This is my preferred method for removing wallpaper from a wall. It’s fast, efficient and you can strip a large room in a short time.
There is a downside to using a wallpaper steamer – it’s messy. Water droplets from a steamer trickle down the wall and end up on your skirting board and floor. There’s also a chance the water could get into the wiring of light switches and electrical sockets.
So it’s best to take precautions to prevent this from happening.
Cover the sockets with a small piece of plastic taped to the wall, or better yet, switch off the electrical supply to the room you’re working in.
With that safety warning out of way, let’s take a deeper look into what you have to do to get the job done.
What does a wallpaper steamer look like and how does it work?
If you’ve never seen one before, a wallpaper steamer has a form similar to a canister vacuum cleaner and works like a kettle.
The steamer has a plastic water chamber which houses a heating element. A plastic hose leads from the chamber to a flat plastic handle a little larger than your hand (known as a steam plate).
Once you’ve added hot or cold water to the chamber (hot or boiling water is best to reduce waiting time) and switched it on, the steam travels down the plastic hose and out into the plate, which you hold against the wall for a few seconds to allow the steam to penetrate the wallpaper to loosen the paste.
Once the steam has soaked in and started breaking down the adhesive holding the paper to the wall, you go at it with your scraper.
In most cases, the wallpaper will come away from the wall with ease.
However, if the wallpaper you want to remove is non-porous, you’ll need to take measures to reverse that situation so the steam from the steamer can get through the wallpaper to remove the paste. The easiest way to do this is by scoring the wallpaper to create access points for the steam. You could use a utility knife for this job, but a better option is a tool called a wallpaper perforator.
This is a small inexpensive tool that you roll along the surface of the wallpaper to create dozens of little holes, which then allows the steam to break down the paste between the wallpaper and the wall.
Safety measures to take when working with a steamer to remove wallpaper
Working with boiling water and steam can be incredibly dangerous so it’s wise to take a few precautions when using a steamer to remove wallpaper. If you follow the principles we apply to kettle use, you won’t go far wrong.
- Never let the water chamber of the steamer run dry.
- If the water chamber does reach a dangerously low level, switch it off and let it cool for a few minutes before topping it up with fresh water.
- Always keep the body of the steamer on a flat surface. The floor is a good place but you run the risk of kicking it over or walking into it (especially if you don’t tidy up as you go).
- Have a tray or bucket big enough to hold the steam plate to hand because there may be times when you need to put it down so you can do something else. Switching off a boiling steamer will not stop the steam travelling down the pipe and out into the plate. So catching the water droplets in a tray or bucket is better than letting them soak into your carpet, laminate flooring or between floorboards.
How to prepare a room before removing wallpaper
As I said at the start of the article, removing wallpaper with a steamer is a messy job. Not only will the room become chocker block with large pieces of old unwanted wallpaper, but there’ll also be smaller bits of wet wallpaper stuck to any surface they land on.
To make things as easy as possible, follow as many of these ideas as you can:
- Take as much furniture and other content out of the room as possible. If you can’t take it out of the room, move it away from the walls and place it in the centre of the room.
- If you can’t completely clear the room, cover the furniture with dustsheets.
- Remove pictures, mirrors etc from walls and check there aren’t any nails or screws sitting proud of the surface. If you find any, remove them.
- Cover the floor with a protective covering. Some folks use plastic but water can make that kind of surface a little slippy so you may prefer dust sheets or old bedsheets.
What’s the best way to use a steamer to remove wallpaper?
I find the best place to start is at the top of the wall. You can start in corner or in the middle. It doesn’t really matter because once the job’s done, the wall’s will be bare.
The first thing you want to do is fill the water chamber with water and bring it to the point where it’s generating steam.
When you see the steam coming down the pipe and out near the steam plate, you can present it to the wallpaper so it can start working its magic.
One word of warning here – don’t leave the plate in one place for too long because you could seriously damage the plaster on the wall. In some cases, depending on the current condition of the plaster, it can happen within a few seconds. So, be very careful when using a steamer to remove wallpaper.
The goal is to wet the wallpaper enough to make it easily removable. You don’t want to soak the walls.
After a short time, using a wallpaper scraper, try lifting up the edge of the strip of wallpaper you’re working on. If you can do that, work the scraper in some more to remove more of the wallpaper. If you can’t, apply some more steam for a few seconds then try again.
Now it’s a matter of repeating the process around the rest of the room. Exciting, eh?!
As I’ve said before, this is a messy (and boring) job but it’s essential when you want to redecorate.