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    Ask the Carpenter

    How to remove wallpaper safely from Sheetrock

    When removing wallpaper, always start with the least agressive method first.
    When removing wallpaper, always start with the least agressive method first.

    Q. I really enjoy your column each week. I have to remove old wallpaper in several rooms, and I’m contemplating renting a steamer. The problem is that the walls are Sheetrock. They were painted and sized before the paper was applied. I have removed paper from several rooms over the years with little problem, but I have always used just scoring tools, liquid remover, and scrapers. Should I rent a steamer?


    A. Removing wallpaper on Sheetrock can be tricky. Scoring the paper aggressively can create a mess; the pins on the scoring tool will pierce the Sheetrock and allow the water or liquid remover to get in the core. So, as I always say, “Go in like a lamb and out like a lion.” Meaning, always start with the least aggressive method first.


    Here’s how my painting contractor does it:

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    Try “dry stripping” the paper, which basically means removing as much as you can without steam or water. To do this, find a loose corner/seam and try to pull it off carefully. Sometimes the paper and its backing separate. The backing will come of easily with hot water and wallpaper stripper. No scoring will be necessary. If that does not work; try lightly scoring (minimizing any breach of the Sheetrock) and then following the method you have used in the past. If that does not work, rent a steamer.

    My painting contractor’s experience is that when all else fails (hot water with DIF or Fast), the steamer will do the job. Sometimes quickly, sometimes not.

    Note: Any pinholes created by scoring can be filled with spackle once the walls have dried overnight.

    Before painting, be sure to scrub off or use a putty knife to remove as much glue as possible. Wipe down the walls really well with clean water and a damp sponge. Three times around the room is a good rule of thumb, and you know how much I like rules of thumb! If you use a putty knife, soak the blade with wallpaper-stripping solution first. If you use a Scotch-Brite pad to scrub it, soak the pad with the solution before you start.


    Rinse the walls with water and a sponge until the water looks pretty clean.

    Once dry, sand the walls with 120- to 150-grit paper. Remove the dust with a damp rag or vacuum and then prime. My contractor recommends using an oil-based primer. Be sure to allow the walls to dry for 24 hours before using an oil-based primer.

    Note: Any glue you leave behind will reactivate with a water-based primer no matter how many coats of paint you use. If an oil-based primer is not an option, use a high quality acrylic primer. When you are priming, look for reactivated glue. It will look slightly bumpy and might even attach to the roller sleeve. Use a putty knife to scrape it off thoroughly and re-prime that spot.

    Rob Robillard is a general contractor, carpenter, editor of, and principal of a carpentry and renovation business. Send your questions to or tweet them to @globeaddress or @robertrobillard.