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Painting over wallpaper -- no longer a verboten task if you know how to do it

How often have you watched a home improvement TV show and could have sworn you heard swearing going on while watching someone trying to peel old wallpaper off? You’ve no doubt come to the conclusion that it’s a whole lot easier to slap some paint on it than it is to pull down that 1980s puke-worthy floral paper. Think that’s the ultimate copout? Well, it isn’t. Your instincts are 100% right. While most renovation experts suggest getting rid of every last scrap of wallpaper before painting, it’s absolutely viable to paint over it.

Realtor’s Jeanne Sager advises that before you do anything, take some time to carefully evaluate the state of the current wallpaper. “If it’s old, crumbling, and large chunks are peeling away from the wall, you may just want to bite the bullet and remove the paper before painting.” If you don’t you may end up with an uneven wall surface.

Sager quotes a Lowe’s project expert when offering a few simple fixes before diving into a paint job. He advises cutting away any peeling or rippled parts of the paper with an X-acto knife and sanding down uneven spots until they’re smooth and flush with the surrounding areas of the wall. Then gather the tools you’ll need: putty and X-acto knives, a 3/8-inch nap roller and roller tray, drywall mud, an oil-based primer, sandpaper, your paint of choice (preferably eggshell or satin finish), a paintbrush, and degreaser/cleaner.

Sherman-Williams’ expert Rick Watson suggests giving the wall a thorough cleaning with a degreaser, to make sure there’s nothing on the wallpaper that will repel your primer. The best primer to use is typically one that has an oil base, rather than a water base, as water-based products tend to lift or curl seams. You’ll test the primer on the wallpaper’s edge (a hidden area or one that is inconsequential) to see if it can hold up to the paint. If the paper dries without any lifting or blistering, it’s a go. If you do notice lifting or blistering, try a water-based primer to see if that’s better. Choose one that is quick-drying and made for bonding.

Paint unfortunately can’t hide everything. If your wallpaper has noticeable seams where the panels come together, you may need to smooth over these seams. Remember that the goal of painting the wallpaper is to make it disappear. To make seams go bye-bye, grab your X-acto knife and cut back about a quarter-inch of paper on either side of the seam. Then apply a skim coat of drywall mud (spackle) with your putty knife to hide the seam. But be careful not to apply a thick coat: Heavy drywall mud can pull at the paper and cause it to come off the wall.

Once the mud has dried, sand down the surface until it’s dull and smooth. Vacuum up any dust, and wipe down the wall again, as drywall dust and paint do not mix well, says Sager. “If the wallpaper has a texture, such as flocking, you may also want to add drywall mud over the textured spots and sand down the surfaces, in case the texture can be seen through the paint.”

Smooth surface at last? It’s time to prime. Fill your roller tray, and apply the primer in an even coat. Then allow the primer to fully dry. Don’t jump the gun. Then add paint. Easy peasy. No swearing allowed.

Realtor, TBWS