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How to Paint Over Wallpaper: 4-Step Painting Tutorial

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Nov 9, 2020 • 3 min read

As a general rule, painting over wallpaper is a complicated endeavor: It can be frustrating to get right and can wind up looking worse than the old wallpaper. Most interior designers and home improvement specialists will agree that the best option in an older home is almost always to remove wallpaper instead of painting over it. However, there are times when this is not an option. If you want to paint over your wallpaper, check out our four-step tutorial.

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When Should You Paint Over Wallpaper?

There are certain times when painting over wallpaper can be a reasonable option. Removing wallpaper can be time-consuming and expensive. Wallpaper removal can potentially damage your walls if you are using a scraping method. Painting over wallpaper is a cost-effective process that allows you to give your interiors a new look. Whatever your reason, if you want to try painting over wallpaper in your home, you’ll need to follow the proper procedure to get the look and quality that you desire.

What Materials Do You Need to Paint Over Wallpaper?

To paint over wallpaper, you’ll need a few tools and materials:

  • High-coverage clothing
  • Rubber gloves
  • A respirator mask (optional, but highly recommended)
  • Goggles
  • Drop cloths
  • Cleaning rags (or wallpaper dough, if you have uncoated wallpaper)
  • Wallpaper glue/wallpaper paste (if your wallpaper has any peeling seams)
  • Sandpaper (if there are air bubbles in your wallpaper)
  • A sheetrock knife/sharp utility knife (if there are problem spots in your wallpaper)
  • Spackle (if there are problem spots in your wallpaper)
  • Painter’s tape
  • Oil-based or shellac-based primer
  • Wall paint
  • Paintbrushes or rollers
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How to Paint Over Wallpaper

You don’t have to be a professional painter to paint over wallpaper, but you need to follow a few specific steps to get it right. Here’s a step-by-step guide for painting over your wallpaper:

  1. Prepare your wallpaper. A little wallpaper preparation goes a long way when painting. You’ll want to ensure your wallpaper is smooth, clean, and dry before you start. To prepare for painting, look for any imperfections in the wallpaper’s surface—you want it to be smooth and in good condition before you start painting. If there are peeling seams or loose pieces (usually along the outer edge), you can either re-glue them using wallpaper adhesive or cut them off using a sheetrock knife and then spackle over them. If there are spots in your wallpaper that are bubbling up, try sanding them down, or cutting them off and plastering over them. After the wallpaper is smooth, clean your walls using a damp rag to remove all of the dust and grime.
  2. Prepare the painting area. Tape off the wall trim and lay down drop cloths to prevent paint from getting on anything other than the wallpaper; if you have furniture in the room, either remove it or cover it to protect it from errant paint. Since you’ll be priming the walls with pretty strong chemicals, you’ll want to open up the windows or encourage other ventilation to help make the smell more bearable.
  3. Prime the walls. Many older types of wallpapers have been glued with an adhesive that can discolor the paint. To combat this, you’ll need to prime your wallpaper with an oil-based or shellac-based primer, which will create a strong barrier between the glue and your paint. Use a brush to paint the primer onto your walls in a thin layer. One coat of primer should suffice unless the directions call for more. Oil- and shellac-based primers have very strong odors and can irritate eyes and skin, so be very careful when working with them.
  4. Paint. After your primer dries, you can start painting. You can use almost any paint finish or type when painting over wallpaper, but check your can of primer to ensure it is compatible with latex paint. Mix your paint if it’s been sitting for a few days, then use a brush to follow the lines along your trim and a roller to apply layers over the larger areas. Allow the paint to dry, then apply additional coats until the color is smooth and even.

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