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Crumbly old wallpaper

We have possibly the original wallpaper in our 1907 Denver Square entryway/stairway/upper hallway and want to replace it. It seems to be about three layers of paper with a textured, painted pattern. We have had three wallpaper hangers give estimates and all three gave us different opinions. The first guy said it all had to come down, but would be easy as it is paper and water would do the trick, but with all our old woodwork, it had to be done carefully to protect the wood. The second guy said if we took off the old wallpaper, our walls would crumble off so he suggested sanding the texture on the old paper, priming it and covering over it. The third guy said it absolutely had to come off and if the walls crumbled in places, they would have to be fixed and he wouldn't give an estimate at all, rather- he wanted to just be paid hourly. What to do?

Re: Crumbly old wallpaper


Your first painter is probably correct that the old paper will readily soak for removal. It is only in the last 30 or so years that manufacturers started routinely putting plastic coatings on their wallpapers. Such coatings retard the water absorbion by the paper. Years ago I removed uncoated papers using a commercial steamer. You should invest in an electric steamer and see how easily the paper comes down. The electric steamers are somewhat slow because an electric steamer is limited in the amount of heat and steam it can produce, but they do work. Steam would do the least potential damage to your old plaster and woodwork.

I personally believe that if at all possible, the paper should come down. If the plaster is in such poor shape that removing the paper would damage it, it would probably eventually need attention anyhow. Further, if the plaster sounds firm when you knock on it, it is probably still in good shape.

I can appreciate your 3rd painters reluctance to give a firm contract, however, he should be able to give you a worst case scenario bid as the upper limit. He could then work at time and materials with that bid as the upper limit. I occasionally worked on this basis when the extent of the job was not certain going in. It gives a measure of protection for both the contractor and the owner.

Re: Crumbly old wallpaper

This may or may not help you, but....my husband and I own a 1890 home, we took 14 layers of wallpaper off our walls. Two layers were painted ontop of. We used putty knives, hot water and laundry fabric softner...it helped the water penetrate the paper better, then alot of elbow grease, washed the walls with hot water and white vinegar solution and patched the holes and cracks in the plaster. DO not paint over the paper... it will show through the paint regardless if you used Kilz or not. Good Luck!

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