Friday, February 03, 2012

Wallpaper Problems? Paint over it!

So, I've mentioned my three blue bathrooms. Three bathrooms...same. exact. blue. wallpaper. The only differences - two have (or had) borders to "accent" the blue and one is borderless.
The first one is the powder room in my master bath where I took down the border a couple weeks ago. I'm looking forward to the remodel in there but that project is still a few months down the road. So, the bathroom remains blue...but, at least it is better without the border...

The Guest Bathroom Before...
The second blue bathroom is in the hallway by the guest room. That's the room we tackled the other day and the subject of this post. 

The wallpaper in my house was applied with some type of glue that I believe NASA maybe studying for its impressive adhesion abilities. This stuff isn't going to come off the walls...ever. Trust me, I know. I made the mistake of attempting to take down the wallpaper in my daughters' bathroom a couple of projects ago. Half the wall came with it... (Yes, that wallpaper was also blue...) What should have been a fairly easy peel and paint project turned into a major restore the walls nightmare. Lesson learned...
So, now, if the wallpaper is attached well and not lifting along the seams...then paint over it! I know, the gasps and horror of taking a short-cut like that... I can hear you saying it now, "it will lift" and "the seams will show!" Well, honestly, they will if you don't do it correctly...BUT, if you do it seams...perfectly smooth impressive canvass for whatever paint finish your heart desires! This is especially nice if you are looking at some of the amazing faux finishes out there that require smooth walls...or a fabulous board and batten treatment...which is the ultimate destiny for this bathroom. Anyway...
Here is how I did it...

First you need to pick up the following items from your home improvement store. Everything I used was purchased at Lowe's - I say this only because brands and prices may vary if you are shopping at different home improvement stores but this gives you an idea of what you need. Total cost for everything was $31.21 plus tax.

Now, remove any nails, light switch plates, etc. Then lightly sand the seams and any holes in the wallpaper. And I mean lightly...just rough up the wallpaper slightly. I used the 220 sanding sponge seen above for the initial sanding.

Left Side needed only one coat of spackle...right side needed two coats...
You can see where the seams were but you can't feel them.
The seams and the wall are smooth and the same level.

Next apply a light weight spackle over the seams and nail holes. Let it dry. Lightly sand over the spackle to smooth out any ridges or bumps and create a nice smooth level with the wall. I used the 320 sanding sponge for this step. Next, you are going to have to use your judgement on this step, some areas only need one coat of spackle to fill the seams... some areas need two. Run you fingers along the seams and see if you "feel" them. Not if you "see" them...but if you "feel" them. If you do, apply another coat of spackle, allow to dry, and lightly sand again using the 320 sanding sponge. 

Now, if you have a problem area like I did...there is still hope. I had holes from the towel bars that needed to be patched. You just follow the same process as above...except peel any lifting paper...sand...spackle and sand again.

Now, the walls are ready for the primer.
I use an oil based primer for this step. Why? Well, a water based one may compromise the glue on the wallpaper. While this typically doesn't happen and I know professionals that use a latex based KILZ product, I don't want to take the risk of having the wallpaper lift or any mystery "bubbles" form after painting. (Plus, I'm not in a hurry to have it dry. I can wait the day it takes for the oil based primer to dry completely.) So, I use an oil based primer that can go on any surface and can be used with any topcoat. Perfect for this wallpaper project.

After the primer is dry, check out your walls again. Are there any seams that are showing? You may have a spot or two that you realize didn't fill completely with the spackle. Just re-apply a spackle coat, allow to dry, lightly sand again, and touch up the primer. Good to go...

 Now you have a perfect canvas to plan a painting project!
(how fun is that?!!!) 

Watch for an upcoming post...where we finish the bathroom with a fabulous board and batten look on the walls and crown moulding along the ceiling. You can see the board and batten starting to go up in the pictures below. Trust is already looking amazing and we are still working on the finishing touches! I can't wait to share it with you!!!

Confession: since we are expecting and my husband is completely slammed at the office, I hired someone to come paint for me. Oil based paints and pregnant mommies are a no-no. Frustrating that I can't just knock it out myself... but I, of course, took the safe route for baby. I will say that when my second-favorite (because my husband gets first place) "What-Project-Do-You-Need-Done" Guy arrived to paint for me...and saw the walls all spackled and ready for the primer coat...he thought I had lost my mind. He was firmly in the "you can't paint over wallpaper" camp....
I've made him a believer...

Enjoying the journey,


PS If you decide to try it...let me know how it goes for you! Also, if you have any questions...feel free to ask! 

Update: Curious how it turned out??? 

Check out the completed project here: The Board and Batten Guest Bath...

But, just to tempt you...
And no one would ever know that wallpaper is underneath.
(Shhh...that will just be our little secret!)


  1. Sorry, I know this is an old post... but just curious if you painted over the primer with latex or oil paint...... I know on the back of that zinsser can it says you can use latex but I am curious as to which you used!

    1. Hi! That's a great question, I used a latex paint over the primer... it's worked beautifully! I do wish that I had put a second coat of primer on the walls...if the bathroom gets really steamed up, you can see a faint shadow on parts of the falls right along the seams. It isn't there otherwise and not that noticeable but, if I were doing it again, I would do two coats of primer. Hope that helps!


    2. Dp have a tutorial you used for the Board and Battan. so love t!

    3. Hi Sheryl!

      I don't remember what tutorial I used but it was one of the many on Pinterest. Basically, I measured the total height of the wall, divided that into three, then did 2/3 of the space for the bottom and 1/3 of the space for the top. I taped white paper along the wall where the pieces would be nailed...this was a way for me to visually see where the wood would be and double check the spacing before putting any pieces up. That allowed me to tweak the pieces a little before nailing. Start with the upper horizontal pieces and then do the long divider pieces. I'll check to see if I can find the specific one I used and post to it for you...Have fun!


  2. So, you recommend removing the border rather than spackling the seams and sanding?

    1. Meaghan,
      Good question... If the border was well attached, I'd probably just spackle and sand the edges like I did with the wallpaper. This bathroom didn't have any border that I had to deal with but another one in the house can find it under "Down, Border! Down!" ( ) I took that border down because I didn't care for it that much but didn't want to redo the entire bathroom just then. Can you even believe that I had three bathrooms all the exact same blue wallpaper?!!
      Hope that helps!

  3. I wanted to thank you very much for posting this. We had two wallpapered bathrooms and after a very bad experience peeling the paper and repairing the walls in our master bath I was dreading the smaller bathroom. I found your tutorial and said I have to try this. It worked perfectly! I took your advice and did two coats of primer and did 3 coats of paint only because it's our kids bathroom and we are selling our house so I didn't want any question regarding what I did exactly. Regardless I will NEVER peel the wallpaper again, thank you for saving me a week of time!

    1. I'm so glad you tried it! Life saver, isn't it?! Thanks for letting me know that it helped you... It's more fun to have a blog when people comment and let us know how it went. :) So, you made today more fun! Enjoy your new (kids) bathroom!