When it comes to wallpapering successfully, the key is good prep! After years of experience with adding wallpaper to every room of my house, I’ve learned how to prep by testing samples, smoothing, cleaning, priming, & planning out the layout. I’ll show how to prep for wallpaper with examples of when I did it right and wrong so you can look like a wallpaper pro too.
how to prep a wall for wallpaper
Let’s start with the video tutorial so you get an overview on what I did. Then, I’ll dive in with more details below:
If the video doesn’t work here, you can watch it on YouTube here. It’d mean so much if you’d watch the video! I’m trying to get better at my video skills so I can grow my YouTube channel. If you have a few minutes to watch this and/or subscribe, I’d so appreciate it.
- TSP Cleaner
- Wallpaper Scoring Tool
- painter’s tool
- wood filler
- sanding sponge
- wallpaper primer
test a sample
Before I order my wallpaper, I like to order a sample of the paper I’ll be using. For my son’s room, I wanted to see if peel and stick or traditional pasted paper would work better with the texture on his walls.
When the sample arrived, I pasted on the traditional paper and stuck on the peel and stick. From there, I could see that I prefer how the traditional paper looks with the texture in the room. So that’s what I ordered.
I suggest to never skip this step of testing a sample. It’s key in knowing what the end product will look like. I’ve skipped this step and ended up with wallpaper that looked horrible with the texture. If I’d tested out the more expensive wallpaper, it’d look much better and I could’ve bought something that’d be a better fit for my home.
smooth the wall
To smooth the wall, this can be a simple step (or a complicated one. I’ll show both). To keep it simple, just remove any light switch covers, art and the nails they hang on- take off anything that is on top of the wall.
Next make sure the wall is smooth. Here’s what needs to be addressed before wallpapering- loose paint (here’s how to fix peeling paint), holes (make sure to fill them with wood filler and sand until smooth), bumps, paint drips, and heavy textures (use a painter’s tool to knock off any of these).
In the past, when I dealt with peeling paint I removed as much of the paint as possible, patched over the ridge left from the paint, and sanded it smooth.
If, after testing out a sample and the wallpaper doesn’t stick or looks terrible from the texture on the wall, you might need to use joint compound to smooth the wall’s texture. To do this, roll on joint compound on the wall than flatten it out. Sand once the mud is dry. Repeat with thin coats of joint compound until the wall is at the desired smooth texture.
Note, I have a whole blog post on how to smooth a wall. I did this before wallpapering my craft room. It’s tedious, but I have tips to make it diy-er friendly.
Can I wallpaper over texture? Absolutely! It really depends on the level of wall texture, the color of wallpaper (lighter will show more texture usually) and how thick the wallpaper is. So testing it out with what you’ll use on your texture is the best way to see.
If you want to dive deep into the question- can you wallpaper over textured walls? I have an in-depth blog post with pictures of what I’ve done that works, my fails, wall texture images, and tips to choose wallpaper that’ll give you the most success.
Next, it’s time to prime if needed. When is priming needed as a prep step for wallpaper? If the wall has recently been drywalled- make sure to clean the wall and prime. If the paint will be too dark and show through the paper- prime (I needed to do that on the scallops in Don’s room). Or if the wall has been mudded to smooth the texture- prime.
Note, primer usually comes in a grey-ish white. Did you know that you can have the primer tinted at the hardware store any color? This is a good step to take so that the primer matches the wallpaper background color if it happens to show.
Once the wall is primed, wait at least 24 hours before wallpapering the wall. That gives enough time for the primer set.
Do NOT paint before wallpapering. Why? Paint needs at least 30 DAYS to cure before wallpaper can be put over it. What happens if you paint and then wallpaper quickly? In my experience, the paint continues to try to cure and that puts bubbles in the wallpaper so it looks horrible.
OR when the wallpaper is removed, chunks of paint come off the wall with the wallpaper and the drywall needs repair.
