Home Improvement

Wallpaper Zero, Fixing Flawed Walls & Paint Plans

Strike up the band. Fire the cannons. Attempt to twerk… okay maybe not that last one. But whatever the appropriate celebratory action is, bust it out because our once very wallpapered house is officially wallpaper-less! And since we thought one last wallpaper removal post might be boring on its own, we saved that info and bulked it up with some other bathroom progress for you guys – namely…

But let’s soak up the whole “wallpaper free” thing for a second. Considering that we’ve spent over 45 hours of our lives removing it in five different rooms over the course of the last six months we’re relieved. Very, very relieved. In fact, it was actually one of Sherry’s “before the baby comes” goals - so to hit it with a few months to spare means that we can dive into some more fun master bathroom stuff before baby. But more on that in a second.

First we’ll just remind you what this room looked like every time we walked into it for the last half of a year. The walls are just primed in the picture above, but it’s already a vaaaast improvement.

Although it was just completed last week, the peeling process actually started a little while ago. One morning Sherry was showering and I heard her yell “hey, come take a picture!” Intrigued, I hurried into the bathroom… only to find that she had stripped off several panels of wallpaper whilst showering.

A bunch of corners in there were curled up from the effect of the shower steam over the years, so it took virtually zero effort (and apparently zero clothes) to get most of the shower free of wallpaper.

Since the shower steam had worked so well for that area, we figured a little extra help from my sister’s clothes steamer would do the trick everywhere else (it had been slightly faster than the other methods we tried when we used it in the foyer). Especially if I added a new step beforehand that we heard could really help loosen things up: spraying it down with fabric softener before steaming it (I used a spray bottle with 50% warm water and 50% Seventh Generation fabric softener in it). Because it’s such a small room, I decided to tackle it early one morning on a whim, assuming it’d be so speedy that I didn’t even bother to put my contacts in or hide my bedhead under a hat.

Fast forward several hours later and I had made little progress and my demeanor was quite different. John was not amused.

Okay, so there wasn’t really several hours between those two photos, but the project did end up taking me an entire day (meanwhile Sherry was doing this). Despite using the steamer, most walls came off in small strips and flakes rather than the big sheets that we were able to get in the foyer. But by sunset, the paper was all gone.

The bad news is that the walls were in rougher shape than any other room that we had de-papered. We started to wonder if they used a special treatment or glue in here, knowing that years of showering might be too powerful for a normal adhesive. Either way, it left us with a look that I lovingly call “gas station bathroom.”

So unlike those other rooms, we had to do some pretty in-depth prepping. First we removed the last vestiges of wallpaper glue with a light scrubbing of warm water & vinegar (that’s usually our last “prep step” before painting). But this time we moved on to sanding all of the walls with a sanding block to help file down any rough spots.

There were still lots of dimples and low points, so we also decided to fill things in with a coating of spackle. You can see that my coverage was super thin (I was scraping it nice and firmly against the wall) but it did the trick for filling in those slightly recessed peeled-looking spots.

This was not a fast process, as you can see from this shot of all the spackle spots. The same smooth outcome probably could’ve been accomplished with a full-wall skim coat, but that would have taken longer and resulted in a ton of sanding dust, so we opted just to go with some small pats of spackle wherever we needed them.

The spacke job still did require sanding, which is always a fun messy task. I can’t imagine how much dustier the bathroom would have been with a full skim coat going on.

Once all the sanding dust was brushed off the walls and swept/wiped up, you can see how the spackle helped to level out any areas where the wallpaper had torn off a bit too much of the drywall.

Next up was primer. See how yellow the walls were on the left, compared to the fresher look of primer on that wall on the right? It was possibly my favorite priming project ever, since it evened out the spotty wall and made the whole room so much brighter.

