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Tips for Painting Over Wallpaper

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Learn how to paint over wallpaper the right way

Learn how to paint over wallpaper the right way

Can You Paint Over Wallpaper?

Some homeowners are unaware that hard-to-remove wallpaper can be painted over successfully, as long as there are no air bubbles showing underneath it or curling at the edges of the paper. If visible air bubbles and loose ends exist, then removing the wallpaper is your best option.

However, removing wallpaper can be a huge hassle, especially if it has fused with the drywall or just isn't coming off cleanly. Excessive scraping can leave deep gouges in the drywall that can severely damage drywall and create more work for you. In some cases, painting over the wallpaper makes more sense.

Textured Wallpaper Is Harder to Work With

There are a few things you should know before you begin painting. The first thing to note is that textured wallpaper requires more prep work than smooth wallpaper since the texture can show through the paint layers.

Thankfully, it isn't impossible to do; I once refinished a kitchen with heavily textured wallpaper, and the customer could not see any evidence of the wallpaper underneath.

Below, I will give you some tips on how to prepare the surface properly so that your walls look more like painted drywall instead of painted wallpaper.

Two painters priming a wall.

Two painters priming a wall.

Priming the Wallpaper

To do the job right, start with careful priming.

1. Prime Before Patching

I prefer priming before patching. The white primer makes it easier to see defects and seams that need to be patched. If you patch the walls after priming, the patches should be primed separately before paint.

  • Use a 1/2" nap roller to apply the primer and a natural bristle paint brush to fill in the corners and spaces around outlets.
  • Apply one coat of primer and let it completely dry. It usually takes around three or four hours for primer to dry enough for paint application.

2. Choose the Best Primer

Wallpaper should really be primed with an oil-based primer instead of latex. The water in latex primers penetrates the paper in a bad way, causing air bubbles and curling seams as it dries. Latex primers also don't seal the surface as well as oil-based primers, which can allow stains to bleed into the top coats of paint.

Oil-based primers have a terrible odor, but they are the best option for sealing old wallpaper, and they form a stronger bond with paint. The oil primer I have used many times for priming wallpaper is a primer sealer called Zinsser Cover Stain. Another good option is Sherwin Williams ProBlock, which also has an oil base.

A painter patching seams in the wall.

A painter patching seams in the wall.

Preparing the Surface for Paint

Careful patching ensures the seams in the wallpaper and other imperfections won't be visible once the wall is painted. The only way to hide the seams is to patch over them with drywall joint compound.

1. Inspect the Paper for Peeling Seams Before Patching

  • Scrape over the peeling edges with a putty knife to remove loose and curling edges.
  • You can also lightly gouge the wall along the seams to remove the loose edges so nothing is protruding from the surface. These areas will be filled with patching compound in the next step.

2. Patch the Seams, Scrapes, Holes, Etc.

I use Easy Sand joint compound because it dries in only 45 minutes. It comes in a powder form; all you have to do is add water and mix in a pan or small bucket. You can also use pre-mixed compound in a bucket.

  • Pour a little water into a mud pan and carefully add the joint compound.
  • Mix it around with a 6-inch taping knife.
  • Fill in all of the seams with a thin coat of joint compound, working from the top of the seam to the bottom. As long as you don't leave thick edges on the patches, the joint compound will dry quickly and sand easily.
  • After the first coat of compound dries, lightly sand it and apply a second coat of compound, using a wider, 8-inch taping knife.
  • Lightly sand the second coat and apply a third and final coat using a 10-inch knife.

Don't forget to caulk the baseboard trim to mask any loose edges at the bottom. Use premium caulk meant for trim and crown molding. The caulk will be more flexible and less likely to crack.

Wallpaper in the process of being painted over.

Wallpaper in the process of being painted over.

Paint Over the Wallpaper

Once you finish priming and patching, you are now ready to paint. Any acrylic paint is fine for painting over primed wallpaper. I prefer Duration from Sherwin Williams. The paint is very durable and washes well. I use the matte and eggshell finish, but flat paint does a better job of hiding imperfections on the wallpaper underneath.

Another paint I really like is Benjamin Moore Regal Select. The paint covers really well and dries fast. Roll the walls with a lint-free roller so you don't end up with debris in the paint.

Cut-in the ceiling lines and apply two coats of paint to complete the job. With careful preparation, your paint job will look great and last you a long time!

If you're still concerned about painting over your wallpaper and want to remove it instead, my article "Tips for Removing Old Wallpaper" will guide you through the process. Removal is best, but sometimes it's impossible.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

Questions & Answers

Question: Latex paint has already been used over wallpaper in my bathroom. What problems should I expect, and how can I correct them?

Answer: If the wallpaper wasn't primed first with oil primer sealer, the water in latex paint, as well as the moisture inside the bathroom, can cause wallpaper to bubble all over and curl at the seams. The paint will also have a weak surface bond without a coat of primer underneath. If you primed the wallpaper with an oil-based primer before painting, you're fine. If you didn't prime and experience problems, you'd have to strip the latex paint off, or even the wallpaper itself at that point, and start over.

Question: I'm thinking about putting a faux finish on Mica Wallpaper to add a bit of color, am I in for a big headache?

Answer: I would try to remove the wallpaper first, but if you already tried that, and the wallpaper isnt bubbling, or peeling, you can apply a faux finish over it after the surface has been prepped.

Question: What kind of paint do you use in bathroom?

Answer: I use Sherwin Williams Duration in bathrooms. In a bathroom, an anti-microbial paint that's washable is best.

Question: I have flat paint over wallpaper and now I want to use semi-gloss. Do I need to prime it first?

Answer: The wallpaper should have been primed under the flat paint. If the wallpaper was primed before the flat paint, priming again over the flat will give you a nice uniform finish with the semi-gloss. Flat paint is usually chalky and porous. Without primer, the semi-gloss paint is more likely to dry uneven, showing lap marks from the roller. Primer seals and smooths out the rough surface of the flat paint, so you have a better finish with glossy paint. The wall should be sanded first, too.

Question: When you say to put up 3 coats of joint compound with increasingly larger knives should the seam be covered with a 10” with a 10 wide patch in the end?

Answer: You want each coat of mud to be a little wider than the previous coat. This keeps the edges smooth and easier to sand. If you use the same size knife for the proceeding coat, the edges will be too thick and hard to sand smooth with the wall surface. So your last coat of mud should be applied using a taping knife that's wider than the previous coat.

© 2012 Matt G.


Matt G. (author) from United States on December 27, 2017:


Check out my article about painting paneling:

The surface should be cleaned, sanded, primed (oil primer, not latex) and painted however many coats it takes for solid coverage.

Paula Gilbert on December 27, 2017:

How do you paint old wood 1972 paneling. I tried and it comes off .

Matt G. (author) from United States on February 23, 2012:

Thanks. Glad to hear it worked for you. I've painted over wallpaper many times without any problems, but I do prefer to remove it if possible. As long as the material is tight to the wall and everything is patched and primed well, paint will do fine.

moonlake from America on February 22, 2012:

Good information. We have had to paint over old wallpaper and it worked. We did it pretty much the way you listed.