With the wide assortment of wall coverings available today, choosing among them can be a challenge equal to putting them up. Fortunately for you, we have the answers to all of your wallpapering questions. From removing to hanging to cleaning and repairing, this article will fill you in on all aspects of wallpapering your home. Now all you have to worry about is which pattern to choose.
Before we get into the specifics of hanging wallpaper, we will tell you how to remove your old wall covering that might need to be replaced.
Stripping off the old wall covering is usually wiser than leaving it on. New coverings adhere better to stripped-down surfaces. Depending on the wall covering and the kind of wall it's on, there are several ways to approach the job.
You can successfully paper over old wall coverings, but it's not always a good idea because the moisture in adhesives can cause both the old and new coverings to peel away from the wall. Also, if previous strips of wall covering have been lapped at the seams, these lap marks will show through the new covering. If you still want to paper over old coverings, as necessary, sand the seams smooth, tear away any loose strips, and re-paste loose edges around butt seams or defects before applying the new covering. If you're papering over foil or vinyl wall coverings, go over the shiny areas lightly with coarse sandpaper and then vacuum or wipe the sanding dust off the wall.
Now, if you've decided to strip off the old stuff, here are detailed instructions.
Though most strippable wall coverings are characterized by smooth, plasticlike textures (including vinyl, fabric-backed vinyl, or fabric-backed paper), the only way to find out if a covering is really strippable is to try peeling it off the wall. Here's how:
Step 1: Pry the paper up in an inconspicuous corner at the top of a wall with the tip of a utility knife.
Step 2: Grasp the tip of the corner and, keeping it as close to the wall as possible, try to pull it down the surface of the wall. Pulling it toward you and away from the wall increases the likelihood of tearing it. If a covering is strippable, it should peel away from the wall when you apply steady, moderate pressure. If not, you're probably dealing with a nonstrippable paper that you will have to soak, steam, or dry-strip off the wall. Do not soak or use steam-stripping methods on drywall, though. The moisture can soften the wall's kraft-paper surface and its gypsum core. Instead, use a dry-strip method.
Slitting and Soaking
With this technique, you make horizontal slits in the surface of the old wall covering with a utility knife, a razor blade, or a special tool called a paper stripper, available at wall covering stores. The slits, made eight or ten inches apart, allow warm, soapy water or a liquid paper remover to get behind the paper and soften the adhesive so you can pull or scrape the paper off plaster walls. You can apply either solution with a sponge or a spray bottle. Caution: If you spray on a liquid paper remover, use a painters' mask to keep from inhaling chemical vapors.
Step 1: Apply the water or the paper remover and let it soak in for a few minutes.
Step 2: Do the same thing on the next strip, then go back to the first and wet it again top to bottom.
Step 3: Use a 3 1/2-inch-wide wall scraper with a flexible blade to begin stripping. Slide the blade under the top edge of one of the horizontal slits and, holding it at about a 30-degree angle, push up on the wet paper. A scraper-width section should rip along the sides of the blade and wrinkle up above it as you push.
Step 4: Continue pushing as long as the paper comes off. If the strip of scraped paper breaks, resoak that area and start scraping at another slit. If, after repeated soaking and scraping attempts, the adhesive is clearly not yielding, you'll have to use another method.
On walls made of drywall, use a paper stripper to make the horizontal slits as before, but don't wet the paper. Just slowly scrape or peel it away from the wall.
Many tool rental and wallpaper outlets rent electrical steamers to do-it-yourselfers. These appliances typically consist of an electrically heated water tank connected by a long hose to a steamer plate with a perforated face. Here's how they're used:
Step 1: Once the water is hot, hold the plate against the wall until you see the wall covering darken with moisture around the edges of the plate. Start on a single strip and work from the top down.
Step 2: After about half of the strip has been steamed, lift a top corner with a fingernail or a utility knife and attempt to peel the paper downward. If that doesn't work, resort to a wall scraper. You may have to steam the same areas two or three times to loosen older adhesive behind the paper.
Now your walls should be completely bare. Don't they look naked? Well, move on to the next section, and we will get you started hanging up some new wallpaper.
