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Wallcovering Removal – In Great-Grandmother’s Day

Decades before peelable papers and steamers came on the scene, persons used their cumbersome steel steam irons to remove wallpapers. My great-grandmother once described the process something like this. . .

“Removing wallpaper was a two-person job. It was messy, smelly, and hot. It could take an entire week to do one 9 feet by 12 feet bedroom. Especially with children underfoot.

“Before beginning, you gathered what you would need: buckets, clean rags, wide spatulas, flat wooden spoons, thick old gloves, old table knives. You removed whatever you could from the room: small furniture, lamps, mirrors, pictures, draperies, bedspreads, pillows, rugs. Next, you covered the floor with layers upon layers of old newspapers. Then, you placed all of those supplies inside the middle of the room to be worked on.”

Here, Great-Grandmother hesitated. Still sharp at 91, she eyed the white-on-white striped vinyl wallcovering inside her community building, where our family was celebrating a carry-in Thanksgiving dinner together.

She smiled, and continued. “You began on a window or door wall. It was easier to find an edge of wallpaper already loose, or pulling away from the wall. One person moved the hot steam iron up and down, up and down, very close to the paper. But not touching. The other person came right behind. She used a metal spatula and scraped loosened paper off the wall.

“Often-times, you had to run the hot steam iron over the same spots several times. As many as twelve different papers could be layered on that wall. Too, the wallpaper paste could be very stubborn. Usually, the wallpaper had to be dampened with wet rags. Until the paper began to curl off the wall.

“The air would fill with the smell of paste,” Great-Grandmother explained. “The room got very hot from all of the steam. Your dress would stick to your torso, like the paste on the walls. And your stockings would cling and scratch, something awful.” The thought of her sticking stockings made me laugh here.

“If a woman was very lucky, like I was,” she said, “she’d have friends and neighbor ladies to help.” The more hands to help, she said, the easier it was. And, the faster the job was completed.

“Once the layers of paper were removed, the walls had to be washed thoroughly, to remove all paste. Using clean rags and as warm water as your hands could stand.” Then the entire room had to dry and air out. She emphasized, “That could take days.”

Today, wallcovering removal is much simpler and speedier. Vinyls tend to be fabric-backed, or strippable solid surfaced. They can be removed dry. Most papers – eg. linen, foil, flock, texture – are strippable. They respond well to a more advanced wet removal system, especially when multiple layers of paper cover the walls.

Generally, one person can complete an average-sized room in one day. That includes the thorough cleaning of the wall surface – eg. total removal of the adhesive, or paste. The cleaned surface can be allowed to dry overnight. The next morning, the surface can be patched, repaired and primed. Depending on the pattern, wall layout, and number and complexity of cuts and fittings, application of the new wallcovering can be completed by the end of that second day.

Wallcovering removal has progressed amazingly, since Great-Grandmother faced the job. Still, your aim is probably similar to hers.

You need to rid your walls (or ceiling) of faded, discolored, torn, and/or outdated paper or vinyl. Or, you want a fresh, new look or effect – a fresh, new color scheme. Either way, the end result is worth the effort.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~                                                                                                                     Look for “Wallcovering Removal: Dry and Wet Methods.”          

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