So what if the wall has been painted with latex paint more than 30 days before wallpapering? Personally, I just clean the wall and wallpaper over it. The only exception is if the paint color will show through the wallpaper. Then it should be primed.
The good news is that primer is cheaper than latex paint and dries quick if a few coats are needed for full coverage. I like this basic Kilz primer.
Another option, is to use wallpaper primer. The benefit is that it makes sure the wallpaper adheres well without damaging the wall. It’s also mildew resistant and makes hanging easier and removal easier.
How does it make hanging easier? The primer “sizes” when applied. This means is that it adds chemicals that act like a buffer between the wall and the paper. This prevents the wall from absorbing moisture from the adhesive. It also slows down the adhesive from drying too quickly which means there’s more time to get traditional paste wallpaper in the right place.
Primer would have creates a barrier between the wall and the paper so that the adhesive didn’t overly bond with the paint. Thus making removal easier.
And now, it’s time to clean the wall. Do this 24 hours before installing the wallpaper. That way, the wall will be dry and clean when it’s time to install the paper.
If the walls are dusty, use a vacuum or shop vac to remove dust. This is even more important if the walls have recently been drywalled or sanded to be smooth.
What to use to clean the wall? If you are wallpapering over a wall that’s been painted for awhile and might be really dirty, it’s best to use a heavy duty cleaner. For this I suggest TSP (you can get it from the hardware store by the paint). Mix it with hot water & scrub down the wall- make sure to wear rubber gloves. Then wipe off the walls with a damp rag to fully clean the wall.
Marks like pen or crayon and grease on the wall can bleed through the wallpaper over time. Wouldn’t that be so disappointing to see a stain slowly come through?! This is another reason cleaning is an important step to prep for wallpaper
When the wallpaper is hung, it pulls on the wall surface. As the wallpaper adhesive cures, the wallpaper will either grow or shrink. If the wall hasn’t been cleaned well it can mean that the wallpaper won’t stick as this process happens.
If the wall was recently primed or not very dirty, just mix 4 cups of hot water and 1/3 cup vinegar or an all purpose cleaner works well too. Then use a cloth or sponge to clean the wall.
Remember, dust and dirt will make it so the wallpaper won’t adhere as well. So cleaning first makes it so the wallpaper will last longer and look better.
plan out the layout
Finally, here’s the step of wallpaper prep that most people skip. But it’s one of the most important! Plan out the layout. The planning is usually quick, but the results are a more professional and seamless look, less wallpaper waste, easier installation, and peace of mind. Let me show you!
Most people start with a piece of wallpaper, decide on a wall to begin on and start from one side and go to the other. Sure, that might work out, but it might also lead to an issue. Instead, plan out the layout first!
To plan the wallpaper layout, cut a strip of wallpaper off the end of the roll of wallpaper. Then, hold it on the wall where you want to begin and use post it notes to mark the end of where each piece of wallpaper will hit. Keep going around the room or across the wall/ceiling until you get to your ending point.
Note, using post it notes is better than a pencil because it’s easy to adjust if the first layout isn’t good. Also, a pencil mark could show in the seams of the wallpaper and look bad.
Next, evaluate how the layout works. Are you going around corners and if so where will the seam hit (it’s best for the seam to not be right in the corner)? On the last piece will there be a lot of wallpaper left over or a little? Am I comfortable with that amount? Is this a mural with a pattern I want to feature? Where should the focal point land?
Adjust the layout until you’re happy with it.
I plan out all of my wallpaper this way. In my laundry room It was super helpful to plan it out the wallpaper so I didn’t have the seam too close to a corner. I adjusted the layout until I figured out the easiest and prettiest way for the paper to be hung. I’m so glad I did, it turned out beautifully!
layout successes and fails
In the past two years I’ve learned about figuring out the layout and I think it’s made my projects look better and I love knowing how the wallpaper will land- which helps me not worry as I’m installing the wallpaper. Will I have enough? Where will the last piece land? How many sheets of wallpaper do I need to?
For example, in my bedroom I planned the mural behind my bed so that the branches would be on either side of the canopy. I think that looks so nice!