Wallpaper Hanging Basics
Putting up a wall covering is something you can master within a very short period of time. The materials and techniques are simply repeated all the way around the room. After the first strip is up, you'll be amazed at how fast the job goes.
The first task is to select the right wall covering for your room; then you need to buy the right amount of it. Here are details on the many kinds of coverings, followed by a guide to estimating your quantity needs.
Estimating Wall-Covering Quantity Needs
Smart do-it-yourselfers calculate precisely how much wall covering material is needed, then buy it all at once.
Wall coverings are sold in rolls that are 15 to 54 inches wide. Regardless of the width, a single roll contains about 36 square feet; with trimming and waste, figure on getting only about 30 square feet of coverage per roll.
To calculate how many rolls you'll need for a given room, find its perimeter by measuring the length of each wall and adding all four measurements together. For example, in a 9 X 12-foot room, the perimeter equals 42 feet (9 + 9 + 12 + 12). Next measure the room's height
How to Hang Wallpaper Around Corners, Woodwork, and Outlets
The open expanse of an unobstructed wall makes for some fairly easy wallpapering. Sadly, every room will at least have corners -- if not cabinets or electrical outlets. On this page, we will show you how to handle the finer points of hanging wallpaper.
Papering Around Corners
The last strip of paper you put up on a wall should be made to turn any corner it encounters. Because perfectly straight walls and perfectly plumb corners are rare, never start or stop a strip of paper at or in a corner. If you do, there will be a noticeable gap in the seam, or the pattern will be out of alignment. Instead, plan to run the final strip of paper on the wall into or around the corner and then master the double-cutting technique outlined before. Here's how to successfully negotiate a turn:
Step 1: On inside corners, measure the distance from the edge of the last strip of paper you put up to the corner of the room. Do this at the top as well as at the bottom of the strip. Then take the wider of those two measurements and add 1/2 inch. Cut the next strip of paper vertically to make a strip that is as wide as your final measurement.
Step 2: Paste and hang this strip, butting it to the edge of the previous strip and running it into and out of the corner. Smooth it on both walls and trim at top and bottom as necessary.
Step 4: Use a sharp utility knife and a straightedge to double-cut both thicknesses on one of the two walls, getting as close to the corner as you can. Peel away the top layer of paper, lift the new edge of the top strip, and peel off the inner layer of the paper. Smooth both edges together and use a seam roller to flatten them to the wall.
Step 5: When you get to an outside corner, wrap the wall covering an inch or two around the bend. A wrap of much more than that may wrinkle or buckle when you try to smooth it out. Overlap the next strip on the unpapered wall. Then double-cut the overlap as before, but about an inch away from the corner.
Cutting Around Woodwork, Switches, and Outlets
Papering around windows, doors, built-ins, and woodwork is time consuming but relatively easy. To make the work easier, use a sharp utility knife and clean or change the blade as soon as it shows any signs of pulling or tearing the wall covering.
Step 2: Around large openings or obstacles, make the longest cuts first. At a door, for example, slice the paper from the top of the frame to the baseboard and discard or set aside this strip. Next, crease the flap of paper at the top of the frame and make a horizontal cut, using the frame as a guide. Most such cuts can be done freehand, but you can use a metal straightedge if you desire. Force the knife into the junction between wall and woodwork and guide the tip of the knife along the edge.
Step 3: For outlets and switches, just remove the faceplates and paper right over the recessed electrical boxes. With your utility knife, trim away the overlap, cutting a rectangle in the paper the same size as the box itself. Caution: Wall covering paste is a superb conductor of electricity, so cut off the power to the circuits you're working on at the circuit breaker or fuse box. If you need additional light, run an extension cord to a "live" outlet in another room.
Remove the creased paper and the plate. Position the plate facedown on the pasted side of the paper. Trim off the corners of the paper diagonally so that you can then fold the four edges over the back of the plate without overlapping them. Cut an "X" in the paper where the toggle switch will go through, pull the flaps through the hole, and paste them down.
