Up against the walls

It's a war of wills as one determined homeowner works to scrape away old wallpaper

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I really didn't need the red splat on my ceiling or the dime-sized drops of deep, deep crimson dripping onto the food cabinet to figure out that my plan to scrape the kitchen walls bare had gone terribly awry.

After all, I had nasty clumps of paper and glue congealing in my hair. A slimy blue goo covered my hands, clothes and shoes. The kitchen looked like an angry tornado had just blown through for a disturbing visit.

It was plain to see that things weren't going well.

But it wasn't until I saw the blood shooting out of my right hand like a small, scary geyser that I finally thought, maybe, just maybe, I should have done some reading and developed a game plan before launching what I thought would be a quick and easy wallpaper removal project - not doing that is exactly the point where I went wrong.

Let me just say, removing wallpaper is neither quick nor easy.

It is not fun.

It does not build character.

Removing wallpaper is messy. It is dirty. It is soul-draining; be prepared to lose at least a weekend of your life. It is hard work. Had I known then what I know now, I would never have underestimated the blasted obstinacy of the ivy-printed paper.

But it was with a misguided sense of having myself a cool, do-it-yourself adventure that I headed over to Home Depot one bright, early Saturday morning with my brother-in-law, John. (That was the only thing I seemed to do right - enlist some much-needed help.) This will be a cinch, I assured him as I grabbed a bottle of wallpaper remover solvent, a couple of wallpaper scraper blades and a hand-held gizmo with rolling teeth to perforate the paper.

Research, schmesearch. I knew the gist of what was needed.

Score the wall with the gizmo, spray on some solvent and pull or scrape. Then voila! Fabulous wallpaper-free walls yearning for a fresh coat of paint.

Clearly, I had no clue. Who knew that trip to the supply store would prove to be the first of four?

Luckily, John brought along some drop cloth. We spread the plastic sheet out on the floor, then I rolled the gizmo's teeth across the wall. John followed by spraying the area with solvent. I rolled, he sprayed. Roll and spray. Humming happily, we repeated those steps across an entire wall in what I believed was a brilliant stroke of efficiency.

You can imagine my disappointment then, when I went to pull the paper off the wall and only a notebook-sized piece of the surface layer peeled off in my hands. The rest - an obstinate, adhesive paper backing that was bone dry of any solvent - stayed glued to thewall.

I cursed good-naturedly.

Maybe it just needed more little holes in the paper and more solvent, I said. I dragged the gizmo across the wall with gusto in a violent scrubbing motion. I drenched it in goo. I waited.

Bad idea.

This time, with the help of some aggressive scraping, the adhesive layer underneath came off, but so did chunks of the now-soggy drywall. It never occurred to me that soaking an entire wall was ill-advised. Where the paper did come off clean, tiny holes dotted the wall from my over-enthusiastic scoring.

I cursed many more times that day, and not quite so cheerfully. Once when I ran out of solvent (trip No. 2 to the Depot for the monster gallon size). Another time when I realized it might be quicker to soak the scored wall with hot water before spraying solvent on it (trip No. 3 to the Depot for sponges, a bucket and some cleaning rags). Many more times whenever we gouged the wall with more holes than in a slice of Swiss cheese

The bloodshed came next - at a very precarious moment of utter exhaustion.

As I balanced myself on the sink counter to scrape some hard-to-reach paper near a ceiling corner, my left hand slipped (did I mention I am not a lefty?) and the sharp blade of the scraper sunk deep into the muscle covering the first metacarpal bone of my right hand. Horrified, I cursed again, loudly and most vilely, at the sight of the gaping wound.

Poor John. Good thing he knows his way around bandages.

Sadly enough, things never improved. The rest of my weekend went quite poorly. There was no salvaging my DIY disaster. I merely sucked it up, scored and sprayed, pulled and scraped my way all through Sunday until the last of it was done and I toweled goo off the four defiled, pock-marked walls.

That made me curse again (trip No. 4 to the Depot for drywall mud, sandpaper and more cleaning rags).

Now, anyone care to learn how not to spackle?




Putty knife

Wallpaper scoring tool

Stripper solution

Wallpaper scraper

Drop cloths


Rubber gloves

Stool or stepladder


1. Test the paper: Some papers are "dry-strippable" and can be peeled off by hand. Lift a corner with a putty knife and try peeling. If it comes off altogether, continue. If any layer of the paper sticks to the wall, you will need to use a stripper. Put down drop cloths and go to Step 2.

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