How (and When) to Paint Over Wallpaper

How to paint over wallpaper.

The act of painting over wallpaper is – without a doubt – one of the most regularly proclaimed “no-nos” in home improvement. In many cases, I’d be right there with the majority, recommending that you remove the wallpaper for the sake of achieving the best possible painting finish. But here, this situation’s a little bit different, and if you’ve been thinking about simply painting over existing wallpaper, well, who am I to judge? Just maybe it’s the right course of action for you too.

My kitchen, caught up in the ’50s, is the space that I committed to making over in 2014. Its textured wallpaper is decades old (possibly not ’50s, but certainly something that has faded with the age of the house). It’s not a decor choice that I would be thrilled to live with for years, yet I have a hard time pulling the trigger and removing it all prior to painting because my husband and I envision being able to remodel the space to suit our family. For us, painting over the wallpaper = a big, temporary cover-up.

How to make over a mid-century kitchen with paint.

Painting over wallpaper can look really bad. No, like, really, really bad. If you have long edges of wallpaper unrolling or air bubbles beneath the surface, you will be better off removing it completely. But if not, with a little wallpaper preparation and a few tricks, you can be left with a finished result that you’re happy with. Here are my best tips for you.

Clean up loose corners and edges. If your wallpaper is as old as mine, you’re bound to find a corner here or a seam there that isn’t adhered as well as it should be. This shouldn’t be enough to deter you entirely, but should be handled carefully. I recommend using a strong adhesive to re-affix those pesky corners. Allow the adhesive to dry before you paint.

Repair gaps in the wallpaper before painting.

Clean the walls well.  There are lots of general cleaning tips for keeping your wallpaper in prime condition.

  • Vacuuming is widely recommended for all types of wallpaper. You’ll want to remove as much dust from the surface of the wallpaper before painting as possible.
  • Check to see if your home has a coated wallpaper. You can find out whether or not your wallpaper is coated by getting it lightly wet in a hidden area to check if the colors bleed or moisture is absorbed — if it’s absorbed or bleeds, it’s likely uncoated.
  • If your home has an uncoated wallpaper like grasscloth, wallpaper dough should be your go-to.
  • Tips for using wallpaper dough: This product is sold at many home improvement and painting stores. I haven’t had the pleasure of testing it out, but have heard that it’s best for getting stains and residue off uncoated wallpapers. As the outer side of the dough ball gets dirty, kneed it until the outer edge is once again fresh. Reuse to your heart’s desire.
  • If your wallpaper is a coated texture, you can wash the wall with a damp sponge.
  • Tips for washing the wallpaper with a sponge: Use a damp (read: not drippy) sponge and dishwashing detergent that has grease-cutting power to clean the walls. Avoid wiping horizontally, because the sponge will be more likely to catch on any loose vertical seams. Try with all your might to keep moisture from getting into the seams.

Once the walls have been glued, cleaned, washed and have air-dried, you should be set to begin testing paint. You might want to start in a hidden wallpapered area (for me, this was behind the fridge) to get a better sense of how the paint is going to look over the wallpaper and also to observe how many coats of primer and paint will be necessary.

Ready for this transformation? I am. Check back soon for a peek at my painted wallpaper kitchen! And see the gallery below to learn about the various types of wallpaper you can choose from.

8 Responses

  1. Malia says:

    My house was built in 1980 and there was wallpaper every where when we bought it. The walls were not primed before the wallpaper was hung so the paper basically became part of the sheetrock over the years. There was no removing it. We used an oil based primer in the kitchen and latex satin on the others. Either method worked fine. But do take the time to glue the loose edges and clean it well. In the Dining Room they had used a boarder and wood trim to frame it. I used the lighter color on the swatch for the walls and the next darker to cover the boarder. Looks great!

  2. camogirl48 says:

    I too have painted over wallpaper with great success. For those of us that live in older mobile homes we all know what those very thin paneling is like. Well I painted the paneling and painted over the border that was in the living room and down the hallway. I tried renting a steamer but when I tried using it it started to peel the paneling. I know I tried different pressure and such but no go. So I bought primer and sandpaper and started to go to work. I painted the brown paneling a nice pastel green and sanded the bottom edge of the border paper and didn't have to touch the top edge because of being to the ceiling. After I sanded the paper edge I also painted over it. You can not see that I have paper up there unless you really study it. I am very pleased with the turn out. Sometimes you just have to deal with things as they are. Can't fail unless you try.

  3. Julie says:

    My husband and I just purchased a new home and guess what? The majortiy of the rooms (we didn't know when we purchased it) are painted over wallpaper. It looks horrible!! I don't even know where to begin to try and fix it because I'm not sure I can even get the wallpaper off. If you are too lazy to take wallpaper off, then don't paint over it!!! It makes for one big headache for the next guy.

  4. liz says:

    I am surprised no one suggested using an oil based primer first, on well attached wallpaper. It won't penetrate and loosen the paper the way latex based primer and paint will.

  5. LuAnn Gallagher says:

    I too have hung wallpaper and painted over it. Having hung it as a job you get to know different wall papers and can then tell the ones that will take painting. My best suggestion is to paint multiple light coats and DO NOT saturate the paper. Saturation will cause the paper to lift and cause problems. You may see shadows through the paint depend ending on the wall paper pattern. I painted over a pale blue and white wide stripe with a cardinal red. While it covered fine in 2 coats you do see a faint shadow, which I really don't mind. Regardless, go ahead and try it. The worst that can happen is you have to remove the paper in the end.

  6. Amy Dean says:

    I have painted over wallpaper in two rooms in my 100-year-old home with no issues because the paper was hung well and there were no loose seams. Yes, you will see the seams. My alternative would have been removing the wallpaper and skim coating over the horsehair plaster, which I have also done in 3 rooms, hallways, and the stairwell. Those areas had to be done because they had been papered with an embossed, untreated paper that was not prepared well and would have pulled away from the wall as soon as the moisture in the paint saturated it. I have helped friends steam and scrape endlessly, just so we could paint. The worst house – nothing could remove this paper and the walls were horribly uneven and bumpy. We actually applied the sticky mesh that comes in 3 ft rolls over the entire surface, then did our skimcoat over the mesh. Once sanded smooth, we could paint. Sooo, sometimes you gotta paint or re-wallpaper using a liner paper underneath.

  7. CatB says:

    I have done this … have had no problem with it. As long as the wallpaper was well adhered to the wall and you put a primer adhesive coat over it and then the paint .. as for the "professional" wallpaper hangers I have more problems with them than I ever had with anything that I have hung .. I had to remove the wallpaper in my new house bathroom because it was such a poor job done by a "professional" … and in FL they don't prime the wall before they put up the paper and the rest of the house has a slight orange peel finish on the walls. The best thing IF YOU CAN is to paint over the paper .. would have saved me a lot of filling and sanding.

  8. BILL JENKINS says:

    I`ve been a paperhanger over 35 years. My only advice is DON`T DO IT! Unless your wallpaper was installed by a professional there are bound to be seams that are slightly over lapped. These might not be visible till you paint it. Then they will be very visible. If you ever get any water damage, especially in the kitchen, getting the painted paper off to repair will be a major problem. If you thought it would be hard removing the paper in the first place just wait till you try removing painted over wallpaper. There are scores of other reasons not to do this as well but I think I`ve said enough for now.

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About Emily Fazio 

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I caught the home improvement bug at an early age, and now I'm a full-time DIYer living in Rochester, NY. The projects I cover on my blog Merrypad range ...

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