For best results around both wall-mounted and ceiling-mounted light fixtures, take them down completely. Then you can paper right over the electrical box. Afterward, use the inside of the box as a guide for your knife and cut away the paper covering the opening.
Hopefully by now you have your wallpaper hung and it's looking beautiful. If only your walls could stay that way. Sometimes the wallpaper might start to sag or you might accidentally puncture the paper. Move on to our next section for some common wallpaper fixes.
How to Repair Wallpaper
Despite the remarkable durability of today's wallcoverings, they are not indestructible. When damage occurs or flaws turn up, it's best to fix them as soon as possible. The longer you wait, the larger they get; the larger the defect, the tougher the repair job.
Blisters, which result from excess adhesive or air trapped in bubbles between the wall and the backside of the wallcovering, can show up within minutes, days, weeks, or even years after a project is finished. The easiest way to deal with blisters is to prevent them in the first place. Smooth out a newly applied strip of paper thoroughly with a smoothing brush, a straightedge, or a sponge. If you encounter blisters, work them toward the nearest edge of the strip to release trapped air or excess adhesive.
Blisters located in inconspicuous places won't be noticed. If you're using an untreated printed paper, small blisters may go away by themselves as the paste dries and the paper contracts. However, if a blister is still there an hour after the strip has been applied to the wall, it's not likely it will disappear on its own. Blisters that are only an hour or two old can often be repaired following these steps:
Step 1: Use a straight pin to puncture the blister.
Step 2: With your thumbs, gently squeeze out the trapped pocket of still-wet adhesive or trapped air through the hole, being careful not to tear the paper.
Step 3: If that doesn't work, use a single-edge razor blade or utility knife to slit a small X in the wallcovering, and peel back the tips of the slit.
Step 4: If there's a lump of adhesive underneath, gently scrape it out. If the air was the cause, use an artist's brush to apply a small amount of adhesive behind the flaps, then press the flaps back down. Edges may overlap a little, but this overlapping is seldom detectable later.
Repairing Loose Seams
Loose seams are even easier to repair. Here's how:
Step 1: Lifting the seam slightly, use a brush to work the adhesive under the seam. Press the seam back down and go over it with a seam roller. If you find a loose seam in an overlapped vinyl wallcovering, use a vinyl-to-vinyl adhesive to stick it back down.
Step 2: If a seam shows any tendency to pull away, tack it in place with two or three straight pins stuck through the paper and into the wall until the adhesive is dry. Tiny holes won't show.
Repairing Holes and Tears
Holes and tears in wallcoverings require more effort to repair, but, if done carefully, the repairs will be nearly invisible. Here's how:
Step 1: Use a single-edge razor blade or utility knife to trim off any ragged edges around the damaged area.
Step 2: Tear out a patch from a piece of scrap wallcovering that is slightly bigger than the damaged area. Hold the scrap printed side up with one hand, and the rotate scrap as you gently tear out a round patch. With practice, you'll have the patch with an intact design on the printed side of the paper and a slightly feathered edge on backside.
Step 3: Spread a thin coating of adhesive on the back of the patch, and place it over the damaged area.
Step 4: Line up the pattern on the patch with the pattern on the wall as best you can. A perfect pattern alignment may not be possible, but the match should be close enough to escape detection.
Another technique for repairing holes is called double cutting. With this method you create a patch that is perfectly sized to fit the damaged area.
Step 1: Cut out a square scrap of wallcovering about an inch larger all the way around than the damaged section.
Step 2: Place the scrap over the hole, and align the pattern with the pattern on the wall. Hold the scrap in place with masking tape or thumbtacks, whichever is the least likely to damage the wallcovering.
Step 3: Hold a metal ruler firmly against the wall over the scrap, then use a very sharp utility knife to cut a square slightly bigger than hole itself through both layers of wallcovering.
Step 4: Remove the scrap and square patch you've just made; set it aside. Use the end of a utility knife to lift one corner of the original wallpaper square with the hole, and peel this square off the wall.
Step 5: Apply the adhesive to the back of the new patch, and press it into the cleaned-out area on the wall, making sure the patterns are once again aligned.
