How to Strip Wallpaper With a Steamer

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Steaming isn't the most common wallpaper removal technique -- it's a drastic one that's more of a last resort for removing problem paper than it is a go-to for DIYers. You can rent steamers at rental outlets, and if you don't want to do that, you may have success using a clothes iron. Steaming requires care, because you can damage the wallboard and injure yourself if you do it incorrectly.

Turn Off the Power and Score the Wall

  • In preparation for infusing the wall with steam, turn off all the electrical circuits that power outlets, lights or switches in the wall. This is a safety precaution that could prevent a electrical short circuit or a shock. If you're removing vinyl or painted paper, you can shorten the time it takes for the steam to soften the adhesive by scoring the paper with a scoring tool. Run the tool over the entire papered area, applying enough pressure to make holes in the paper, but not enough to gouge the drywall or plaster underneath.

Turn on the Steamer and Cover the Floor

  • Whether you use a rental steamer or a clothes iron, it's important to fill it with clean, chemical-free water -- chemicals can gum up the steamer, and you don't want to inhale them while the steam is wafting throughout the room. Fill the steamer before plugging it in, and then wait for the machine to produce steam before you start stripping the paper. This could take anywhere from 5 to 25 minutes, depending on the tool. Use this warmup time to spread plastic or canvas dropcloths on the floor in front of the wall to protect the flooring.

Heat the Paper

  • Wallpaper steamers feature a pad connected to the steam pan by flexible tubing, and you heat the wallpaper by putting this pad in contact with the wall. If you're using a clothes iron, set it to medium heat and run it along the wall as if you were ironing clothing. Keep the pad or iron moving to avoid overheating any part of the wall -- you may have to return to an area several times to loosen the paper. The wallpaper should eventually bubble and lift, and that's the sign that it's ready for you to pull or scrape off the wall.

Pull or Scrape the Paper

  • It doesn't matter whether you move the steamer vertically or horizontally, as long as you heat all parts of the paper enough to soften the adhesive. When the paper loosens, put the steamer down and try pulling the paper, starting at one corner and working your way up or down. If the paper doesn't pull off, work a plastic wallpaper or paint scraper under it and scrape it. Keep the angle of the scraper handle low with the respect to the wall to prevent nicking the wallboard. Once all the paper is off, wash off the adhesive residue with a strong detergent solution, such as 1/2 cup of trisodium phosphate in a gallon of warm water.

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