The Wallpaper Border Catastrophe

Bumblebeez SC Zone 7April 20, 2012

12 years ago in a another decorating world, I put up a border in one of the downstairs bedrooms. Not a public room at all.

The past week, I have manged to remove about 6 feet of it while gouging the sheet rock significantly. There are miles of this ceiling border to go, it's a big room.

I have every available nifty tool and spray.

I can not fathom spending this much time and energy removing this border. It is the most tedious thing I have ever done decorating wise, and I'm good with detailed projects. And I'd rather rid six acres by hand of wild onions then do this.

But this is decorating h*ll. When 2 inches at a time come off, I'm happy! It is solidly, wildly stuck onto the wall.

But I want to paint over what's left.

Has anyone ever done this? This is our permanent house, I hope to live here until I die. (dh doesn't but I ignore those comments)

I found this advice online, which I am willing to do:

Join Date: Dec 2005

Location: SE Michigan

Posts: 2,213

I've done this (I'm a painting contractor.) You'll get pretty good results if the walls are smooth; not so good if there's any texture on the wall.

1: Prime with solvent-based primer (like Original Kilz.) Water-based primer or paint is likely to loosen the border in spots.

2: Use a 6-8" drywall knife and joint/topping compound (not spackle) and smooth a wide ribbon of it along the bottom edge.

3: Caulk along the top where the border meets the ceiling; there will probably be a little gap.

4: Sand the compound. May need two applications.

5: Use FLAT paint on the walls; any gloss will highlight surface imperfections.

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I wouldn't do it. You will not be happy with the results and have a bigger mess on your hands.
Score the wallpaper border with a razor lightly so as not to mess up the wallboard. Boil some water and put it into a spray bottle half filled with vinegar OR cheap fabric softener so you have a full bottle. Spray the border. Wait 10 minutes and it should come off easily.

    Bookmark   April 20, 2012 at 5:20PM
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Bumblebeez SC Zone 7

Carol, I am doing that. I have a Paper Tiger that scores the border, then I spray it with dif spray, wait unil it's fairly removable, 20 minutes or so, then go in with my scraper, the dif one and also a razor blade scraper. An inch at a time comes off. Seriously. So I spray it more, then i get sheet rock coming off too if I don't scrape very carefully.

I also tried steaming it, but it made the sheetrock flake and the glue still remained.
I'll post pics later.

    Bookmark   April 20, 2012 at 5:26PM
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could you sand it off with a palm sander?

    Bookmark   April 20, 2012 at 5:39PM
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Bumblebeez SC Zone 7

I am going to try. Good idea! I need to dig it up, buy some sandpaper. This is such a hassle, I will never ever, put up any wallpaper anything for the rest of my life.

    Bookmark   April 20, 2012 at 5:47PM
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Brings back memories of this house when we bought it. Every inch of wall and ceiling area had been wall papered then painted over. We spent days trying to remove it in one room and gave up. Had the walls textured and painted. In the 30 years since we've removed the texture from most of the rooms. That's an even bigger mess.

Good luck!

    Bookmark   April 20, 2012 at 6:04PM
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I am a paper hangar. I'm wondering if you are getting it wet enough.

You have to saturate it. And you have to keep saturating it. A garden sprayer puts out a lot of liquid quickly. Use the hottest water/Dif mixture you can safely work with, drench the border concentrating the water at the top edge of the paper, wait a minute, drench it again, and again, and again. Don't let more than a few minutes pass between rewetting. It can take as long as 20 minutes for the water to get behind the paper and reactivate the paste so that it separates from the wall.

The water is rolling right off the front of the border because it is probably vinyl. Wetting it once and waiting, will not do the job, even if you have scored it.

Try doing as I've said on one 4' long stretch. If it doesn't come off easily after 20 minutes of drenching over and over (you want to keep it soaking wet the whole time), you are going to have to go to the next level.

Get an electric sander and a very harsh paper. Start sanding a 4' long section. The vinyl face of the paper will usually come off pretty fast. Once that is gone, you can try the wetting method again. If it doesn't work, you are left with two options.

1. See if you can sand the border completely down to the wall. If you can, this is the way to go.

2. If it is too hard to sand the paper all the way down to the wall, you will be left with the chore of leveling the surface of the wall to the surface of the paper. Sand the edges the best you can and then start skim coating.

There will be no problem with painting over the border other than the unevenness issue. Just make sure you use a non-water based sealer/stain blocker.

Since you put the border up, can you tell me what was on the wall prior to the border? If you papered directly over drywall that had nothing on it but a layer of builder's paint, the paper has pretty much become part of the drywall. If however the wall was fairly well sealed before you papered, the border will come off if you get it wet enough for long enough.

