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Painting Over Wallpaper - Can It Be Done & Is It A Good Idea?

painting over wallpaper

The Best Practices For Painting Over Wall Coverings

Wallpaper is very popular & isn't going out of vogue anytime soon.

This is because modern wall coverings have come a long way with the types of materials used & styles available.

So can you paint over wallpaper? Yes, although it’s usually recommended to remove, in many instances painting over wallpaper can be done very successfully.

Only the other week I was at an old but beautiful home that was being completely renovated.

Most of the rooms were given a fresh coat of paint, but one of the rooms had all the walls papered from ceiling to skirting boards.

It was a lovely choice of modern wallpaper that suited the era of the house.


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But perhaps you're unfortunate enough to have inherited some dated wallpaper that's seen better days.

The thought of stripping it off the walls & then repairing, patching & painting is just too overwhelming.

There can be instances when removing the wallpaper isn't possible, cost effective, or simply inconvenient & time consuming.

4 Reasons Why You May Need To Paint Over Wallpaper

Although you may not like the look of the wallpaper & you don't want to spend time & effort removing it, if it's starting to peel or bubble, removal will be the best choice in the long run.

But there can be reasons when removal just isn't an option.

1. You’re Renting

Who wants to spend unnecessary time or money on someone else’s property?

If you're renting a house long term, you may want to make the place more to your style.

Provided you have the landlord's permission, painting can be a cheap way to cover up any old & dated wall coverings & add your own personality.


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2. Damaging Walls

Depending where you are in the world, some walls can be called drywall, Gyprock or plasterboard.

Steaming & scraping off wallpaper can mark or damage the walls.

If the wallpaper was applied to painted walls, this can also create issues.

Sections of paint can come loose & then the entire wall will need sanding & preparing.

Even when old wallpaper is removed, often adhesive paste is left behind & this requires more aggressive cleaning.

3. Time

I once helped a friend in the UK with steaming off old wallpaper & painting the walls.

It’s wasn’t a quick process!

For him it was worth it in the long term, but this may not be the case for everyone.

Perhaps you’re selling a property, or even going to rent it out, so an updated décor will add to the value.

But the time & expense involved with completely removing the wallpaper then preparing the walls for paint may not be the best ROI.

So a couple of fresh coats of paint may be all that’s needed.

4. You Like It!

You may actually like the texture of the wallpaper, just not the colour.

In this instance it makes sense to simply cover it with a new shade of paint.

4 Things To Consider Before Picking Up That Paint Brush

man thinking about painting over wallpaper

So painting seems like the best option for you at the moment, but before you jump in the car & head to paint store, here’s a few things you may need consider first.

1. It’s Not a Good Short Term Solution

If you’re thinking of eventually taking the wallpaper down, best to just get on with it.

Painted wallpaper is going to be even more difficult to remove as there’s more possibility of damaging the walls & creating more work for yourself in the future.

2. Hidden Damage

It may be an ugly looking wallpaper, but it could be hiding some even uglier damage that you may not be aware of.

Maybe there’s a rising damp problem you don’t know about or there could be cracks in the wall, plus mould can thrive behind wallpaper.

If the mould is in it’s early stages you may not be able to detect it just by visual inspection.

3. Condition of Wallpaper

Although it may seem more practical to paint, if the wallpaper is in bad condition, you may spend more time preparing the wall.


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Wallpaper can bubble and peel & depending on the extent will determine how much work is involved in preparing for paint.

Even if it doesn't look too bad, moisture from the paint may cause the adhesive to soften & the paper will lift and bubble.

4. Type of Wallpaper

There's varieties of wallpaper materials & some need to be approached differently.

Different papers may need different prepping and paint.

Most wall coverings sold today are of six main types.

1. Fabric backed vinyl

2. Paper backed vinyl

3. Vinyl coated paper

4. Plain pulp paper

5. Non- woven

6. Grass cloth and natural fibre

But if you're choosing to hide the wall coverings with paint, it's probably because it's an old & dated wallpaper.

