Your one-stop destination to learn about all things Real Estate

Wallpaper: Not your Grandparents' Wallcovering

You've likely seen how wallpaper can transform a room; it's become an easy way to modernize a space without causing non-reversible changes. But the picture-perfect reveal results from careful planning and proper wall preparation.

how to install wallpaper

We believe that anyone can master the art of wallpaper installation if they follow a few basic best practices! Continue reading to learn everything you'll need for a successful wallpaper project. In this article, we'll cover:

  • Selecting the best pattern for the space
  • Coatings and protections
  • How to properly remove existing wallpaper
  • Wall preparation
  • Installation
  • Closing thoughts

Selecting the best pattern for the space

Finding the perfect color and pattern for your space is a fun and creative process. The possibilities are endless to create the perfect room, and there are virtually unlimited suppliers to choose from. To get started, think about the styles you want to consider.

selecting wallpaper for your space

A few of the more popular ones include:

  • Formal
  • Glam
  • Casual
  • Country
  • Rustic
  • Victorian
  • Modern

When choosing a style, you'll also want to think about how your new walls will look in the context of the rest of your home. What was planned to be an "accent pattern" in one room can quickly look very out of place relative to the rest of your home. Fortunately, many manufacturers will let you buy small lengths of wallpaper that you can pin up on your wall before committing to a larger, more expensive order.

Don't skip this step and hope for the best!

Just as important as style is your wallpaper color. Again, you'll want to think about the color pallet already created by your furniture and window coverings and how it will look relative to the rest of your home. Many home renovators like to choose a color already present in the room and match it as an accent color on the wallpaper. Let platforms like Pinterest help you discover an endless supply of color and style combinations!

selecting wallpaper for your home

Coatings & protections

Unless you're prone to stains and spills (or have children!), researching wallpaper coatings probably wasn't on your to-do list. We think it's wise to consider what kinds of splashes and spills are prone to the room you'll be wallpapering. While many new wallpapers are self-labeled as "water-resistant," most in fact can't be easily cleaned.

Instead, you'd want to look into "washable" wallpapers for maximum durability and easy cleaning. Many manufacturers have proprietary means of protecting their products, and we encourage you to take the time to read into reviews on their durability and effectiveness.

A different approach to wall protection is the application of "wallpaper protection products." These are usually applied with a roller or brush and create a nonpermeable barrier, and when dried, they create either a transparent matt or gloss surface. This kind of sealant won't appeal to everyone but is an excellent solution for high-traffic rooms needing extreme protection.

How to properly remove existing wallpaper

Don't be intimidated by this next section; no one has ever said they "love" removing wallpaper. Being savvy on how to take down existing wallpaper most efficiently will save you time, money, and stress!

how to remove old wallpaper

There are a few different ways to remove wallpaper, and it'll all depend on the condition of the paper and adhesive. To be prepared, you'll want to have a wallpaper steamer, a wallpaper scoring/removal hand tool, fabric softener, a spray bottle, and a 5" rigid putty knife. These can all be picked up at your local home improvement store.

Pro tip: If you want to make clean-up a breeze, we recommend buying a plastic tarp or drop cloth to cover your floor. You can even use blue tape to attach it to your baseboard to ensure your worksite stays wholly contained.

Step 1: Try scraping the wallpaper

Before unboxing your new wallpaper steamer, take your putty knife and try to catch an edge or seam of the wallpaper. The paper will magically lift from the wall in one sheet if you're lucky. More realistically, the paper will quickly rip, and you can go ahead and open up that wallpaper steamer. It's worth your time to try this step before committing to a more involved (and potentially unnecessary) removal process.

how to remove wallpaper

Step 2: Scoring the wallpaper

Before we can continue, we need to create small openings in the wallpaper for our steamer to penetrate through. This involves using a handheld "scoring tool." You'll draw circles on the wall with the tool, puncturing the wallpaper as you go along. Remember not to overapply pressure as you are working, as too much pressure can cause the tool to "bite" into the drywall, which will require repairing.