    Bookmark   April 20, 2012 at 6:06PM
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Bumblebeez SC Zone 7

Thanks Natal, what a nightmare, a whole house of it!

Thanks Cindy, very helpful! If you papered directly over drywall that had nothing on it but a layer of builder's paint, the paper has pretty much become part of the drywall.

That. Yes. I papered before we moved in and not long after it was painted.

    Bookmark   April 20, 2012 at 6:10PM
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I ran into this problem a few years ago and wound up buying a gel compound of some sort. You saturated the wall with this gel and then let it set and it came off quite easily. It was messy and probably full of toxic chemicals but I no longer cared. Of course, I can't remember the name of it. But what I learned was that I would never, ever, ever put up wallpaper again.

    Bookmark   April 20, 2012 at 6:46PM
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Can't help, but sending positive thoughts your way. The only time I ever was faced with removing wallpaper, it turned out to be shelf paper and came off in one large piece, leaving perfect paint behind. The DIY fairies were looking after a young, inexperienced renter on that occasion. LOL!

    Bookmark   April 20, 2012 at 7:02PM
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Bumblebeez SC Zone 7

bf, I think I am moving onto sanding now but should you remember the name of that stuff...

Fun, I had a similar experience last year when I removed the border in our laundry room. I stood in the room and peeled the whole thing off in a few moments. There were a few areas I had to tug and use a damp sponge, but overall, the whole thing took 20 minutes to remove.
So, naturally I thought.....

    Bookmark   April 20, 2012 at 7:07PM
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I've painted over wallpaper and wouldn't hesitate to do it again.
Your main problem in painting over it will be whether there's any difference in the texture of the border vs the wall. If so, you could mud over the border and texture it to match the drywall.
I would do that vs many hours/days of paper removal and drywall patch work.

With the amount you have to remove my concern would be the amount of water needed and whether it could damage your flooring. Sanding is a good option if you can deal with the dust.

    Bookmark   April 20, 2012 at 7:16PM
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Good luck with the sanding Bumblebeez. Let us know how it goes...every wall and every paper is different so I always like to hear how a project ends up.

I feel your pain and I hope the sanding does the trick.

    Bookmark   April 20, 2012 at 7:36PM
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Some people will tell you never to paint over wallpaper, but when it's attached as well as yours then I think it's okay.

I had a bathroom like that, I spent hours with a steamer and managed to remove just a small area. So I hired someone to mud and texture the walls. Then I painted. It's been 6 years at least and you can not tell there is paper under there.

    Bookmark   April 20, 2012 at 7:49PM
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Bumblebeez SC Zone 7

Thank you Annz, Cindy and Happy.
I am going to pull off what I can and sand the rest.

Good to know how it stands up over time.

    Bookmark   April 20, 2012 at 8:33PM
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We had the wallpaper in our kitchen textured and painted over (by a professional painter) several years ago. You absolutely cannot tell there is wallpaper under the paint. He also did a half bath with a border, and you cannot tell. I would have it done again in a heartbeat.

Good luck!

    Bookmark   April 20, 2012 at 9:15PM
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Haven't read the responses, but have you tried fabric softener? That what we used for a stubborn border and it worked pretty well. Just diluted it 50/50 with water and used a spray bottle and sponge. Got it good and wet and off it came.

Have to admit, I got a headache from fragrance but boy were my hands soft!

    Bookmark   April 20, 2012 at 10:24PM
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NAYY, but I used this stuff when I wanted to remove only one damaged piece of wallpaper. I was amazed, but it did work really well.

Here is a link that might be useful: Wall Wik

    Bookmark   April 21, 2012 at 7:41AM
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We had a whole wall of paper I could not remove. Like you, I tried everything recommended with no luck. I hired a couple of guys to come in and do a skim coat of plaster over the whole thing, then sanded it smooth, primed and painted. That was about 10 years ago and we haven't had a problem.

    Bookmark   April 21, 2012 at 8:31AM
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I think the problem is the glue used to attach the wall paper. One just doesn't know what it will react well to for removal. My first thought was wallpaper laid over unpainted wall board. But as the one poster mentioned, sometimes the paper becomes part of this. With all the gouging of such, you are going to have to do a lot of spackling as an added chore. The suggestions for a skim coat would give you a far better option and include taking the time and angst away.

    Bookmark   April 21, 2012 at 9:05AM
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if the border is not too wide and if you don't already have it, you could put up crown molding right over the border!! (but maybe you've already removed too much border at this point...)

