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How Wallpaper Remover Works

Wallpaper Steamers

Removing wallpaper can be as easy as one, two … rip! Of course, there's no way to learn this until you pull at a loose seam. If a panel comes off right away, the wall was coated with a primer before it was covered. Just keep pulling slowly until you're done. This can take less than an hour or it can take up your entire day, depending on the size of the room. You may need a paper scraper for any patches that don't come off right away and a sponge and bucket of warm water to wipe off any sticky residue. This method is easy, quick and costs you nothing. Unfortunately, wallpaper rarely comes off that easily.

However, simple alternatives abound. Wallpaper steamers can do the job when other methods fail. They're especially effective on tough projects, such as wallpaper that's been wallpapered over or painted. You can rent one for approximately $25 per day or buy one for about $50.

If the wallpaper isn't porous, you can score it by cutting slits with a razor or scoring tool. Here's how you handle the rest:

  • Fill the steamer with water (some machines take a chemical solution, so consult the directions to be sure).
  • Plug it into an electrical outlet; a 1-gallon steamer should operate for about an hour before it needs to be filled. The water heats up in a main container and becomes steam, which is carried in a tube to a metal plate that disperses it. Press the plate onto wallpaper for about 30 seconds or until it softens, then scrape off paper with a putty knife and tear upward. If you can, scrape and steam at the same time.

Wear protective goggles, gloves and a long-sleeved shirt. Try to keep the plate lower than your arm. Otherwise, hot water can drip from the plate and burn you. When the steamer isn't in use, set the hot plate on a cookie sheet or similar surface.

Again, steamers work for the same reason liquid and gel removers work -- they allow hydrolysis to occur. Heat also makes an effective catalyst for hydrolysis and also helps makes liquids more soluble. Wallpaper steamers heat water until steam forms, which is then applied directly to the wallpaper adhesive. The steam breaks down the glue through hydrolysis.

Now that you know several ways to remove wallpaper, stop procrastinating and get started. May that farmyard scene on your kitchen wallpaper motivate you: The cows have come home, and now's the time for action.