How To Hang Wallpaper
We asked professional paperhanger Bob Rowland to give us some insight into what it takes to hang wallpaper straight, with near invisible seams and without making a big mess. He told us that every quality job starts with careful planning and proper preparation.
Prep the walls
Start by removing plate covers, heat registers and light fixtures. Fill any holes with a nonshrinking joint compound so you don’t have to wait until it dries and apply another layer. Scrape the walls with a drywall knife or sand them with 50-grit sandpaper to remove smaller imperfections.
Finally, cover the whole wall with “wall size,” a primer/sizing product. Bob uses Shieldz made by Zinsser. Don’t skip this step! Using wall size will help the paper adhere to the wall and reduce the chance that the paper will shrink. It also makes it easier to remove the paper when the time comes. One gallon costs $20 at a home center. And never, hang wallpaper over unfinished drywall—it won’t ever come off if you do. Make sure all the walls have at least one coat of primer.
Roll on the paste— don’t dunk!
Use a high-quality 1/2-in.-nap paint roller cover to apply paste—the cheap ones will leave fuzz balls all over the paper. When working with prepasted products, Bob prefers to use a paint roller to roll the water on the paper as well. Submerging paper in a tray is messy and doesn’t guarantee uniform coverage. He even adds a little paste to the water (2 cups per gallon) to encourage stronger adhesion.
Choose the right paste for your paper
There are three basic types of paste: clay, wheat and starch. Each group has several subcategories. Most wall-paper instructions will indicate which paste to use. Avoid the “universal” paste unless the paper you’re hanging specifically calls for it.
Seam inside corners
Corners are rarely perfectly straight. You’ll need to create a seam at every inside corner to make the next panel plumb. The first panel installed in a corner should be overlapped onto the adjacent wall at least 1/8 in. When working your way into a corner, measure over from the last panel to the corner at the top, middle and bottom. Then cut the corner panel 1/8 in. longer than the longest of the three measurements. You can use the leftover piece to start the new wall, but you may need to cut it at a slight angle to accommodate a crooked corner. Some wallpaper won’t stick to other wallpaper, so run a small bead of seam adhesive in the corner before overlapping the second piece.
Book the paper before hanging
Booking is the process of folding the paper in on itself. It allows time for the paste to activate and the paper to soften. Fold the paper so that when you unfold it, you’ll be working with two-thirds of the panel. Once folded, set each roll in front of the wall where it’s going to be hung. Cut a bunch of pieces of paper at once, and book several at the same time. If you’re a beginner, set them in a plastic bag to give you more time to work with them.
Gently smooth out the paper
Once the paper is on the wall, be sure to run your smoother over every square inch of the paper. But don’t push too hard on your smoother or you’ll squeeze out the paste and stretch the paper. This is especially important when you’re working with pre-pasted paper. Stretched-out paper with too little paste behind it is guaranteed to shrink when it dries. Shrinking causes gaps in the seams—gaps are bad.
Wipe down as you go
It’s a lot easier to clean up the paste before it has fully cured, so Bob sponges off every panel with warm water as he goes. He uses natural sponges, one in each hand. He swipes with the first and makes a final pass with the other. He uses a few drops of dish soap when he’s working with particularly sticky paste. To avoid creating suds, Bob squeezes the sponges out while they’re still submerged in water, then he gives them another small squeeze above the water bucket.
Overlap and cut both pieces at once
Sometimes, rather than butting one panel up to another, you’ll need to create your own seam. The best way to do this is to lap one panel over the other, and cut down the middle of the overlap. Then peel the two pieces apart, and pull out the small strip that was cut off the underlying piece.
If you don’t have a steady hand, you can use a drywall knife as a cutting guide. Try not to penetrate the drywall paper. Angle the knife blade down low so more than just the tip of the blade is doing the cutting. Bob uses a knife with blades that snap off. Blades are a lot cheaper than wallpaper, so he snaps off a section after every cut.
Roll every seam
To keep the edges from curling, you need to set them with a roller. But the same rule that applies to the smoother applies to the roller: Don’t press too hard or you’ll squeeze out too much adhesive.
Use a taping knife as a cutting guide
Leave an extra 2 in. at the top and bottom, and use a drywall knife as a guide to trim it. Bob prefers a 10-in. knife so he doesn’t have to move it as often as he would a smaller one. Hold the knife down close to the wall to avoid cutting into the ceiling.
Make relief cuts before trimming
When you’re up against trim or other obstacles, you’ll need to make a relief cut before trimming the paper. You could make the cut with a knife, but scissors are better to avoid scratching the trim.
Meet the expert
Bob Rowland has been hanging wallpaper for more than 44 years. He’s covered hundreds of acres of commercial walls and has worked on everything from modest starter homes up to the governor’s mansion in St. Paul, MN.
Like this story? Check out this video on removing wallpaper.
We’d Love to Hear From You
Do you have a jobsite or tool tip that makes your work-life easier, safer, or just more fun? Why not share it with your construction comrades? Plus, you can show off your professional prowess to your family and friends.
Click the image below to send us your Pro Tips! Please include an image if you can. We will contact you if we run your submission on the site.