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4 methods for removing wallpaper border from your walls

Whether you moved into a home with an existing wallpaper border or you installed one yourself years ago in a nursery, child’s room, or other space in your home, you may never have thought of the removal process. That is until you went to peel a section and realized it would not be so easy.

As wonderful as these borders can look, taking them down can be a bit less than wonderful. Before making this process any harder on yourself, take some time to read the tips and tricks below. These methods will help you figure out the best products and techniques based on several factors and help make this DIY project much more manageable. First, it starts with the age of the wallpaper border, and then second, the material and application method to which it was first applied.

This will make a significant impact on how you proceed with removing it.

How old is your wallpaper border?

So this is a big one. Some people think that the older the wallpaper border, the easier it should be to remove. This can be the case some of the time, but many times it is the opposite.

If a wallpaper border is in the fixer-upper you just bought, and it looks like it’s been there for 30 years, then the chances are that it may be a bit harder to remove. This is because the adhesive has had decades to adhere to the wall and into the paint and drywall. The glue used also probably was not designed to be strippable. It doesn’t mean it can’t be removed. It just means it may take a bit more elbow grease.

If the wallpaper border is newer or is one you installed yourself, possibly in a nursery or a child’s bedroom, you may find it easier to remove. We all know kids outgrow rooms, trends, and colors at the speed of lightning. Don’t fear.

Although you may think that this newer adhesive will be a pain, you may be pleasantly surprised. Many more recent bonds are designed to be easier to remove. Also, because the glue is still fresh, relatively speaking, it may be easier to apply techniques that will allow it to peel off much more effortlessly than you may think.

The critical thing to take away from this is that before you start tearing at a wallpaper border, take a few minutes to evaluate its condition and what age you believe it is.

You will be thankful you did before you start removing it. One, because you may make it harder on yourself if you start peeling and leave a residue that is a pain to tackle. Secondly, you won’t waste money on products that aren’t designed for the job you are looking to accomplish.

Let’s move on to a few of my favorite removal methods.

1. Using fabric softener

Fabric softener. For years it has made our towels and linens soft and cozy. But, did you know it is one of the best methods for removing old wallpaper borders? Yep! This is an excellent method if the border you are removing is several decades old. Think 20 years or more. It is also ideal if you’d like to avoid using heavy chemicals to remove wallpaper.

Here’s the tools you will need for this:

An important note on these tools, do not skip the wallpaper scoring tool. Trust me. No matter what method you use for removal, it helps the products penetrate the wallpaper border and adhesive. You won’t regret the purchase. 

How to remove wallpaper border with fabric softener:

  1. Begin by placing tarps or drop cloths on the floor under where you will be working. This will catch any solution that runs down the wall and the border pieces after being stripped.
  2. Tape off any electrical outlets that may get water on them or be in the way of dripping solution. 
  3. Use the wallpaper scoring tool to score all the borders you will remove heavily. The more areas the solution can get into, the better.
  4. Mix 1 part fabric softener to 3 parts hot water in your spray bottle. Alternatively, you can do this with a bucket and sponge, but the spray bottle is less messy.
  5. Spray a small section, only a few feet at a time, with the mixture. Thoroughly saturate the border. If you get some dripping down the wall, that is ok. You do not want the solution to dry, so only work in manageable sections.
  6. Let the solution soak into the wallpaper border for about 20 minutes. 
  7. Use your putty knife to scrape the border and adhesive residue off the wall.
  8. Wipe down the section with a clean damp rag after removal.
  9. Repeat for all sections.

There is one reminder when using fabric softener or any of these methods using a product. If you are painting these walls, you will want to clean them thoroughly. The residue left from chemicals or fabric softener can negatively impact paint adherence. 

2. Using white vinegar

Vinegar has been a magic cleaning elixir for decades, and using it to remove wallpaper borders is no exception. This method has been around for years. Depending on the size of the room or time of year you will be doing this, it is essential to remember that vinegar has a strong smell that takes time to dissipate. Be sure to have plenty of ventilation. 

The products and steps are very similar to the above method so that we won’t repeat the steps below. One difference, though, is that your ratio will change when using vinegar instead of fabric softener. You will want 1 part vinegar to 2 parts water in your spray bottle. 

3. Using wallpaper & paste remover liquid

If you are looking for something professional-grade or are removing borders that have been applied more recently, you may want to use a liquid wallpaper remover. When you have large areas to cover, you can purchase these in gallon size containers and fill your spray bottle. Small rooms of up to 75 square feet can usually be covered using a 32 ounce prefilled bottle. 

Here’s the tools you will need for this:

The steps are similar to the other methods, but make sure to read the manufacturer instructions for whatever product you choose.

How to remove wallpaper border with wallpaper & paste remover liquid:

  1. Place tarps or drop cloths on the floor.
  2. Tape off any electrical outlets.
  3. Use the wallpaper scoring tool to score all the borders.
  4. Spray a small section with the mixture. Fully saturate the border.
  5. Allow the solution to soak into the wallpaper for about 15 minutes. 
  6. Use your putty knife to scrape the border and adhesive residue off the wall.
  7. If needed, reapply to sections if they absorbed the product.
  8. Wipe down the section with a clean damp rag after removal.
  9. Repeat for all areas.

As with the vinegar method, ensure you have the room well ventilated. 

4. Using wallpaper steamer

If you’d like to go completely product-free, the following method may be for you. A wallpaper steamer can help you quickly remove wallpaper borders and is helpful if you remove wallpaper in other home areas. It only requires tap water, and many wallpaper steamers are available for under $50.

Here are the tools you will need:

Many steamers come with several templates of different sizes, which can be helpful depending on the area you are working on.

How to remove wallpaper border with a steamer:

  1. Place tarps or drop cloths on the floor.
  2. Tape off electrical outlets.
  3. Use the wallpaper scoring tool to score all the borders.
  4. Fill your steamer with warm tap water to reduce boiling time. Plugin the steamer and wait for it to begin boiling. You will know it is ready when you see steam coming from the plate.
  5. Hold the template over the border section for a maximum of 30 seconds.
  6. Use the putty knife to begin scraping. If it is not removing efficiently, repeat the steaming for another 30 seconds.
  7. Repeat until all sections have been removed.

The great thing about the steamer is there is no need to clean the walls as all residue should be removed. Since you only used water, no chemicals will have been left behind to be concerned about.

Removing wallpaper shouldn’t be painful

Whether you have to remove the wallpaper border that has been recently installed or it has been in the home you purchased for several decades, the above methods can help make this DIY project less of a headache. They will allow you to move on to the next step, which is much more fun, whether painting or installing a new border or wallpaper. No matter the method you choose, make sure to always wear gloves, protect your floors and follow all product instructions.