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How to Paint Over Wallpaper

Do you want to change the look and feel of your room with paint, but are faced with the challenge of wallpaper? You don’t always need to remove wallpaper first. Read this guide to learn when and how to paint over wallpaper.

Paint Over Wallpaper with a roller brush. iStock

So, you want to change the look and feel of your room, starting with a fresh coat of paint.

Standing in your way, though, is a layer or more of wallpaper that was surely the delight of whoever chose it, perhaps many years ago. And that might even be you. But wallpaper trends come and go.

Should you paint over the wallpaper? Can it even be done? Let’s start with the wisdom of doing it or not doing it, and then (spoiler alert) launch into the how-to.

Can You Paint Over Wallpaper?

If you ask a painting expert or paint manufacturer, you will likely be told that the best approach is to remove the wallpaper first and remove any residual adhesive before painting. But there are times when removing the wallpaper can actually harm the wall beneath.

That can happen if the wallpaper was installed over unfinished drywall or plaster. Or you might be facing the removal of multiple layers of wallpaper, which would make the task exponentially more difficult.

When Not to Paint Over Wallpaper

Some wallpaper should not be painted over. That would include wallpaper that is peeling in multiple places, and certain types of wallpaper such as fabric-backed vinyl.

But the good news is that these types of wallpaper are fairly easy to remove. In fact, fortunately, the rule of thumb is that the bad candidates for painting over are easy to remove, and the wallpaper that would be difficult to remove is a good candidate for painting over.

So, before deciding to leave the wallpaper in place, try to remove it. Let your success or failure to be your guide. And also consider that while removing wallpaper can be a major hassle, removing wallpaper that has been painted over is an even more major hassle.

The bottom line is: Yes, with some exceptions and considerations, you can paint over wallpaper. The secret’s in the preparation. Here’s how it’s done.

Steps for Painting Over Wallpaper

Follow these steps to learn how to paint over wallpaper in your home.

Step 1: Clean the walls

With a barely damp cloth, wipe the dust and dirt off the walls. Primer won’t stick well to a layer of dust.

If the walls are greasy and grimy (think highly-used kitchen), clean them with a diluted solution of TSP. Don’t soak the walls with the water or solution because that could soften the adhesive below the wallpaper and cause it to loosen or bubble.

Leave plenty of time for the walls to dry.

Step 2: Repair any damages to the wallpaper

Look for peeling edges or seams, as these are the weakest areas in terms of adhesion. Some experts recommend using a thin layer of wallpaper seam adhesive to reattach these loose fragments.

Another recommendation is to lift those areas with a thin putty knife, cutting the loose bits away and filling in with spackle to create a level surface, then sanding lightly when completely dry.

If the wallpaper has a texture you don’t want to detect through the paint, the whole wall should be sanded until smooth, using either a palm or orbital sander. With a slightly damp cloth, wipe away dust.

Step 3: Tape off molding and trim

Using painters tape, carefully tape off any molding, trim, wainscot, or baseboard you want to protect.

Step 4: Prime the walls

No matter which type of topcoat you will be using—oil-based or water-based—you want to use an oil-based primer. That’s because a water-based primer could soak into the wallpaper and loosen the adhesive.

An oil-based primer will not do that. Just as with painting, use a brush to cut in the corners and edges, then use a roller to finish the big stretches.

Allow plenty of time to dry according to the manufacturer’s directions. Make sure there is plenty of ventilation in the space.

Step 5: Start painting

Once the wallpaper is cleaned, repaired, and primed, paint it as you would any other surface. You’ll likely need two coats, with plenty of drying time in between. This will be especially necessary if the wallpaper has a bold pattern, or if you are applying light-colored paint over dark-colored wallpaper.

Painting over wallpaper can be done, and sometimes it should be done rather than removing the wallpaper.

As with many home improvements, the quality of the result depends on the effort exerted at the beginning. In other words, it’s all in the preparation.


Supplies Needed