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👩🏼‍🎨 How To Paint Over Tacky Wallpaper for a New Look

Painting Over Wallpaper

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Eyeing your walls and wondering how to paint over wallpaper? You’ve probably come to the conclusion that it’s a whole lot easier to slap some paint on it than it is to pull down that 1980s floral paper that makes your bathroom feel like you’re living with your granny.

And guess what? Your instincts are 100% right!

Sure, most renovation experts suggest getting rid of every last scrap of wallpaper before painting. But removing wallpaper is typically a messy, multi-step process. And older wallpaper can take hours to remove. The good news is that it’s absolutely viable to successfully paint over most wallpaper. (Just don’t tell the renovation experts how easy it is.)

Here’s a step-by-step breakdown of what you need to get the job done.

How to paint over wallpaper

Before you do anything, take some time to carefully evaluate the state of the current wallpaper. If it’s old, crumbling, and large chunks are peeling away from the wall, you may just want to bite the bullet and remove the paper before painting. Otherwise, you’ll end up with an uneven wall surface.

If there are just a few imperfections, Hunter McFarlane, a project expert at Lowe’s Home Improvement, says to make some simple fixes before diving into a paint job. That means cutting away any peeling or rippled parts of the paper with an X-acto knife. Then sand down uneven spots until they’re smooth and flush with the surrounding areas of the wall.

Removing Wallpaper

Tools you’ll need to paint over wallpaper

Check to see what’s in your garage or buy the following:

  • Putty knife
  • X-acto knife
  • 3/8-inch nap roller
  • Roller tray
  • Drywall mud
  • Oil-based primer
  • Sandpaper
  • Paint of choice (preferably eggshell or satin finish)
  • Paintbrush
  • Degreaser/cleaner

Before you tackle the job, Rick Watson, director of product information at Sherwin-Williams, suggests giving the wall a thorough cleaning with a degreaser, to make sure there’s nothing on the wallpaper that will repel your primer.

The best primer and paint for wallpaper

Because painting over wallpaper is often done in a bathroom, Michael Nungesser, owner of Five Star Painting of Central Georgia, recommends an eggshell or satin finish. These types of finishes work well with the moisture generated by steamy showers, he says. Bonus: They’re both easily washable.

The best primer to use is typically one that has an oil base, rather than a water base.

“Water-based products tend to lift or curl seams,” Watson explains. “But the solvent in alkyd primers most likely won’t lift the edges or seams.”

Regardless, you’re going to want to do a test of the primer on the wallpaper’s edge to see if it can hold up to the paint. Just a small section (preferably in an area that can be hidden if you opt to abandon the project) will do.

If the paper dries without any lifting or blistering, you’re good to go. If you do notice lifting or blistering, Watson says you may actually want to try a water-based primer to see if that’s better.

Ideally, you’ll pick one that’s quick-drying and made for bonding. That will promote adhesion, he says. (And repeat the patch test with the new paint.)

How to hide wallpaper seams

If your wallpaper has noticeable seams where the panels come together, a coat of paint may not hide them. For a perfect paint finish, you may need to smooth over these seams, says Nungesser. After all, the goal of painting the wallpaper is to make it disappear!

To 86 seams, grab your X-ACTO knife and cut back about a quarter-inch of paper on either side of the seam. Next, Nungesser suggests applying a skim coat of drywall mud (also known as spackle) with your putty knife to hide the seam. Be careful not to apply a thick coat: Heavy drywall mud can pull at the paper and cause it to come off the wall.

Once the mud has dried, sand down the surface until it’s dull and smooth. Vacuum up any dust, and wipe down the wall again. Drywall dust and paint do not mix well!

If the wallpaper has a texture, such as flocking, you may also want to add drywall mud over the textured spots and sand down the surfaces, in case the texture can be seen through the paint. If you want that texture to show through—and Watson says some people do—feel free to skip this step.

“It all depends on the look you want,” Watson points out.

Painting over wallpaper: How to do it right

Once the surface is smooth, it’s time to prime. Fill your roller tray, and apply the primer in an even coat. Then allow the primer to fully dry.

Once that’s done, add your finish coat in a color of your choice.

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