How to Paint Over Wallpaper

When you purchase a fixer-upper or start planning a cosmetic renovation at your current home, there could be things keeping your work from looking as professional as possible. We’re talking about wallpaper (dun, dun, duuuun!). While wallpaper is making a décor comeback, layers upon layers of decade-old wallpaper aren’t the most attractive, especially when you’re trying to refresh your space.

You’re probably thinking the first thing to do is to get to work scraping and peeling old wallpaper before you start painting; otherwise, it could put a wrench in your painting project. But, contrary to what you’ve been told, you can paint over wallpaper and skip all the laborious work of removing it.

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Tools & Materials You’ll Need

  • Trisodium Phosphate (TSP) – TSP is a chemical used to clean and prep wallpaper. It should always be diluted with water and handled with gloves.
  • Sponge – You’ll need a sponge to apply the TSP.
  • Bucket – Use a bucket to mix your water and TSP solution.
  • Oil-based primer/sealer – Before you start painting, you’ll need an oil-based primer to go over your wallpaper so that your paint will adhere properly.
  • Paintbrush – A paintbrush will work perfectly to get odd angles and tight corners.
  • Paint roller – To give your walls a smooth finish, use a paint roller on larger areas.
  • Oil-based paint – Water-based paint won’t work well after you’ve cleaned and primed your wallpaper. Oil-based paint is ideal for long-term adhesion and damage prevention.
  • Mask – Always use a mask to keep from breathing in harsh paint fumes and other chemical cleaners.
  • Gloves – Gloves are vital to avoid exposure to chemicals that could irritate your skin.
  • Goggles – Be sure to invest in eye protection because your eyes can become severely irritated if TSP gets in them.

Painting Over Wallpaper Step by Step

Step 1: Clean the Walls Thoroughly

Even if you were painting a wall without wallpaper, you’d still need to ensure that the surface is clean so that your paint will adhere and look professionally done. You can’t simply use soap and water or a dry microfiber cloth to remove dirt and dust; you’ll need something a little more substantial. We recommend purchasing Trisodium Phosphate (TSP), a non-organic cleaning agent used as a degreaser and stain remover.

Mixing instructions:

  • Put on your gloves and eye protection and mix 1/2 TSP in 2 gallons of hot water.
  • Let the solution mix and become soluble.
  • Soak your sponge in the mixture for a few minutes and then ring out so that it’s still damp.
  • Use broad strokes from bottom to top to remove the worst of the dirt and debris.

Step 2: Use an Adhesive on the Wallpaper

The point of painting over wallpaper is to avoid removing it (or have it start peeling away and ruining your paint job). The best way to do this is to ensure corners and edges stay put. You’ll want to use an adhesive compound in the most vulnerable areas, like seams where the wall meets the ceiling.

Step 3: Prime the Walls and Wait for them to Dry

Your oil-based primer-sealer will help your paint stay and give you a smoother wall finish. After all, you want your surface to be completely intact before you begin painting, or you’ll have issues long-term maintaining the wall’s appearance. Remember, read the manufacturer’s instructions to ensure the correct application.

Step 4: Apply the First Coat of Oil-Based Paint

Once your primer is dry, the last step is to add your oil-based paint. If you’re having difficulty locating some, most home improvement stores will carry oil-based paints from various major brands and manufacturers. One of the great things about this product is that you only need one coat for full coverage on difficult surfaces.

Step 5: Apply a Second Coat of Oil-Based Paint

While oil-based paint usually only requires one coat, you’ll want to add a second coat of paint to guarantee you’ve completely covered the wallpaper. Make sure that your first coat has dried completely before adding the second, as you may get an uneven finish.

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