Eileen says

    So glad to hear about the Dr. Bronner’s tip. My 21 y.o. daughter just bought a house covered in 1970’s wallpaper. We’ve been using a product called Dif, which really seems to work well, but I’m not crazy about the chemicals in it. I’ll pick up some Dr. Bronner’s for our next weekend wallpaper stripping marathon.

  8. says

    Looking good! With the nice clean white walls it makes the dark wood look really good, almost like someone designed it to be like that. Amazing how much difference just taking off the wallpaper can make in a space… says the girl who has rolls of wallpaper watching her from the living room corner waiting to be installed.

  9. Sugar Cookie says

    Yes, speaking of deadlines, my husband and I are expecting our first child in late March. So in addition to the usual baby-anticipating chores (like reading up on pregnancy, planning showers, registering, taking care of hospital details, planning the nursery, working out FMLA time, etc.), I’m also writing my dissertation proposal like a mad woman since I hope it defend it before baby time. Ahh!

  10. Heather says

    Your instincts on the paper scorer are dead on — the paper comes off like confetti. I stripped 7 rooms of wallpaper in my old house and used a scorer on 3 of them before I came to the realization that the scorer leaves nasty marks on the drywall as well as shredding the paper. In one room, I more or less had to plaster the walls with spackle to fill all the lines left by the scorer. That wallpaper was my first real DIY project — wish I’d woken up sooner to the damaging aspect of the scorer. I’d have saved myself a lot of spackling.

    • says

      I’ll provide the other side of the perspective. I agree with scoring as a second (or third) line tool, but it’s all that worked at my house growing up. We had this textured, fancy wallpaper in the entry. It was so textured that the wall would scratch you if you rubbed against it. The texturing was with fancy white ridges of some weird material that would also rub off if you scraped.

      Anyway, we tried our darndest to get that paper off. We soaked, scrubbed, etc. Scoring was the only way to make any inroads. We finally got it off. The wall was damaged enough that my parents just did the plaster texturing thing, which actually looked nice in that space. (side note: apologies to future homeowners who might hate it!)

      To note, though, is that the walls were not prepped in any way. It looked like they superglued this heavy duty wallpaper straight onto the drywall when the home was built. It was pretty crazy.

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