How to Prepare Walls for Paint After Removing Wallpaper

Whether you’re moving into a new home and need to remove old, tired wallpaper, or you’re just looking to update one of your existing rooms ditching wallpaper for paint can be a big job. Removing wallpaper can be tough and tedious, and if you’re not careful, you can cause quite a bit of damage that needs repairing. 

No matter the method you use to peel, tear, or steam off the old wallpaper, you’re going to have to deal with glue, chips in the drywall, and other issues that you’ll need to take care of before you start applying paint.

To prepare walls for paint after removing wallpaper, start by ensuring all the paper is fully removed. This includes any glue left behind with wallpaper backing. Then, you’ll need to sand out the uneven surfaces and clean the walls before repairing any damage. A good primer will help hide any imperfections you can’t get rid of completely. 

Remove all the pieces of wallpaper

Whenever you remove wallpaper, it’s important to get all of it off the walls before you try to paint the surfaces. Some wallpaper is easy to remove and will peel off in clean sheets once you get it started. However, in most cases, you’ll have to put in a little more work to get a clean finish. 

Even after you scrape, peel, and scrub, you’ll probably still have patches of wallpaper and adhesive on your walls. The easiest way to remove these bits is to use a scraping tool designed for the task. Still, some wallpaper glue is really tough, and it just won’t budge without a little help. 

Remove all the pieces of wallpaper
Remove all the pieces of wallpaper

Warm, soapy water mixed with baking soda is an easy solution to use on your walls to remove wallpaper and adhesive. Simply scrub it on with a sponge and let it sit for a minute or two, then you should be able to scrape the wallpaper bits right off. If you don’t have a wallpaper-stripping tool, a putty knife can also do the trick. 

You can also use commercially-available wallpaper stripper, but it will be a harsher chemical, and you’ll need to follow the directions carefully. Other people have been successful using a 1:1 mixture of fabric softener with hot water. Applying heat from a steamer or heat gun can also help to soften adhesive and make the wallpaper easier to remove.  

If you’re trying to remove larger pieces, you may be more successful if you make score marks in the paper before applying any solution. That way, whatever treatment you choose can get underneath the wallpaper’s surface and work on softening the glue. 

Leaving bits of wallpaper on the wall and painting over it can result in patches where the paint doesn’t adhere properly. You could also end up with bubbling or peeling later on. It’s always best to remove all the wallpaper and glue before attempting to paint.  

Sand and remove dust

After you get all the wallpaper off, the next step is to sand it down to a smooth surface. First, do a visual inspection for any rough spots or dried adhesive that you can sand off. Use a sanding block or sheets of sandpaper (medium to fine grit) to go over the entire wall. 

Sand lightly until the walls feel smooth to the touch. Don’t go overboard, making gouges and scrape marks that you’ll have to repair later on. The goal here is to create a smooth, even surface.  

After you’re done sanding, use a lint-free cloth to wipe off all the dust. This is important before you start doing any patching or priming. You may need to use a wet rag or a cleaning solution to get all the dust off, depending on how much sanding you need to do. 

Be sure to let the walls dry completely before you apply any primers or paints. 

Repair the walls

In most cases, you’ll have to do some minor repair work after removing the wallpaper. You’ll either have pieces of drywall coating ripped off or gouges and scrapes from removing the adhesive you’ll need to fill. 

It’s important to fill holes and cracks now so you’ll have a smooth surface to paint. Leaving the damage and trying to cover it with primer or coats of paint will result in dips, divots, and uneven coverage. Essentially, the finished product will not look very good if you don’t take the time to repair the walls.

To do this job, you’ll need: 

  • Sandpaper
  • Joint compound
  • Taping knife
  • Cloths for cleanup 
  • Utility knife
  • Eye protection & dust mask

For very small repairs, you can normally smooth out any rough or uneven surfaces with sandpaper. For example, if there’s no large gouges or holes, you can sand over the rough drywall patch until the edges are smooth and even with the rest of the wall. 

Then, you can apply joint compound over the damaged area. For larger damage, you’ll just need to do larger repairs with your joint compound. Follow the package directions on the wall putty or joint compound of your choice as far as drying time and handling.

In some cases, you may need to use a wall patch kit to cover larger holes, cracks, or gouges. A patch kit is helpful when you’re dealing with deeper damage or need to fill in a hollow space. 

Once you’ve applied the repair compound, let the putty dry completely, then sand it out again so the surface is smooth and even. Clean the wall thoroughly to remove all the dust and debris before applying any primer or paint. 

Keep in mind that if you have textured walls or extensive damage, you may want to do a skim coat rather than spot repairs.

Benefits of a skim coat

Using a skim coat can help your walls look like new again even once you’ve created some damage by removing old wallpaper. If you have textured walls, you may not like the look of spotty patches, or if you have damage across large areas of the wall, a skim coat may be the solution. 

Skim coating
Skim coating

Why you should use a skim coat

Skim coating involves applying a thin layer of joint compound over a wall’s surface to repair damage or smooth out texture. If you remove wallpaper and find a textured wall underneath that’s difficult to repair, or if you have a lot of drywall damage across the entire surface, a skim coat can be the answer. 

It’s a relatively quick and easy process that you can do yourself in most cases. It’s a cheaper alternative to having plaster work done, and it can make your walls look smooth and even once again. 

