taking wallpaper off of plaster walls
Photo: Ryan Benyi
Q: That wall probably looked great 50 years ago, but it's ready for a face-lift now

A: Q: What's the best way to remove wallpaper from plaster walls in a 1930s house? Once you get the paper off, how do you prepare the walls for painting?

— Jane, Westfield, New Jersey

Steve Thomas replies: First try the strategy favored by painting contractor John Dee, which is to fill a pump sprayer with five ounces of wallpaper stripper diluted with a gallon of water. Wet down the wall and scrape off the paper with a three- or four-inch scraper blade. If this method is not producing quick results try renting a propane powered wallpaper steamer at your local home improvement center. Electric steamers are available but are not as fast as the gas powered models. When the paper is gone, spray the walls again and scrape off all paste residue with a broad knife. Rinse with clean water and wipe down with a wet sponge until no paste remains. Give the walls 24 to 48 hours to dry before painting. Roll on an oil-based stain killing primer and finish with a latex top coat. Latex is available in five sheens flat, eggshell, satin, semi-gloss and gloss. We favor eggshell or satin for all but the most formal of rooms because you can wipe smudges and fingerprints off the wall. Most professional painters prefer to use oil paints on trim to avoid the exact problem you describe. Oil flows better than latex and "flats out" better too. I prime bare wood with an oil based stain-killing primer then apply a top coat of oil-based satin enamel. My brush of choice is a two-inch, china hair bristle sash brush. With a little practice, you should get excellent results.
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