When considering a painting or wallpapering project, most of us focus on colors, patterns and finishing the walls. But most experts will tell you that actually painting or papering is only half the job in getting professional results.
In fact, some say that for every hour you spend painting or wallpapering, you probably need to spend about 3 hours preparing your walls and woodwork. That's what we'll look at in this section on preparing walls and in the next section on preparing wood trim.
WARNING: First, you should be aware of some potential risks in older homes. If there's any chance the paints you're dealing with were made before the 1978 banning of lead-based paints, treat them as if they contain lead and/or have them tested.
There are extreme health hazards associated with lead-based wall paints, especially sanding them. For more information, see Lead-Based Paints in the Healthy Homes project.
Removing Old Wallpaper
Ideally, any wallcovering you have to remove will come off as easily as most newer vinyl wallpapers which usually peel off with a minimum of effort.
To remove wallpaper, just loosen up a corner and start pulling, possibly using a 4" or 6" putty knife to help pry it off the wall.
With peelable papers, a top layer peels off, leaving a thin backing glued to the wall which requires a little more effort to remove. However, most of the older wallpapers require a lot more effort.
One of the best ways to loosen up old wallpaper glue is to first moisten the paper with a wetting agent.
But many wallpapers are coated with a thin layer of vinyl to make them waterproof, so they're impervious to wetting agents.
If that's the kind of paper you're removing, you should first sand off as much of the vinyl coating as you can -- removing as much of the gloss as possible and exposing the paper below.
Perforating The Surface
You can also use a tool known as a paper tiger, which basically has a pair of wheels with tiny, sharp teeth that perforate the paper and allow the wetting agent to penetrate into the glue layer(s).
Just roll it across the wallpaper, covering the whole surface with perforations.
You can also substitute a utility knife to score the paper. Cut in a series of shallow, criss-crossing lines to let the moisture penetrate.
NOTE: The key word is shallow. If you cut too deep, you may damage the wallboard or plaster below.
Moistening Old Wallpaper
As a wetting agent, you can use water, a mixture of water and vinegar or wallpaper removers which are usually mixed with water. And you can apply it with a sponge, a paint roller, a mister or a sprayer.
Whatever you use, give the wetting agent time to loosen up the glues and apply more if it dries out before it's done the job.
Once the glue loosens up, start prying up the old paper with a wide-bladed tool. If you're lucky, the paper will now come off cleanly.
But more often than not, it will come off in stages with some parts of the paper almost falling off the wall and other parts still sticking fast.
So remove the loose paper, moisten the remaining paper again and scrape that off as it loosens. Don't be surprised if it takes several tries or you discover several layers of wallpaper.
When NOT To Remove Wallpaper
If you find that the wallpaper is really stubborn, it may be glued directly to drywall. In this case, it's virtually impossible to remove the paper cleanly without pulling off the drywall surface.
The best alternative is to put a new layer of wallpaper directly over the old one. First sand down the old wallpaper, then apply a coat of primer before papering or painting.