Another good mural planning example is in my kitchen. I started wallpapering in the middle of the wall so the pattern is centered on the fireplace.
Before that, I’ve made mistakes. Like not planning the layout and then going around a corner and having a sliver of wallpaper. So that it pulls up at the corner and looks terrible.
I’ve also not planned out the wallpaper and wasted a bunch. Then at the end I was short by a few inches so I had to piece the last panel of wallpaper together.
So, take 5 minutes to plan out the layout. It’s easy and totally worth it!
specific wall tips
if the walls are already wallpapered
Please, please don’t wallpaper over old wallpaper! It means a huge headache for future removal.
First of all, if the walls are already wallpapered the wallpaper needs to be removed. To do that, use a wallpaper scoring tool to make tiny holes in the wallpaper. Then spray down the wallpaper with a mixture of 4 cups of hot water and 1/3 cup vinegar. Let that sit for 5 minutes.
Note, the scoring tool is great to keep on hand if you have a lot of wallpaper like I do. I bought mine in 2018 and love that I have it to easily remove wallpaper.
Another option to loosen the wallpaper paste is to use a steamer on the paper. That’ll heat the paste back up to the wallpaper will easily come off.
Then, use a putty knife to pull up the corner and slowly pull the wallpaper off. If it’s stubborn, make sure to spray on more of the hot water and vinegar mixture to loosen up the paste so the wallpaper will come down easily.
Finally, you need to get all of the wallpaper paste off the wall. Combine 1 Tablespoon of dish detergent with hot water. Use a sponge to take off any leftover paste. Finish by cleaning the wall with warm water to make sure all residue has been removed.
Note, I have a whole blog post on wallpaper removal with step by step instructions and photos if you need a longer explanation.
Second note, when taking down wallpaper, if the paint comes off, I have a post on what to do about peeling paint. Careful wallpaper removal will usually eliminate peeling paint unless the paint was done poorly or too soon before wallpapering.
If a house has fresh drywall that’s never been painted or primed, the first step is to use an oil primer on the walls designed for drywall.
Then, follow that up with applying wallpaper primer. Now the wall is ready for wallpaper!
For wood paneling, the biggest extra step is to fill the grooves in the panel with wood filler and then sand until it’s smooth. Once the wall is smooth, follow the rest of the instructions in this post.
Note, I wallpapered a wall with wood paneling once. Once the grooves were filled and the wall primed, the wallpaper went up SO easily! The smoother the wall, the easier it is to wallpaper.
For older houses that have plaster walls, just follow the instructions for preparing for unpainted drywall-
For plaster walls, first step is to use an oil primer on the walls.
Then, follow that up with applying wallpaper primer. Now the plaster wall is ready for wallpaper!
Also, please note that some peel and stick wallpaper needs to be acclimated to the room’s climate. So check the manufacturer’s instruction to check if this is needed.
Recap- how to prep a wall for wallpaper
If you’re going to wallpaper, here’s the steps for prepping the wall for wallpaper-
- Test a sample. Paste or stick a wallpaper to the wall. How does the texture look? Does it stay up?
- Smooth the wall. Remove art, outlet covers and nails. If needed smooth the texture with mud and sand.
- Clean the wall. Remove any dust or debris from the wall so the wallpaper will adhere.
- Prime the wall if needed. Primer needs 24 hours to dry before wallpapering.
- Plan out the layout. Use a strip of wallpaper and mark where it’ll land. Does that layout work?
- Last, install the wallpaper once the prep is complete
These steps will make it so that the wallpaper will look beautiful when hung. Plus, they’ll also ensure that when the wallpaper is removed that the wall will be free from damage. So make sure to do a little prep before wallpapering because it’s the key to successfully hanging and having it look nice once you’re done.
hang the wallpaper
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Thanks so much for this tutorial. I have NEVER hung wallpaper and I find it very intimidating so this tutorial will be very helpful WHEN I decide to give it a try. And the wall looks fabulous!!!!