If it is a more modern wallpaper but you still wish to paint, it can be done.

But modern papers are easier to remove & the paste used is also easier to clean from the wall.

The removable wallpapers, often referred to as "peel & stick", are obviously as the name implies, designed to be removed.

Painting over these removable wall coverings can just make them harder to remove & the paint can also cause them to lift & peel.


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How to Successfully Paint Over Wallpaper

green paint being applied over green wallpaper

Like most decorating jobs, preparation is key & often takes longer than the job itself.

But correct preparation is important so the wallpaper doesn't start lifting or peeling & all your painting isn't in vain.

Different wallpapers will require different approaches, but the most common paper that people want to paint over is the the old pre-soak slap on adhesive type from yesteryear.

What You’ll Need

  • Paint Brushes

A small one for cutting in & those tricky bits around light switches & other obstacles.

A bigger one for larger areas where a roller won’t go.

  • Paint Roller

For the bulk of the painting.

  • Joint Compound

For hiding joins where the sheets of wallpaper meet.

  • Caulk & Caulking Gun

For sealing the perimeters around ceiling & skirting boards.

  • Sandpaper

For smoothing down the joint compound.

  • Masking or Painters Tape

It’s always best to mask light switches, power points & other fiddly things you have to paint around.

I know what you’re thinking, I have a steady hand .. but it’s harder to clean off afterwards if you do slip.

  • Oil Based Primer

To seal the wallpaper.

  • Paint

Preferably oil based, but water based is fine.

  • Drop Sheets

Carpet & paint don’t mix! Also to protect any furniture.

  • Wallpaper Glue

Only needed if peeling & bubbles need fixing prior to painting.


1. Adhere any loose pieces or strips that are peeling as well as areas that have bubbles or are lifting.

This will need to be done with a suitable adhesive & if the wallpaper needs a lot of areas fixing up, maybe have a re-think about how long this is going to take compared to removing the wallpaper.

2. Once all the peeling & loose paper has been secured, then apply a line of caulk around the top and bottom of the wall where the wallpaper meets the ceiling & the skirting boards.

This is to prevent paint seeping underneath and lifting the wallpaper.

3. Gently sand down the seams of the wallpaper so they won’t be as noticeable when painted over.

Alternatively, use a jointing compound applied with a putty knife, then once dry sand it down.

4. You'll need to clean the wallpaper as best you can to remove any grease or other contaminants that may prevent the paint from adhering properly.

Usually warm soapy water is enough, sometimes sugar soap is used but some professional decorators recommend TSP, which is trisodium phosphate.

5. Make yourself a cuppa! The wallpaper needs to be completely dry before moving on to the next stage of priming.

6. Apply a coat of oil based primer.

This is important, as it seals the wallpaper’s adhesive from the moisture in the paint, preventing lifting & peeling.

7. Hooray! Now you can actually start painting.

They’re messier to clean up, but using an oil based paint is another step away from exposing the paper to unnecessary moisture.

Although most paint colours & shades seem to be water based these days, it shouldn't be of concern provided the primer was well applied.

Painting Over Textured Or Patterned Wallpaper

Textured or patterned wallpapers are prepared & painted the same.

By using a fluffier grade or long nap roller, it helps work the paint into the uneven finish.

If you want to hide the texture, you can skim the walls.

The amount of time & expense this takes means it may be better to just remove the wallpaper.

If the newly revealed wall isn’t in great condition, it may need to be skimmed anyway.

But at least you’ll have a proper finished surface to paint.

Another method to disguise lightly textured wallpaper is to use lining paper.

Available in various grades, length, width as well as thickness, lining paper is just plain wallpaper without any decoration.

Professional decorators use it as it covers imperfections in the wall creating a nice smooth finish.

It’s also used under wallpaper to reduce shrinkage.

It’s applied to the wall like wallpaper, so it does take a bit of time.

It does require at least 24 hours drying time before you can paint.

It’s a pretty decent solution if removing wallpaper is going to cause damage & possibly more work, as when it’s applied & painted over it can make the wall look as if it’s plastered.

