how to remove wallpaper in 7 simple steps
Removing wallpaper can be a laborious and messy process. Set yourself up for success before you begin so that you can move forward in your project with confidence. Follow these steps faithfully and you will have the beautiful room you’ve always wanted.
Step 1: Assess the Space
Evaluate the rooms that you plan to renovate. Begin to gather the necessary supplies (see steps 4–7).
The house was built in 1981 toward the end of a wooded cul-de-sac near the Quinnipiac River. We find it in the winter of 2008, before the crash, before the miscarriages, before a lot of things.
It is a crisp white Cape Cod-style house with a blue front door and matching shutters framing the paned windows on the main floor. Inside, the house is a cluster of wallpaper-sheathed rooms. Bold burgundy stripes in the dining room. Dusky pink flowers in the bathroom. Neutral plaid in the kitchen.
The three bedrooms upstairs will make the perfect setup for us and the twins. The first time we tour the house, I imagine our future there: two sets of plump-toed feet running across hardwood floors, waffles in the sunroom on lazy Sunday mornings, learning to ride bikes in wide arcs in the cul-de-sac.
By the time we sign the closing papers 6 weeks later, we will only need one bedroom.
Step 2: Prep the Room
Remove all outlet and light switch plates. Cover the outlets to protect them from moisture.
We shop for a sperm donor from online catalogs and try to decide what’s most important: interesting hobbies or family medical history. Cryopreserved tanks of semen on dry ice are delivered by UPS, red biohazard stickers on the box: CONTAINS HUMAN TISSUE. Each vial of semen costs us half a paycheck.
We follow the instructions carefully and laugh over the bathroom sink as we examine the slosh of foamy pink semen in the pipette. Nothing about this feels natural, so we try to make it fun. Afterward, I rest with a pillow beneath my hips, head swirling with baby names: Penelope, August, Clementine.
Step 3: Test the Old Wallpaper’s Adhesion
Start at a corner or seam and gently pull the wallpaper to see if it comes away easily. If so, you may not need to try the more aggressive methods.
Reproductive Endocrinologist. That’s the title of the man who will try to get me pregnant for the next two years. First the low-grade fertility treatments: a pill to coax timely ovulation before he threads a catheter of the defrosted semen into my uterus, my legs bare and shaking in the stirrups. Next: hormone shots to inspire the ripening of more eggs, the growing of a fluffy, fertile uterine lining. We try for six months, a roller coaster of hope and despair.
Step 4: Perforate the Old Wallpaper
Puncture the wallpaper with a special roller tool. Its spikes will puncture the paper allowing for better penetration of the liquid in the following step.
Month after month, a brutal cycle of excitement, cautious optimism, and repeated failure. Pills and then shots, still nothing. Hope dwindles with each negative pregnancy test and the painful period that follows. More tests. A numbing shot in my cervix before they pump my uterus full of contrast dye to assess the structure of my anatomy. Endless bloodwork. Long ultrasound wands snapped inside floppy condoms. More shots.
Step 5: The Solvent Method
Dilute the solvent as directed by the manufacturer. Sponge the solvent onto the wallpaper and let it soak in. The paper will begin to sag and droop.
Desperate and dazzled by the statistics and professional assurances, we are primed to the suggestion that we try each next step. A wall of shiny-gummed babies smiling at us in the hallway, proof that the method works. We find ourselves in an informational session for In-Vitro Fertilization, a gathering of fidgety, hollow-eyed couples. Glossy pamphlets about hormone shots, egg retrieval, and genetic testing clutter our countertop.
Daily shots. Every other day blood tests. Ultrasounds. I am bloated with egg follicles ripe for harvest. It’s a quick procedure that requires anesthesia. I’m grateful to check out. Afterward, they write the number of mature eggs that were retrieved on the back of my hand so I won’t forget once the drugs wear off. Double digits, a good result. Fertilization, more good news. She gives me a shot each evening, a spray of progesterone thrust deep into my flank.
We wait as our fertilized eggs are watched in the lab, wait for the best-looking clusters of cells to be deemed viable. They look like two shooting stars on the ultrasound monitor, glowing orbs against the darkness as they make their way home. Tentative, cautious hope. Shopping online for maternity clothes. Late night whispers as we volley baby names to each other over the down comforter.
Eleven days later, the phone call we’ve been waiting for. I buy maternity pants the next day.
Step 6: Scrape Away the Wallpaper
Start scraping with a plastic putty knife or drywall knife, taking care not to gouge the wall.
The house passes inspection and we have a closing date set. I spend a lot of time over the coming weeks shopping online for baby furniture and car seats, exhaustively reading customer reviews.
A sharp cramp explodes in my abdomen and brings me to my knees. Nauseous, blurry-eyed, I curl up on the bed and beg: Please let them stay.
In the shower as I watch thick swirls of blood disappear down the drain: Please let me keep just one of them.
In the exam room afterward, empty again: It’s all too much. Hollowed out like a pumpkin, scraped clean of my insides, grief blooming on my skin like mold.
Step 7:Clean and Repair the Wall
Prepare a solution of very hot water and heavy-duty cleaner. Use a sponge to wipe down the surface, taking care not to saturate the walls. Wipe dry.
Grief looks a lot like productivity. I shop for supplies: scrapers, solvents, drop cloths. I collect paint swatches, carpet samples, and watch HGTV late into the night. While she is at work, I begin the process of removing the wallpaper, one room at a time. Spray. Perforate. Scrape. Scream. Sob. Kick the wall. Repeat.
It takes nearly a year to get the house just how we want it. Fresh paint shimmers over the carefully repaired walls. Dense carpet smooths over the uneven bedroom floors. A gleaming white countertop brightens the kitchen with its original dark wood cabinets.
The house looks just the same from the outside, but on the inside every surface has been touched.
Sonia Ruyts holds a BA in Theater from the College of Idaho. Sonia explores themes of identity, loss, and transformation in her multi-genre writing and is currently at work on her first novel. When she’s not writing, Sonia can be found walking by the river with her dog, hunting for treasure at the thrift store or going to bed early to read. Sonia lives in Oregon with her wife, two children, and an ever-expanding collection of pets. You can find more of her work at www.soniaruyts.com and on Instagram at @sonia.ruyts.