You’ll notice that the floor is taped off too. That’s because Sherry decided to seize the day and paint all of the cream trim white while we were at it. Not only had the trim been cream, the quarter-round was actually wood, so it was definitely one of those time-sucking tasks (the window panes are always a pain) but it was well worth it in the end just to have it done. Sherry used two coats of primer (Kilz no-VOC stuff) and two coats of Simply White (the same semi-gloss trim paint that we’ve used everywhere else). It was sort of a triple “ahh” because the trim is now a crisp white color, there’s no more wooden quarter-round, and ding dong the wallpaper is dead.

Now that the boring-but-it-had-to-be-done prep work is out of the way, we’re really excited about a paint treatment that we’re planning to try in here. After wracking our brains about the best way to work with the existing blue tile for now, while drawing the eye up and making the room feel taller and less squat (which tends to be the issue when all the focus is on the floors) we decided to bring some more blue back into the room. Just in a smaller (and lighter) dose than the wallpaper… and in a nice high place.

Heather’s amazing bathroom (more on that here) will give you a nice idea where we’re headed:

Yup, we want to make a simple wood border around the top part of the wall and carry a soft-but-complementary blue color up that part of the wall and onto the ceiling. This room also has a similar effect while having a blue floor like ours, so it might help you picture how some softer blue up top can balance out a somewhat demanding floor like ours.

So next up, we’re going to paint those primed walls and add some wood trim around the top of the room along with an accent color up there. Hopefully when the tall white shower curtain is rehung and we add some art we’ll completely forget the old room that we started with.

But before I go, here’s a quick wallpaper removal recap since a bunch of you have asked for a summary of what worked best, and what we’d never try again:

In summary, the way that wallpaper is adhered along with how well your walls are prepped beforehand seems to have a lot to do with how easy (or how impossible) it is to remove the wallpaper. Nothing we tried was super fast and amazing, but most methods actually worked over the course of 8-ish hours if you kept at them. So hopefully taking those five techniques for a spin and outlining them as we went was somewhat helpful for others who are staring at a bunch of wallpapered walls and wondering what to try next.

Are any of you guys diving into a bathroom update or planning any wood-border-plus-paint projects? Have you been de-wallpapering, spackling, priming, trim-painting, or sanding? Feel free to toss out tips for anyone else who’s battling those beasts.

Psst- Sherry’s over on Young House Life chatting about her maternity clothing M.O.


How You Like Me Now, Grout?

That’s right. Picture me giving one of these (*strikes a talk-to-the-hand pose*) to the grout in our foyer and half bathroom.

As you might recall, for the past six months that we’ve lived here, it has looked like this.

Over the last half of a year, I gave nearly every method under the sun a shot to make that grout look clean. After repeatedly scrubbing the heck out of it, I knew that it was actually very (very, very) clean… it just was so discolored and stained in certain areas, that no amount of blood, sweat, or tears (I even tried a wire brush to literally sand off the top layer of the grout) could make it look that way.

Some of my attempts included (but weren’t limited to):

So I did what most people would do and I gave up and ignored it for another few days (what’s a few days after six months of no-dice results?). And then I finally faced facts. The grout either needed to be scraped out and regrouted entirely (which makes for a pretty messy job, especially in the main hallway of our house which connects the entire upstairs to each room downstairs) or it needed to be refinished.

Thankfully a few of you tipped me off to a product you’ve used with success called Polyblend Grout Renew. Let me just skip to the punchline: it worked, and I wish I had tried it before spending six months scrubbing my mind out. 

The cost? A cool $11.95 from Home Depot. Can I get a what what? Note: this might sound like an ad for the stuff, but Grout Renew doesn’t know us from Adam – I’m just beyond grateful that it worked.

Although it did take nearly eight hours to apply. But since I had easily spent 25 hours trying various stain lifting methods before resorting to this, eight hours with a bottle of Grout Renew was a small price to pay for VICTORY.

That’s right, there were mic drops. There was shoulder dusting. There was a full on pregnant-lady end zone dance.

