How to Use a Steamer to Remove Wallpaper (Quick and Easy!)

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A wallpaper steamer is the best tool to use to remove wallpaper. It’s fast, efficient and you can quickly strip a large room.

These things are cheap, last for ages and save so much time, buying one is a no-brainer. I use one every time I need to remove wallpaper and pass it around the family when they’re decorating.

There is a downside to using a wallpaper steamer, as there is when you don’t use a wallpaper steamer – it’s messy. Water droplets trickle down the wall and onto your skirting boards and laminate flooring. And could get into light switches and electrical sockets.

So it’s best to take precautions to prevent this from happening.

Cover the light switches and sockets with a small piece of plastic taped to the wall, or better yet, switch off the electrical supply to the room.

With that safety warning out of way, let’s get to what you’re looking for…but keep reading for more information you might find useful.

How to use a steamer to remove wallpaper

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. On the side of the chamber, you’ll find a fill level clearly marked. Fill it to that point but no higher.

It can take several minutes to start steaming, depending on the temperature of the water you put in the tank. When the steam reaches the steam plate, it’ll start spitting out.

When you see the steam coming down the pipe and out near the steam plate, put it up against the wallpaper so it starts to work it’s magic.

I find the best place to start is at the top of the wall in one corner. Some people prefer to start at the bottom or middle of the wall!

I don’t leave the plate in one place for too long. Instead, I move it around (mostly horizontally) to cover small areas at a time. This reduces the chances of the steam cracking the plaster.

A word of warning – don’t leave the plate in one place for too long because you could seriously damage the plaster. In some cases, depending on the condition of the plaster, it can happen within a few seconds.

After a short time, using a wallpaper scraper, lift 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.

How to use a steamer on non-porous wallpapers

If the wallpaper you want to remove is non-porous, you’ll need to take measures to reverse that situation so the steam can get through the wallpaper to 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. The holes allow the steam to break down the wallpaper paste. The secret to using one of these tools is to press lightly. You don’t want to score the plaster, just the wallpaper.

So that’s the process out of the way, let’s have a look at wallpaper steamers and how to safely use one.

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 warm or cold water to the chamber (warm 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.

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 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.
  • Tidy up as you work your way around the room.
  • Have a jug of water at hand to top up the steamer should it run low.
  • Wear gloves and goggles to protect your hands and eyes.

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 every 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 dust sheets.
  • 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.

I hope you’ve found this article helpful. Thanks for reading this far and good luck with your wallpaper stripping and other DIY projects.

Tools Required

  • Wallpaper steamer
  • Wallpaper scraper
  • Water jug or other type of container
  • Masking tape and small pieces of plastic to protect electrical sockets and light switches
  • Dust sheets
  • Step ladder
  • Gloves
  • Goggles
  • Bin bags
  • You may need a utility knife or wallpaper perforator for stubborn jobs

Questions and answers