Why Can’t The Wallpaper Just Fall Off The Wall?


In one of those moments that I was about to regret, I decided to strip the old wallpaper from the guest room. It had been put up by the previous owner (probably a former cave dweller pining for the comforts of home) and was a dark mossy green. But, true to the era in which it had been purchased, it was also a trendy plastic/vinyl in consistency — not really the look I wanted for my guests.

My plan was to move the furniture toward the center of the room, squirt some water onto the paper, let it soak in, peel it off the walls, prime and paint. I gave myself one day for wallpaper removal, two for painting. I figured a long weekend should do it.

Presidents Day weekend? Perfect!

My husband Mark, a general contractor, knows I always underestimate the time it will take me to do a job, but he never says anything until I’m up to my eyeballs in it. Otherwise, I might decide not to do it at all. So he chose to work in the garage for a few hours.

In order to dive right in, I decided to move just the piece of furniture nearest the door — a vintage upholstered settee — because that’s where I was going to start. No sense moving all that furniture right off the bat.

Then I took off the switch plate cover and tore a little corner of the green. Uh-oh. It came off its paper backing, which meant I would have to do the room in two layers — green plastic layer, then white paper layer.

But maybe not. Mark had given me a little spherical tool with teeth hidden underneath, and by rubbing this sphere over the wall, I could puncture little holes into the vinyl. That way, when I sprayed the vinyl with water, the water would penetrate, spreading and lifting the paper from the wall. A gentle tug by me would bring the whole sheet cascading softly down onto the carpet.

And if you believe that, you have never stripped wallpaper.

Here’s what really happened.

1. I wore out my arm running that hateful little sphere over the paper, making as many holes as I could.

2. The water penetrated but it did not spread or lift. Instead, it made tiny dot-sized wet marks on the paper backing while tons of non-penetrating water cascaded freely down the plastic surface into the carpet where it mingled with puddling wallpaper paste to form a bonding agent perfect for adhering wallpaper bits to the carpet, my shoes and the vintage upholstered settee.

3. The scored lines I had so liberally created on the vinyl made it impossible to peel off the paper in anything but tiny little triangles made when scored lines intersected.

4. The scraper I was using to find the teeny little corners of these triangles quickly became coated with the thick, gooey paste. Frequent rinses were necessary, as was frequent bad language.

In short, it took me five hours to strip the paper — from the first wall. Three to go.

Then the priming… Then the painting.

Mark ought to be out of the garage by then.