There were several colors to pick from, but John and I decided on Oyster Gray after admiring similarly toned grout at a neighbor’s house during a Christmas party (they had the same foyer tile that we do, but it spanned all the way into their kitchen with sparkling light gray grout that brought tears to my eyes). We actually brought home a darker option too, but it was so close to the stone color – and some of the dark stains in the grout – that we worried it would be a lot of work for grout that still looked kind of muddled and dingy.

Oh and the Grout Renew was low odor and low-VOC, so this pregnant lady could get down with it. I did wear a respirator, along with opening windows, just because I’m into added ventilation and bad Bane impersonations.

Anyway, the first step was to clean the floors thoroughly. I’ll pause while you laugh since I had already done that TEN MILLION TIMES. Next it just said to use a toothbrush to apply it into the grout lines and then let it dry for 24 hours. I went with a thin craft brush because I had way more control (read: way less mess on the tile surface) and started in the half-bathroom because I figured I could work my way out of the room and close the door behind me so it could dry.

Even with a small craft brush there were still times when it got on the surface of the tile, and there was a very short window for wiping it off before it set (and then had to be scrubbed with a fingernail, which was a huge pain) so I literally would do one or two cracks at a time and then quickly follow up to smooth both sides of the seam out with a small piece of toilet paper (this would remove any from the surface of the tile as well as make the sides of each seam nice and straight looking).

It was the opposite of fast. But it worked. Slowly I eked my way out from around the toilet and right out the door, which took about an hour and forty five minutes. That was day 1. Note: this stuff looks lighter/more high-contrast before it dries, so even though it looks white here, it dries to be a softer gray color.

Day 2 involved three more hours of line painting and wiping, and I opted to do 50% of the foyer in a strategic way so we could all still walk on the other half of it. In other words, I did half of the hall, half of the area in front of the steps, one of the two closets, and half of the area leading into the office, so we could all still walk on “the dirty grout” sides to get around. Here’s a shot to show you how hilarious John is. I said: ok, get creative with this picture so my giant respirator doesn’t look weird. I like his version of getting creative – just lop off the whole head area.

The second day was the hardest day by far, just because I was still kind of sore from contorting my pregnant body around in the small half bathroom the day before, and the little knobby parts of each of my ankles were dragging on the tile as I scooted around like a dog with fleas, so there was that. But it was all worth it. Worth it and then some!

Day 3 was another three hour process, but it was the most exciting day because I could see the light at the end of the tunnel. The end of the longest-running house battle that I had ever waged was near. I just worked my way around the foyer doing the other half of those pathways that I had done the day before, and I ducked into that last closet while pausing occasionally to fist pump and work on my Oscar acceptance speech clean grout speech (“I’d like to thank the academy, and the grout gods who invented this $12 bottle of miracles and unicorns”).

Then we just gave that last application the same 24 hour drying period, and made sure nothing got wet for 72 hours (since that was another warning on the bottle) and it seems to be stuck like glue. It’s a good deal lighter than the old grout was, which still makes us say “whoa now” when we walk through the hallway, but we think it’s just our eyes adjusting, since we loved the lighter grout in our neighbor’s hall and kitchen. Maybe after 6 months our brains just can’t get over the fact that it finally looks clean!

It has really good five star ratings everywhere we read about it (here are some on Home Depot’s site) so I’m crossing my fingers that we’ll have the same long-lasting luck with it (I still have about 1/4th of the bottle leftover for touch ups in case we need them down the line). I’ll definitely update you guys if anything funky happens, but so far it has been great.

Update: A few people have asked if we plan to seal it, and after hearing from some commenters who’ve used this and had awesome results with occasional sealing it, we’re planning to do the same. Will keep you posted on how it holds up! Also, since a few folks have asked us to add the “way back” before shot, just for fun, here ya go. It’s crazy how much bluer the tile looked with the brown stained grout and all that blue trim.

Is anyone else waging war on something stubborn that’s taking more than a few attempts? Do you have any secret remedies to share for a house battle that had you stumped?