    Bookmark   April 21, 2012 at 1:46PM
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I can commiserate with you!! It spent almost 8 hours every day for a week removing paper from just the toilet room of my bathroom. I was literally nit-picking; just tiny pieces at a time. I spent time on the professional wallpaper websites looking for methods, even bought some of their recommended magic potion then a steamer. It has made me rethink taking down the rest of the paper in the house--even though it's dated and I now hate it.

Good luck and keep us posted.

    Bookmark   April 21, 2012 at 3:12PM
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How about covering it with some nice crown molding? That's probably the lazy and expensive way, but it could be really pretty.

I feel your pain. I wallpapered alot too when we bought our house. In the nursery I had Laura Ashley paper under a 'chair rail' of wide wallpaper border. Non strippable, non peelable. What was I thinking? When I tried peeling / stipping (rented a professional steamer and bought all the gizmos) I ended up with wallboard so gouged it looked like the surface of the moon. I finally hired someone to just cover it up with beadboard and a wooden chair rail. My kids are now teens and we still have that beadboard; room is now DH's office and I'd like to remove it but I dread what we'll find.

    Bookmark   April 21, 2012 at 4:16PM
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Bumblebeez SC Zone 7

Poor mustangs!
Well, thank you everyone! I bought a sander today so I'll let you know how it goes.
Unfortunately, I am not up to installing crown molding and even joint compound has me a little nervous. This is very much a diy project, as in dh could care less about the downstairs bedroom and he is extremely time compromised, so it's only me. But I have used a sander many times before and at least feel confident with that.
And I know how to paint.

    Bookmark   April 21, 2012 at 4:36PM
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Bumblebeez: Rent a wallpaper steamer!! I have been in your shoes and this machine will have the job accomplished in no time.Let your fingers do the walkin' thru the yellow pages. You'll probably only need a 1/2 day rental.

    Bookmark   April 21, 2012 at 5:30PM
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clt I hadn't heard of that wall wik product, but it would certainly be a step in the right direction. As I said before, the problem is keeping the water on the paper till it sinks in.

You could always tack a wet towel up against the paper to keep it wet, I just find it easiest to keep rewetting the one spot while I am busy removing the paper from the first area I prepared.

There is no doubt at all that it is fine to paint over wallpaper. I always go to extremes to try and get the paper off, because I am not good at skim coating and I hate the dust created by the sanding after the skim coating. I'd rather wet and scrape than mud and sand. Either method, will eventually achieve the goal of a smooth wall so it's just a matter of which method you prefer.

    Bookmark   April 21, 2012 at 5:34PM
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Bumblebeez SC Zone 7

Ratherbesewing, is it any different than a garment steamer? I tried that, we have a good one, and it made the sheet rock flake. And the glue remained.

Cindy, I would rather scrap too if I didn't remove so much sheet rock as I scrap!

    Bookmark   April 21, 2012 at 5:56PM
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Bumblebeez SC Zone 7

"scrape"!! *crap!

    Bookmark   April 21, 2012 at 5:57PM
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We had a ton of wallpaper a few years ago. One wall we couldn't get it off, so the painters put this stuff on it, then a very light texture, then painted over it.

So far I can't tell it was painted over.

When you're finished, wanna come do my bathroom? :)

    Bookmark   April 21, 2012 at 6:38PM
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I will second the nomination for Walwik. I had a horrible time getting 3 rooms of borders down until I got this stuff. The secret is to keep it wet and let it sit for at least half an hour. It worked like a charm. I just used the border strips and a spray bottle to wet it after I scored it.

    Bookmark   April 21, 2012 at 7:18PM
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I did a self-made Walwik (wet paper towels); perhaps the real Walwik system would work.

BB, I paid $50 for a wallpaper steamer and, like every other try, it wasn't the answer. I am thinking of listing the steamer on Freecycle but I keep thinking that perhaps it would work on different wallpaper (each room is different). I'm feeling your pain! Carry on.

OTOH, It sounds like both our DHs are out of the DIY picture and we are both in FLA, I should help you and vice versa.

    Bookmark   April 21, 2012 at 7:41PM
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I think the problem is that often borders are put up with a different paste since you are putting paper over paper. I know that I have put up borders in the past that required a heavier, stickier paste/glue that would not remove like regular wallpaper would. Finding out what might have been used might reveal a clue as to how it might be removed. A steamer won't work: I have tried it. Neither will wetting agents. I have painted over a border and the paper underneath it, by using texture paint. I also painted over just a border and you can see the edge, of course, but it was in an area above kitchen cabinets that you couldn't tell and I couldn't stand peeling off bits and pieces like you are having to do. Good luck finding a solution.

