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Virginia House
How do I clean antique wallpaper?

Friends, my husband and I recently purchased a wonderful 111 year old Victorian in rural Virginia. The upstairs parlor has some lovely but very old wallpaper gracing the room. I want to keep the wallpaper as it lends so much to the room.

The paper is very dirty in places. There is some water damage in a couple of places. However, if cleaned properly the paper should be gorgeous. A soft green with roses and some silver applied.

How do I clean the paper? There doesn't appear to be any kind of protective shield or any semblance of vinyl protection. Just old wallpaper applied to plaster.

Thank you so much!
Virginia House

Re: How do I clean antique wallpaper?

You really can't do much more than dust it with a very soft brush. I have heard of vacuuming it through a protective thin cloth layer like a muslin. As far as removing stains, that's beyond any hope. The inks and paints are all pretty much water-soluble. If you had buckets of dough, you could hire a conservator to clean it inch by inch.

Re: How do I clean antique wallpaper?

It seems to me that the stuff can't be that fragile or kids playing with water pistols back in the 1950's and 1960's woulda ruined the stuff.

I would try GENTLE scrubbing with a damp Magic Eraser in an inconspicuous area, and see how that works.

If you see dirt in the Magic Eraser, it came off the wallpaper. Check to see if you see any of the colours of the wall paper in the Magic Eraser after gentle scrubbing.

Re: How do I clean antique wallpaper?

There are hard foam type rubber cleaning sponges that have been on the market for decades for cleaning of wallpaper where water cannot be used. They are dragged over the surface and dirt sticks to it. I don't know what the principle is, but they do work to remove surface dirt.

I would not use any moisture on very old wallpaper which never had a protective coating. Unprotective wallpapers were the norm 40 years ago or so. They were also relatively easy to remove precisely because water could penetrate down to the paste and get it to release.

I know of no way to remove stains that would not also attack the inks and general coloring of the paper.

There was another cleaning product in years gone by. It was like playdough. You would drag it across the paper and dirt would stick to it. I have not seen this stuff in years and don't remember what it was called.

Re: How do I clean antique wallpaper?

If there's any real concern that moisture would penetrate through the wall paper and loosen the glue holding it on, then you might try using the Magic Eraser dry.

Also, I'd pop down to your local dollar store and pick up a lint and pet hair roller, like this:

Dirt will stick to the roller, but the glue on the roller won't transfer to the wall paper.

If you have 100 year old wallpaper in your house, then there's probably plenty of it in your area, and your local paint and wallpaper stores should have people knowledgeable about how to clean old wallpaper.

Re: How do I clean antique wallpaper?

Regarding the reply about the playdough-like product to clean wallpaper: visit Lehmans.com for product #115-2900, Absorene Wallpaper and Wall Cleaner, listed in the summer 2011 catalog for $8.95. I have not used the product, but plan to order it this week, as I, too, have ancient wallpaper that I want to try to clean instead of replace. If you would rather call them, the telephone # is 1-877-438-5346. Happy restoring!!

Re: How do I clean antique wallpaper?

Please review the article at voices.yahoo.com regarding cleaning old wallpaper.

The author advises that you substitute squished white bread balls (from which the crust has been removed) for the old-fashioned bread dough method. This is used to clean dirt, oils and smoking tars after first vacuuming with a shop vac.

I plan to try this method on the wallpaper in my 125 year old house.

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