Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Up Against the Wall!

You know how your dog or your kid does this incredibly cute thing when no one else is around, and then when you try to get them to do it in the presence of another human being they sit and stare, internally laughing at you behind a mask of wide-eyed innocence?

Wallpaper's just the opposite of that. When you have guests, your old wallpaper will peel, crack, dog-ear and do everything short of just giving up and falling to the floor. Your guests wonder if decorating your house with the Dead Sea Scrolls is the latest DIY suggestion. NASA could save a ton of money by just photographing the walls up close and then telling people that it's the surface of Mars.

Your guests leave, and you decide it's time to do something about this. It'll take a few minutes to peel all this off, a little cleanup, and then you can paint. You grab a conveniently puckered seam in the wallpaper and pull. Does it come off? Did you say yes? Stupid optimist. It clings to the wall like a Texan clings to the second amendment. Passing another amendment banning the use of wallpaper paste would be simpler than getting this stuff to let go.

It's never as easy as it looks, is it? Just ask this guy:

So in true Wile E. Coyote fashion, you gather the materials needed for this relatively simple job: stepstool, plastic scrapers, sponges, dropcloths, flamethrowers, catapults, and rocket-powered skates. Hey, you never know.

Try just peeling the wallpaper. The top layer comes off, but there's another layer of paper, the color of which my father would have described as "dirty-diaper brown", underneath. So try wetting the wallpaper first. Turns out you should just wallpaper your car and you'd never have to wax it again. This stuff repels water like a '50s hairstyle.

Try insinuating your plastic scraper underneath the aforementioned puckered seam. If you have juuuuust the right size of scraper, you get the angle juuuuust so, and apply juuuuust the right amount of force, you can remove approximately one square inch of wallpaper and only have a gouge about half an inch deep in your wall.

At this point you lose it and just rip down the top layer of all the wallpaper. All the brown underlayer remains. You live inside a corrugated cardboard box. Now I know how Fluffy felt when he was brought to school for Show & Tell, except that Fluffy had airholes in his box.

A steamer. That's the ticket. Something that will penetrate. Borrow neighbor's steamer. It's a small thing, holding, oh, half a pint of water. Turn it on. Wait 5 minutes for the little light to come on. Press the nozzle. Spray a jet of boiling-hot water all over your carpet. Whee. Eventually, steam does come out of the nozzle. Experimentation shows that steaming followed by scraping will allow you to remove an area of wallpaper approximately 6 inches by 4 inches before the steamer runs out of water. Now it has to cool for 15 minutes before you can open and refill it. Then you have to wait for it to heat up again. Old Faithful the initial jet of water. Steam and scrape. Do the calculations. You'll be done with this some time after the polar ice caps finish melting. There has to be a better way.

You need a bigger plastic scraper anyway, since the 1 1/5 inch wide one that you're currently using is just insufficient. Size matters. So you head out to your local home improvement store. There you find this stuff:

Spray it on, wait "2 to 10" minutes, wipe it off. Since we still have paper attached, we actually sorta have to scrape it off, but it works! My brand new 4-inch and 6-inch plastic scrapers are helping immensely as well. Now I just have to do something about the carpal-tunnel syndrome that's coming from squeezing this bottle millions of times. Still, the end is in site. I don't believe these walls have ever been painted, so there's spackling, sanding and priming to do, but that's a breeze compared to removing the wallpaper.

What's the lesson you can take away from all this? Be kind to Fluffy. Buy a pet carrier.


GreenCanary said...

I feel your pain. I pulled a "while you were out" for my parents that required stripping 20 year-old peeling wallpaper. THAT JUNK WOULD NOT COME OFF. I saturated the wall so badly that I ended up taking off the topmost layer of the underlying sheetrock. I claimed it to be a design technique, like Italian plaster, and painted over it.

Gilahi said...

Now there's an angle I hadn't thought about. "Yeah, I did that on purpose. It's textured."

As Groucho Marx said, "You can get wood, you can get brick, you can even get stucco. Oh, how you can get stucco."

J.M. Tewkesbury said...

There's also a tool at home improvement stores that would have steaming the wallpaper infinitely easier. It's a circular tool with a bunch of little spikes or tips of razor blades in it. This allows you to perforate the paper, which then allows the steam to work it's way under the paper and lift it from the wall. No chemicals needed. It helps, too, as I'm sure you know by now, to rent an industrial size steamer. Those home jobbers are crap.

Why do people still hang wallpaper? My parents are currently redecorating their house and my mother is wallpapering. It's everything I can do to refrain from yelling, "Mother, are you friggin' insane?!" Fortunately, she has exquisite taste and it's nice wallpaper. Other than that, ugh.

lacochran's evil twin said...

You forgot your anvil.


Gilahi said...

J.M. - For better or for worse, I'm past the point where a scoring device will do me any good. And yeah, probably should've rented a decent steamer. And I will never, ever hang wallpaper again. If not for me, then for future generations.

Evil - I left it in my parachute pack.

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