Step 3: Let the steaming begin

You'll want to fill up and plug in your steamer and let it warm up. While you wait, you can fill up a spray bottle with a 1:3 ratio of fabric softener to hot water. Take the spray bottle and begin spraying the walls with a light layer of the fabric softener mixture. Applying this mixture will allow the fabric softener to penetrate your scoring tool's holes and get between the wall and the wallpaper. Once the walls are sprayed, you can start using the wallpaper steamer. Most come with a rectangular handheld tool that you can steam 2'x1' sections at a time.

Techniques vary, but holding the steamer on the wall for 30-second intervals or slowly moving the steamer along the wall is a great place to start. You'll quickly want to grab your putty knife and try working the edges of the wallpaper where you just steamed. The steam and fabric softener should have loosened the adhesive and allowed you to remove small sections at a time. Go slowly and use your putty knife as much as you can, as it will prevent the paper from shredding.

Wall preparation

Regardless of whether your walls previously had wallpaper, you'll need to ensure they're prepped for the new application. The ideal wall surface is flat, smooth, and dust-free. Now is also the time to remove any cover plates and lingering nails or pins still in the walls. You may need to pick up some drywall compound for larger imperfections to fill any holes or dents.

how to install wallpaper

You also can apply a "skim coat" of drywall mud on the entire wall surface. You'd sand it all down and create a flat and clean surface to work with. A skim coat is also important if you plan to install wallpaper on walls painted with a thick nap roller. Remember that you can also apply a small trial section of wallpaper on your existing (cleaned) walls to see if the pain nap causes the wallpaper to have small "waves" in it.

Pro tip: If your walls have a lot of buildup on them, grab a box of powered TSP from your home improvement store to get them cleaned with ease.

Finally, you'll want to wipe down your walls to remove any dust from your work sanding. Grab your vacuum and clean up the work area.


As with all of our steps, a little extra planning goes a long way. Grab your wallpaper and a pencil and butt the roll up against one of the room's inside corners, laying the roll on floor and up against the wall. You'll use your roll as a ruler to denote the width of your wallpaper. Continue doing this down the entire wall, leaving a mark at the end of each roll. Then take a level and draw a straight line on the wall over each mark. These lines will provide an easy guide for making sure you're hanging the wallpaper straight.

how to install wallpaper

To ensure you don't end up with small strips of wallpaper, you may need to adjust the width of your first length. Also, note the height of the wall so you know what size of paper to cut. You'll also want to make sure you've got a 1/2 inch nap paint roller to roll on the adhesive and the appropriate glue for your wallpaper, typically sold in 5-gallon buckets.

On a flat and protected surface, layout the length of wallpaper for your first "column." Paint the adhesive onto the paper with a paint roller and carefully carry it over to the wall. Start in the same inside corner you first measured, and as you begin, remember to overlap the wallpaper about a quarter inch onto the other wall and ensure the paper goes up parallel to your level line marks. Using a special tool called a "smoother" will allow you to remove any air bubbles or high spots. You'll take the flat edge and run it along the wall, similar to cleaning your car windows with a squeegee. Plan to have a natural sponge handy to wipe down the walls and absorb excess glue as you go along.

When you're ready to install your next piece of wallpaper, you can either butt it up against your previous piece or overlap the paper about a half-inch and then use a razor blade to score along the middle of the overlapping section to create a clean joint. You'll use an Exacto knife to cut in around windows and non-uniform openings. Repeat this process until your walls are covered, and then wait for everything to dry.

Closing Thoughts

We've had many people on our team tackle removing and installing wallpaper and can attest that it's worth the effort. The ability to transform your space without removing walls is limited to just a few home improvement projects, and wallpaper is highly versatile, practical, and relatively inexpensive.

how to install wallpaper

While hiring a contractor to handle this work can be tempting, we encourage you to follow our instructions and learn a new skill! Even if you aren't planning to install new wallpaper, getting familiar with the removal process is a worthy effort.

For other ways to spruce up your home and tips on home improvement, check out our free library of educational articles and videos.

Happy home-improving!

Want more advice about all things home — including homebuying or selling advice? Nestiny is a great place for homebuyer education and to help you gauge how ready you are to buy a home. Journey Homeward allows you to enter all your wants and needs while the True Affordability Tool will break down your budget, showing what you can comfortably afford. You will also receive a Ready Report that will give you a vital head start in the home buying journey, saving you valuable time and money.

You might like :

Ready To Become A Smarter Homebuyer?