While painting over wallpaper isn’t the best option, sometimes it’s the only option.
Forget what you’ve heard: It’s possible to paint over all wallpaper – and not just the paintable type.
While it’s always preferable to remove wallpaper before painting, it’s not always possible. Sometimes, you'll find layer upon layer of wallpaper, or removal will cause significant wall damage, says Jeff Sellers, owner of Merrifield Paint and Design of Arlington, Virginia.
“In some of these older homes, when you start pulling paper off you really don’t know what you’re getting into,” Sellers says. “You can get the paper off and find the wall is damaged, and that’s why they put the wallpaper up. You never know why people put up wallpaper.”
Sellers says the type of wallpaper is a good indicator of whether it will come off easily. Paper-backed wallpaper is more difficult to remove than vinyl. You'll likely need to use a scoring device and adhesive remover, which may prove laborious and result in possible wall damage.
How to paint over wallpaper
You may be tempted to slap some paint on the wall, but there’s more to it. Without proper preparation, the wallpaper will eventually lift and begin to show through the paint – and look like painted over wallpaper.
According to experts, the wall should be clean and dust free. Remove all loose ends. If unable to remove, glue or cut away, spot prime and fill holes with spackle. Prime the wallpaper with an oil-based primer and skim the wallpaper with drywall mud to cover seams from the wallpaper and create a smooth wall. After skimming, sand the wall and prime again. Be sure the wall is dust free before applying paint.
“What matters is that you use an oil-based primer to seal the wallpaper,” says Carlos Mendoza of Carlos Mendoza Painting, in Spring, Texas. “That’s what’s going to seal the wallpaper.”
Once you’ve prepped the wall, Mendoza recommends using satin finish paint instead of flat, which is porous. If you prefer, you can use flat paint. However, because it’s porous, flat paint holds dirt and is difficult to clean.
“The satin finish does show imperfections, but as long as you keep the texture consistent, you should be OK,” Mendoza says.
Test before you paint wallpaper
Avoid bubbling, lifting or other issues with the wallpaper by testing a couple of spots and allowing to dry completely before painting the entire wall, Octave Villar, manager of Behr application laboratory in Santa Ana, California.