How to apply a skim coat

To skim coat your wall(s), you will need: 

  • Drywall compound
  • Paint roller 
  • Putty knife
  • Drop cloth or tarp 
  • Paint tray 

How to apply: 

  1. Start by laying down your drop cloth(s) to protect your floor, furniture, baseboards, and anything else from splatter and drips. 
  2. Mix your drywall or joint compound according to the directions so that you end up with a thin, spreadable consistency. 
  3. Using your paint roller, apply a thin layer of compound to the wall. Work in small sections if it’s a large surface. 
  4. Using your putty knife (or a taping knife or trowel), smooth out the coating so it’s evenly spread and all cracks and voids are filled in. 
  5. Let the compound dry completely and look for lines or ridges in the compound. 
  6. Lightly sand the wall between each coat if additional coats are needed. 

Best reasons to use a primer

After doing the wall repairs and applying a skim coat, it’s best to use a primer to finish getting the wall ready to paint. Using a primer is an easy way to get a smooth surface and better looking finish on the wall. 

Primering the wall

Using a primer helps fill in small uneven areas and it hides imperfections you may have missed during the previous steps. Primers also help fill very small voids rather than allowing paint to settle into those tiny spaces in your drywall compound. 

Also, using a primer helps with adhesion (meaning the paint will apply and stick to the wall better), and it helps to seal the wall keeping moisture out to prevent bubbling, cracking, and peeling later on. Using a primer also normally means you can use less paint and you’ll get better coverage with each coat. 

How to use a primer

Water-based or oil-based primer may be acceptable for your project, but most people use water-based (latex) products for all-purpose type jobs. For porous wood surfaces or to help block stains, you may want to go with an oil-based primer instead. 

First, be sure the walls are clean and free of any dust and debris. This is very important if you sanded the walls. Clean them with a damp cloth, then clean them again until the walls wipe clean. 

Next, dampen your brush or roller with water. Primer doesn’t absorb well into dry tools. 

When you’re ready to begin, start by painting an outline around the wall. Then, use your paint brush to apply primer over areas where you did your repairs. These spots will need extra coverage. 

Then, use a roller to apply primer over the entire surface. Work in 3×3-foot sections, applying the primer from high to low and from one side to the other so you don’t miss any areas. 

Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for drying times. Once done, lightly sand over the primer and clean the wall thoroughly before painting. 

Top picks for paint to cover walls

When you’re ready to paint, you’ll want to select something that will give you good, even coverage. There are tons of paint products on the market to choose from, but these are some examples of the best for painting your newly bare wall after you remove the wallpaper. 

Benjamin Moore Regal Select is a high-quality interior paint that’s one of the most popular among professionals and DIY enthusiasts alike. This latex paint has excellent coverage and goes on very smoothly. It’s cleanable, durable, and will give you a premium result. This type of paint averages about $55 per gallon. 

Benjamin Moore Regal Select

Sherwin-Williams Cashmere is a slightly more expensive paint option, but it has the same premium quality features as the Regal Select. It goes on smoothly and cleanly and provides excellent coverage. This paint averages around $60 per gallon. 

Sherwin-Williams Cashmere

Glidden Essentials Interior Paint is a good option for someone on a budget. This paint goes on nice and smooth and is cleanable for high-traffic areas. While it won’t be as durable as the pricier options, you can beat the price at only $15 per gallon. 

Regardless of which brand you go with, remember to choose the right sheen. Remember, the more gloss the paint has, the more it will show imperfections in the wall. That’s an important consideration when you’ve had to do repairs after removing wallpaper. 

Glidden Essentials Interior Paint

Remember to measure the area, so you know how much square footage you need to cover before you head to the store. That way, you won’t spend money buying paint you don’t need or get home to find that you didn’t get enough paint for the job. 

How to paint the wall

To paint the wall, you will need: 

  • Paint
  • Paint tray
  • Paint brushes
  • Paint roller
  • Painter’s tape
  • Drop cloth

Before you begin, cover any areas you don’t want to be painted. That includes floors, furniture, baseboards, etc.

Turn on as many lights as possible and open up your windows. Natural light is always best, and the more light coverage you have, the fewer shadows you’ll have to deal with. It’s much easier to see whether you have even coverage when the room is well-lit. 

Use painter’s tape to tape off baseboards, along the ceiling, around doors and windows, over outlets, switches, etc. Remove switch covers and outlet covers to keep them from getting paint on them. 

When you’re ready to begin, stir your paint thoroughly and pour it into a paint tray. Use an angled brush to paint the trim around the baseboard, edges, and where the wall meets the ceiling. This is called “cutting in.” 

Next, use a roller to apply the paint to the rest of the wall. Paint a “W” or “V” shape and fill in, working in small sections and overlapping between coats. Work your way from the top to the bottom, from one side of the wall to the other. 

If you drip paint or get it on an area you didn’t want to be painted, be sure to clean it up right away. 

Dry the wall thoroughly 

When you’re done painting, let the wall dry completely before adding another coat or touching the surfaces. Consult the paint can for the manufacturer’s drying recommendations. In most cases, you’ll need to wait at least two hours between coats and 24 hours for curing. 

If you don’t allow the paint to dry completely before applying a second coat, you will probably end up with peeling, streaking, chipping, or flaking. Or you may find that the second coat doesn’t adhere properly, and you end up having a job you’ll have to fix later on. 

For even coverage and color and a nice, smooth finish, allowing the paint sufficient drying time is critical. So, don’t get in a rush at the end. To be safe and ensure the best results, wait until the next day to apply your second coat if possible.

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