Now that we have the basics out of the way, it's time to get a little fancy. In our final section, we will learn how to hang specialty wall coverings, such as vinyl, fabric, or foil.
How to Apply Specialty Wall Coverings
There are two popular reasons for using an out-of-the-ordinary wall covering: Either the wall surface is rough or your taste in decoration dictates something special. In either case, applying specialty coverings can be as easy as applying standard coverings.
Washable, durable, and heavier than regular printed papers, vinyl wall coverings are available in extra-wide rolls that can reduce the number of seams and trims. They are usually more strippable than ordinary papers. Perhaps their greatest value, though, is that vinyl wall coverings can cover up defects that paint or thinner wall coverings can't hide.
Because vinyl is not as fragile as printed paper, you don't have to worry about punctures or ripped edges.
Vinyl wall coverings work best if the seams are butted and rolled. Vinyl will not stick to itself, so if you have to resort to a lap seam you'll need to have some vinyl-to-vinyl adhesive on hand.
Most vinyl-to-wall adhesives come premixed, another advantage over paper and mix-it-yourself wheat pastes.
You can spread the adhesive on the vinyl with a paint roller equipped with a mohair or wool roller cover. Afterward, apply the vinyl strips to the wall as you would any other wall covering, but use a smoothing brush with 3/4-inch bristles, which are shorter and sturdier than the longer-bristled brushes used on paper.
With really heavy-weight vinyl, even a short-bristle brush may not do an adequate job of smoothing. If that's the case, use a straightedge, such as a strip of hardboard or a yardstick.
Smooth three or four vinyl strips on the wall and then go back to make the trims and look for blisters. Puncture blisters with a needle or the tip of a single-edge razor blade and then squeeze out the trapped air or excess adhesive.
Ordinarily, fabric wall coverings are seen more in offices and business settings than in homes, even though they are good at giving texture and imparting a cozy look to walls. Fabric wall covering, which is expensive compared to more common papers, is usually sold by the yard instead of by the roll. But one of its chief advantages is that it's available in 45-, 54-, and 60-inch widths.
Most of the fabric coverings designed to be used on walls are backed with paper. With these you can use either wheat paste or a stainless cellulose paste. Unbacked fabric is far more difficult to deal with and is not recommended, especially for do-it-yourself paperhangers. If you do purchase an unbacked fabric, however, use a powdered vinyl adhesive and brush it on the wall, not on the back of the fabric. No matter which kind of fabric covering you decide to use, be sure to put lining paper on the walls first so you are able to get a good bond between wall and fabric.
Paper-backed fabric can be smoothed either with your hands or with a smoothing brush. Unbacked fabric requires that you trim off the selvages with scissors before pasting the fabric to the wall. Another disadvantage to unbacked fabric is that fabric will often absorb moisture from the adhesive on the wall. The extra weight makes it heavy and gives it a tendency to droop. Moisture also may allow the fabric to stretch, which can be hazardous because as the adhesive dries and the moisture evaporates, the fabric may shrink and seams may open. If possible, pat and smooth the fabric on the wall with your hands, pulling it taut but not out of shape.
Both expensive and delicate, foil wall coverings are often used to add dramatic sparkle to entire rooms, entries, or alcoves. Foil coverings must be carefully applied in order to avoid imparting the wrong kind of drama to a space. Most foil coverings are backed with either paper or fabric and should be used with a vinyl adhesive, since water in wheat paste can't evaporate through the foil.
Install foil wall coverings over a lining paper; because of the reflective surface, foil wall coverings tend to emphasize the tiniest bumps or pockmarks in a wall. Be very careful when you put it up, as it is easy to wrinkle or crease the foil. And instead of a smoothing brush, which may scratch the foil, smooth it on the wall with a sponge or a folded towel. Bond the seams the same way, because it's possible that a wooden seam roller may dent the foil.
Wallpaper can be a great addition to your home, and wall coverings have come a long way from the floral patterns of the 70s. Besides being easier to handle and more rip-resistant, they're also more durable. You now know how to handle a wallpapering project at any stage, from start to finish. It's time to hit the hardware store and start papering.
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