Removing your wall coverings before a paint job can more than double the amount of time it usually takes to complete this renovation project. Is it absolutely necessary? An expert weighs in.

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A lot of prep work goes into painting a space, and that work all but doubles if the existing room is covered in wallpaper. Removing old, damaged, or peeling wall coverings can be a time consuming and messy process, which is why some homeowners prefer to paint over the paper whenever possible. Unfortunately, this isn't always the best approach; in some cases, the covering is too damaged, old, or textured to make it worthwhile.

If you're going to paint over wallpaper, do it the right way.

According to Faraz Tajik, president of Crest Builders, you can paint over wallpaper so long as the covering is in good condition and doesn't have any major areas that show signs of peeling or damage. The most important tip to remember when tackling this process, he says, is to avoid water-based primers. "I recommend using an oil-based primer, so the wallpaper glue does not react with your primer," he explains. "If parts of your wallpaper are peeling off, popping up, or are loose, you have to remove them to prepare those areas." To remove these smaller sections, gather your supplies ahead of time: You'll need a putty knife, utility knife, scraper, sandpaper, and sponge. "You then have to patch any uneven surface using a soft finishing drywall compound," he says, adding that once it dries, you'll have to sand it down; that way, the area will be indistinguishable from the rest of the wall once you apply your paint.

woman painting over wallpaper
Credit: Westend61 / Getty Images

Clean your surface before your prime and paint.

Post-prep, make sure that the papered area is completely clean before putting down a layer of primer. Any leftover debris will show in your paint job, and can even cause your paint to peel once it dries. "After prepping the surface, and before applying the primer, clean the wall and remove the sand dust with a damp cloth for better results," says Tajik.

Going the extra mile and removing the wallpaper? Consider using steam.

If your wallpaper is too damaged to be painted over, Tajik explains that you can remove larger sheets the same way you would smaller, damaged areas. For massive jobs, he recommends using a wallpaper steamer, which will help lift the pattern from the wall, easing the take-off process.

Remember: The more work you do upfront, the better your paint will look.

Painting is always a big undertaking, whether you're ripping out wallpaper or not. That's why many homeowners decide to simply paint over these coverings—and while this will help you get to the meat of the job quicker, Tajik says that this could be a costly mistake. "When it comes to painting over wallpaper, preparation is everything," he says. "If you skip the necessary steps, you run a risk of witnessing your fresh paint starting to peel off the wall just weeks after you paint."

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