How Wallpaper Remover Works

By: Echo Surina

Commercial Wallpaper Remover

Commercial removers are typically sold as solvents or gels and are chemically acidic or basic. Active ingredients vary but common ones include sodium hydroxide, enzymes or acetic acid.

Commercial wallpaper remover works the same as homemade remover. An acid or base in the remover acts as a catalyst for hydrolysis -- the process that breaks down the adhesive glue.


Acids donate positively charged subatomic particles called protons, and bases accept these protons. Wallpaper adhesive is acid and base sensitive, which explains why it responds to acidic and basic wallpaper removers. Both kinds of removers work the same way: They get through the wallpaper's top layer and dissolve the glue on the back.

Some commercial products contain an enzyme that catalyzes the breakdown of adhesive without getting consumed in the reaction. In other words, these enzymes speed up the process of hydrolysis. An enzyme is like a lock and a molecule is like a key; in other words, enzymes only target the molecule for which it's made. To extend the brick wall analogy we mentioned on the last page, one enzyme might be created to break down mortar holding together a red brick and brown brick. Another enzyme might be engineered to break down the mortar fusing a black brick and orange brick. Products with enzymes will work faster than removers without them.

You've heard that there's more than one way to skin a cat -- well, there's also more than one way to take down wallpaper.