Friday, December 29, 2006

Upstairs bathroom: removing the wallpaper

As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, rehabbing the upstairs bathroom is the latest project we’re working on. Since I’ve already started, I’m going to take this opportunity to catch you up on what’s been done so far.

As luck would have it, when we purchased our home the only room that had wallpaper was the upstairs bathroom. While every single room in our home needed some level of repair and/or updating, only one room needed to have wallpaper removed.

What a project. The blessing in disguise was the fact that our walls are plaster. That meant I could be a little more aggressive with a sharp putty knife while removing the wallpaper. The bathroom is only 5 feet by 11 feet, so it’s not a large a room. (See my post Upstairs bathroom: primer for dimensions and a photo of the blueprints.) Plus, the bathroom’s walls have tile on the bottom half, so the total amount of wallpaper to remove isn’t too great (in terms of square footage). With all that said, it was still a headache.

The wallpaper could best be described as foil-based (or foil-faced). That meant that solvents designed to loosen wallpaper wouldn’t penetrate the foil. The photo to the right shows the results of simply using the solvent. It just didn’t work.

Removing the paper turned into a three step project. First, get as much of the paper – both the foil face and paper backing – off with the putty knife. That left behind remnants of the paper backing over much of the walls. The photo to the right shows the backing paper left behind before I had my technique down.

This photo shows how much of the foil and backing paper I got off with the putty knife once I had my technique down. One sharp putty knife and a lot of steady, downward pressure. (I’ll discuss the aftermath of this technique, and the resulting addition to my to-do list, below.)

The second step was removing the paper backing that was left behind. I used a mixture of 60 percent vinegar, 40 percent water, sprayed onto the walls with a spray bottle. After letting that mixture soak in for a five or so minutes, I’d hit it one more time with the solution and then use the sharp putty knife to easily remove the paper.

The final step was to go back with the same vinegar/water solution one more time. I sprayed small areas of the wall then used a damp sponge in a circular motion to remove whatever wallpaper paste was left on the wall. I had a bucket of clean water nearby to clean the sponge frequently. This took a lot of elbow grease and some areas took a second pass to get all the paste off.

Those plaster walls are dreadful when you need to cut a hole in them and you’ll hear more about that when I install new light fixtures above the sink. Plaster is like having concrete on your walls. But with the wallpaper removed, you can truly appreciate those virgin plaster walls (virgin meaning they’ve never had paint on them, unlike our other plaster walls throughout the house). Extremely smooth and very durable. The only problem: cracks.

Before I launch into repairing the various cracks in those plaster walls, I’m going to show you how I repaired the divots I made in the plaster with the sharp putty knife while removing the wallpaper. It’s a delicate balance removing wallpaper. You want to use enough pressure on the putty knife to keep the edge under the paper so you can remove as much as possible with each pass. However, that same pressure often works against you when the edge of the putty knife digs into the wall. I’ll show you images of the damage left behind, and how to repair it in my next installment.

1 comment:

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