Can you paint over wallpaper glue/backing? And can you "seal" the paint?
May 22, 2008 8:09 PM   Subscribe

Can you paint over wallpaper glue/backing? And can you "seal" the paint?

In the ongoing game of "I'll help you fix up your bathroom if you'll help me fix up mine" between a friend and I, wall surfaces have finally come to the fore.

I'm taking down ugly beige wallpaper older than I am, in a badly-added bathroom, and it's clear that the wallpaper was applied with some level of enthusiasm. The paper comes off, nice and easy (I could probably pull off all of the paper in about five minutes), but only about two-thirds of it (the top layer) - leaving a lightly furry thin layer of paper (backing?) plus what appears to be a walloping amount of glue. A steamer (granted, it was a crappy Steam Buddy) did not speed things along. Warm, soapy water did not go any faster. Nor did using hot water with fabric softener. It's about a minute to do a square inch. The prospect of trying to scrape all of this off (time-consuming, I'm guessing a couple of days) without taking off the surface of the drywall (which is not even greenboard!) has made me wonder if I can't simply paint over the fur/glue. I'd have to mud in a couple of areas (the seams), but otherwise, are there compelling reasons not to do mud, then a coat or two of primer, then paint? Some sites say it isn't an issue, others act as if death itself is on the line. Is it just one of those "this is going to take ridiculous amounts of time, and is one of the reason why, when you search on AskMe for previous related questions, you get about five times as many hits relating to desktop wallpaper images for computers?" kinds of jobs?

In this thread, it seems as if all of the glue and backing were already gone, and in this thread, it seems as if they're planning to take off the whole wall - which is way beyond my skill level.

My friend's bathroom has a different issue - he has painted his and he has a four year old boy. One of the reasons the military does not employ four year old boys as snipers is, aside from the naptimes, that they have really lousy aim. Consequently, the wall nearest the toilet has taken a somewhat *wince* yellowish haze. He does not actually hit it directly, from what I can tell, he just creates a fine urine mist. Can you somehow seal paint with a thin coat of something transparent, so it can be wiped down easily? I know the problem will get better at some point as the child grows up, but the question remains - can you "seal" paint in bathrooms for these purposes, and are there good points as to why you should not do so?
posted by adipocere to Home & Garden (16 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I just got through stripping my kitchen, hallway and front entry of wallpaper put up with liberal amounts of glue. The wallpaper in my bathrooms came down much more easily, a difference I attributed to the humidity.

I found the steamer to be useless as well. A putty-knife (actually a 5-in-1 painter's tool) along with hot water with TSP (trisodium phosphate) worked well. You may also find that Dif Zinsser helps (you can substitute your local hardware store's knock-off version, I did). I tried painting over the glue in a small test area and the paint didn't adhere, and it looked awful when it dried. For me, a good soaking with TSP or the remover got the glue/backing to the point where it stripped off as easily as the paper did.

As for the issue of aim, I find that Fantastik with Bleach can remove "aim-stains" from the surfaces around my bathroom including laminate (vanity), wallpaper and regular latex paint (designed for kitchens and bathrooms). Just ask the paint department at your hardware store for a washable paint and clean it regularly.
posted by KevCed at 8:27 PM on May 22, 2008

I don't have much advice about the wallpaper. When we took down wallpaper in a bathroom, it took quite a bit of the drywall surface with it. So we ended up re-floating it. It took forever.

Regarding "sealing" the paint in the bathroom, it's not necessary. Use a glossy paint. (You don't have to use the highest level of gloss, there is a level that's often recommended for bathrooms and kitchens. Eggshell? Or the next gloss up from that? The reason glossy paint it glossy is that it's smooth, and the reason flat paint is flat is because it has particles mixed into it which diffuse light - they also make a rough surface that's basically impossible to wipe down.

Or maybe consider a nice butter yellow bathroom ;)
posted by RustyBrooks at 8:45 PM on May 22, 2008

In my own experience, attempting to "paint over" something with regular interior paint has never worked... the stuff underneath always shows through.
posted by crapmatic at 8:53 PM on May 22, 2008

I considered painting over wallpaper when I bought a house with ugly, metallic wallpaper in EVERY.SINGLE.ROOM. Everything I read, however, talked about painting over the vinyl surface. If you're down to the paper fuzz, you have to bite the bullet and strip it. You'll get an uneven surface and the paint will get absorbed into the paper. Unless you're going to somehow apply 18 coats of resin over it or something, you're hosed.

However, if you've got drywall rather than greenboard, I might consider just biting the bullet and redoing the walls - since you're going to f- up the drywall anyway as you strip (at least I did). And once you go through the full bs of removing wallpaper, you're certainly not going to want to redo your walls due to whatever mold or rot might come your way.

I know. Not the answer you wanted to hear. I bought a cheap, crappy steamer and ended up using the chemical stuff and plastic putty knives anyway. Perhaps an industrial steamer rented wouldn't be as maddening.
posted by Gucky at 9:22 PM on May 22, 2008 [1 favorite]

Regarding the wallpaper - you've got to strip it or remud the walls. In my last house, I stripped layer after layer of wallpaper. At the end I found my walls were just a mess and I had to remud anyway. Stripping the wall paper took days. Remudding took about 2 hours.

On to the Golden Glow walls. Oh sure the Dad is blaming the son , I bet Dad is part of the problem. :)

What type of paint are you using in the bathroom? I hate shiny walls as much as the next person, but if the young'un can't reliably hit the bowl you need something scrubbable. You'll need to go to at least a satin finish, but probably a semi-gloss.