    Bookmark   April 21, 2012 at 8:24PM
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Just wanted to say I feel for you! I removed some paper in my very large kitchen several years ago by peeling off the vinyl top layer and then spraying the paper backing with water (which incidentally worked just as well as water with fabric softener added, or a chemical wallpaper remover). If I soaked it too much, the drywall paper would bubble, and if I didn't soak it long enough, it wouldn't come off as easily, so I had to get the timing down just right. But once I did, I could easily pull off each floor-to-ceiling piece all in one piece.

Later I tried to remove a border in my laundry room and it was a nightmare! That little border took me far, far longer than stripping my entire large kitchen. I worked and worked, for hours and hours to get the dumb thing off trying all the different recommended techniques to no avail. I think I was in tears. I finally got it off, but couldn't get all the glue off so primed over it with an oil based primer and also had a lot of drywall tears to patch up. All I can figure is that the previous owner did not prep the wall properly, or else the glue used was like super glue! I also had a heck of a time removing a small area of paper around my front door in a previous house that I think was applied directly to the drywall by the builder, and it, too, wouldn't come off. I think it's all in the prep.

Good luck with it. I'd just do a little at a time to keep your sanity. But if is just too much of a nightmare, I'd vote for painting over it, too.

    Bookmark   April 21, 2012 at 10:57PM
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If you have plaster walls a steamer will take the paper right off. The idea of using a steamer is from the days when most people did have plaster walls.

In my experience, steamers ruin drywall. I do not recommend using them on drywall.

Bumblebeez the only tool I use for scraping is a wide spackling knife. I have one that is 4" and another that is 8" wide. I actually sharpen the edges of them sometimes. The broader the knife, the less likely you will find yourself slipping and gouging the walls. I wish I could come there and help you, sigh.

    Bookmark   April 21, 2012 at 11:18PM
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I was going to say the above. Never use a razor. Buy a couple of sparkling knives (I like a one inch for detail or corners and a four to six inch for the balance). Razors are too sharp and just end up ruining your wall.

    Bookmark   April 22, 2012 at 12:22PM
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Check out the link below (see the last 2 posts); also, search for "removing wallpaper" on that forum for additional threads on the topic.

Here is a link that might be useful: wallpaper removal

    Bookmark   April 22, 2012 at 1:04PM
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Do you know if what you put up was paintable wallpaper? Could you perhaps just paint over it?

Here is a link that might be useful: Paintable Wallpaper

    Bookmark   July 6, 2012 at 2:21AM
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Have you tried white vinegar?

Vinegar worked for me when NOTHING else worked. Mix the vinegar 50/50 in very hot water, apply it with a sponge (use gloves so you can get it HOT).

Let it sit for about five minutes, keeping it wet... and it will peel right off.

This worked better for me than steamers or chemicals.

And it's cheap... and non toxic.

    Bookmark   July 6, 2012 at 6:36AM
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We had a stubborn border or two at our last house, thanks to the POs. Here's what we did. Score the border with the paper tiger. Fill a bucket with hot water, and add some vinegar and some fabric softener (be generous with both). Get a scrubby scotch-brite pad. Dip the pad into the bucket and start massaging the border with the scrubby side of the scotch brite. Get it good and wet. Keep going over a small area (we did a foot or two at a time) for several minutes. Keep dipping the pad into the water -- you need to get it really really wet. Eventually, the border will start to dissolve and come off on the scotch brite. When that happens, try the scraper. If it doesn't come off, resume the scrubbing. Eventually we were able to get the top layer of the border off leaving just some sticky glue/residue and some of the "back paper". Then the glue came off with more scrubbing and some scraping.

It sounds tedious, but once we got the hang of it, it actually went pretty fast. The key was to get the border so wet that it was basically falling apart before trying to scrape -- let the water do the work for you. Good luck!

    Bookmark   July 6, 2012 at 9:33AM
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I had a job like that when we moved into this house, and a strong mix of hot water and vinegar, sprayed on and left to soak, worked better than Dif or anything else.

    Bookmark   July 6, 2012 at 10:46AM
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Have you tried a steamer?

    Bookmark   July 6, 2012 at 7:00PM
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Bumblebeez SC Zone 7

Thanks, y'all. I have sanded it off. The steamer took the drywall off.

    Bookmark   July 6, 2012 at 8:42PM
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I've done EXACTLY what you found online with terrific results. Couldn't tell the border was ever there after painting. Also did about the same to a wallpapered bedroom once to neutralize the house to sell. The paper had been on for so many years, it wouldn't budge. Went over each seem with spackle, used slightly damp sponge to smooth everything, primed then painted. Looked so good, we had 3 offers in 3 days! Good luck!

    Bookmark   July 6, 2012 at 9:04PM
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