If you want a textured look on your wall though, you can actually buy paintable textured wallpaper.

This type of paper is available primed or unprimed, but it’s as simple to paint as a wall.

Available in all sorts of different textures & patterns that resemble a plaster finish, metal, fabrics, leaves & flowers & even animal prints.

Can You Paint Over Painted Wallpaper?

It is possible, but you may want to check that the existing wallpaper will hold up to another coat of paint.

Often older painted wallpaper will have visible ridges where the joins are & it's good disguise these before painting.

Use a sharp utility knife & a straight edge to cut away a thin strip a few millimetres either side of the seam.

Once you’ve done this you can use a putty knife or something similar to test that the wallpaper isn’t going to lift.

If you’re satisfied the paper is adhered well enough to the wall, repeat this process with all the joins.

Then use a joint compound to fill what you have removed & sand smooth when dry.

You will need to use an oil based primer on these joins to prevent the new paint from seeping behind the wallpaper.

It may even be a good precautionary measure to caulk the top & bottom perimeters as outlined above.

If you’re really concerned, prime the whole wall.

I'm by no means a professional painter or decorator, but I've lived in many rented properties & on a number of occasions painted over existing wallpaper.

I didn’t go to the trouble of tidying up any joins or doing any proper preparation, just slapped on the paint.

I didn’t have any issues to be honest, but this is just my own experience, not professional advice!

Painting Over Wallpaper Glue

Most wallpaper glues are water based, that's why it’s a bad idea to paint over them.

Especially with water based paint, as the water in the paint will reactivate the glue & the paint will never properly cure.

Not only will the paint most likely start peeling away, you’ll see the glue patches underneath.

If the glue won’t come off for whatever reason, you'll need to sand down the wall then use an oil based primer.

Preferably 2 coats to make absolutely sure the glue won’t come into contact with the new paint.

Also 2 coats will help further in preventing the glue discolouring the new paint.

As messy as it is to clean up, using an oil based top coat is another insurance policy.

Painting vs Removal - The Real Cost

man considering costs of wallpaper

When it comes to making the decision whether to paint or remove old wallpaper, it can be a good idea to sit down with pen a& paper to work out the true costs.

Removing wallpaper will require some tools, and if you don’t already have them it may work out more expensive than painting.

  • One of the main things that make removing old wallpaper possible is a steamer.

These cost around $100 or you can hire one for around $20 day.

  • Once the paper is removed you’ll need to prepare the wall for painting which will involve sanding, filling or skimming the wall.

So you'll need to buy these supplies as well as any extra tools at around $70.

  • The cost of the primer is around $50 & the paint about the same.

  • Brushes & rollers will set you back about $20.

All in all it’s pretty economical to do it yourself, especially if you hire the steamer, you’re looking at around $250.

Painting over the wallpaper will depend on it’s condition.

  • But you'll need a caulking gun, maybe some wallpaper glue & joint compound at about $10 each.

  • Around $20 for rollers & brushes, the primer & paint coming in at $100 for both.

Total cost approximately $120.

Although these are rough estimates, there’s only about $100 or so extra to remove the wallpaper and do a proper paint job.

The main cost will be your time.

Having done it myself, you can paint over an entire wallpapered room in a day, although that is doing a quick cover up job.

Using primer will require drying time & creates a couple of extra coats to be applied, plus smoothing out the joins & caulking is extra time again.

As I’ve mentioned, I’ve also steamed off wallpaper & prepared & painted the walls.

It took a good week.

Admittedly the walls needed a lot of filling, so if your walls aren’t that bad it won’t be such a drawn out process.

You may also have more experience & know what you’re doing!

Final Thoughts

Painting over old dated wallpaper seems like the simplest solution, it’s certainly the quickest.

But painting or removal isn’t going to break the bank either way.

The consensus from professional decorators is to remove wallpaper & you'll end up with a better looking job that will last for years.

But if your circumstances don't allow for this, painting can certainly be a great option for bringing your décor up to date.

I hope this article was of value & please feel free to share.


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