And paint a little dot of red nail polish at the bottom of the toilet bowl. The little guy may need to have a smaller target to use while aiming.
posted by 26.2 at 12:01 AM on May 23, 2008

I hate wallpaper. I found a way to remove that crap that the paint-challenged previous owners put up. You'll have much better results removing the paper if you score it first (specific tool called Paper Tiger or Piranha, something like that). It perforates the paper a certain depth without puncturing the drywall paper. Then, working in sections, you use the hot water or stripping solution and within a minute it almost falls off the wall.
But use a plastic scraper/putty knife (not a metal one).
I was looking for a pic of the scoring tool and this article pretty much nails your question. Anyway, good luck.
posted by artdrectr at 1:46 AM on May 23, 2008 [1 favorite]

You could try lining the walls before painting. You can buy lining paper (I'm not sure what the US name for this stuff is) in a range of different thicknesses, depending on how uneven the underlying surface is. Paste this stuff up as you would normal wallpaper, then paint over the top. Done properly this can produce quite good results; lines where the paper joins can be hidden by accurate alignment followed by a light sanding with fine sandpaper before painting.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 2:46 AM on May 23, 2008

I despise wallpaper. I had my bathroom redone and to save labor costs (we hired someone to do it) I decided that I would take the wallpaper down myself. Every home improvement show I had seen at the time made it look trivial. Every thing I read made it look simple.

It was hell. Nothing worked. Perforating the paper and dousing it with chemicals did nothing. It would have taken weeks and then it still would have looked like hell. Getting the fuzzy stuff off was destroying the dry wall, so I eventually gave it up. The contractor repaired the wall. He then painted over some of the brown fuzz that I didn't get to. Luckily, it's not very noticeable. We're happy with it.

The wallpaper had been up for about 25 years, so that might have had something to do with it, but I vowed right then and there that I would never use wallpaper inside a home I own (I doubt I would have anyway).

Good luck.
posted by justgary at 2:52 AM on May 23, 2008

bea arthur has the cheap and easy answer. (Although if you are papering over the lining please note that the lining paper should go on horizontally, not vertically). If you have the time and money to do a more thorough job, I would recommend a skim of plaster. It's a bit more expensive than lining paper, but once it's done, all you need to do for the next 50 years is slap on a coat of paint every now and then.

For part two of the question, you can buy paint specifically for kitchens and bathrooms which is moisture resistant and wipeable.
posted by Jakey at 3:01 AM on May 23, 2008

I successfully painted over bathroom wallpaper that was in good shape by priming with a Kilz primer. As I recall, it was oil-based. I used latex paint over it. I haven't noticed any problems, except one prominent seam that I should have taken the time to mud and sand.
posted by wg at 3:40 AM on May 23, 2008

Regarding the kid w/ bad aim. Put a single square of tp in the toilet. Tell him to sink it.
posted by theora55 at 4:29 AM on May 23, 2008

Seconding TSP, warm water and a putty knife. I had to strip a bedroom that really wanted to keep its paper, even after the steamer. This was the only thing that worked. With a little added elbow grease, mind you.
posted by sunshinesky at 4:30 AM on May 23, 2008

Steamer didn't do jack for me either. We tried Kilz over the same fuzzy wallpaper-backing stuff. Nope...the corners started peeling in a couple of days.

My learned technique wound up being this: hot water with a squirt of dishsoap in a roller-pan. Get paintroller good and wet and roll water on a section of wall. Wait about two minutes for it to absorb a bit. Do it again. Wait a minute or two. Use large broad putty knife in an upward motion.

In some places, I got the knife under the paper and it stripped off in big glorious strips. In other areas I had to just scrape and scrape and scrape.

I've used the men's room at restos/bars/apartments. Grownup boys aren't so good with the aim either. But seconding to just painting the bathroom with semigloss paint, which cleans up easily with a squirt of your favorite non-abrasive cleaner.
posted by desuetude at 6:42 AM on May 23, 2008

I hate wallpaper. I found a way to remove that crap that the paint-challenged previous owners put up. You'll have much better results removing the paper if you score it first (specific tool called Paper Tiger or Piranha, something like that). It perforates the paper a certain depth without puncturing the drywall paper. Then, working in sections, you use the hot water or stripping solution and within a minute it almost falls off the wall.

I'd like to caution you about these perforators. It's too easy to perforate the drywall backing paper and then you spend as much time patching the walls as you would have doing a good job of stripping them.

The kitchen-bathroom paint I mentioned before is typically a semi-gloss finish, which as pointed out by others is good for washing.
posted by KevCed at 6:57 AM on May 23, 2008

Try DIF wallpaper remover before you do TSP, it's a little less toxic, and got nearly every inch of crappy old wallpaper off for me.

That said, there was one room where the wallpaper was done below a chair rail, and it WOULD NOT COME OFF. Not with a steamer, not with dif, not with tsp, not with anything.

I took a hand sander to it, wearing a respirator. That worked. Was time consuming and a pain in the ass, but it worked. Of course, I have plaster walls, so there was something solid to be sanded down underneath it. I still had to skim coat the entire wall when I was done, but I knew I'd be doing that regardless.
posted by kumquatmay at 9:31 AM on May 23, 2008

Response by poster: I tried a variety of methods:

DIF - fail. As far as I can tell, this liquid may well be the original weak sauce you use on your hot plate of fail.

Paper Tiger - bad move. Will be mudding there, despite what I thought was a light touch.

More steam - opened my pores, but was otherwise useless.

What worked? Chomp. It's amazing. Mist, wait a minute, then I could lift off the wallpaper in some areas with my fingernail. It even smelled nice. Thanks, everyone.
posted by adipocere at 8:37 AM on September 17, 2008

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