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Tip: Prepping Before Wallpapering

Nothing fills a professional paper hanger’s heart with more dread than hearing a potential client say, “My walls are already smooth and ready for paper.”

That usually means the customer has wasted time, effort and/or money preparing walls that will still not be smooth enough to apply most wallpapers properly. Contrary to popular belief, most wallpapers actually magnify, rather than hide, flaws in the walls. So what might seem “smooth” to an untrained eye will appear quite rough once the paper is hung and dry. People usually have no problem understanding why a textured wall needs smoothing, but they tend to be skeptical when I tell them that I doubt they will be satisfied with the results if the walls they consider smooth need more preparation.

Q: One wallpaper store recommended I sand the texture off my bathroom walls before hanging wallpaper. Won’t that make the walls smooth?

A: The most common misconception in wallpapering is that sanding is the way to smooth walls. Not only is it messy, difficult work, but the results are never acceptable. It tends to gouge the walls, creating dips and nicks that show through most wallpapers.

Q: How do you remove texture from walls?

A: Actually, it doesn’t need removing. Some paper hanger’s use a process called “floating” or “skimming” to fill the valleys of the texture with drywall compound. It creates a sort of cushion of compound to smooth the surface, which ideal for better adhesion, tighter seams and better overall looks.

Q: Isn’t that something I can do myself to save a little money before hiring a professional paper hanger?

A: This is where many people waste time, energy and money because they simply can’t get the walls as smooth as someone used to doing it day after day. Most do-it-yourselfers just apply a single coat of the drywall compound, and then sand, leaving a wall that is less textured than before, but still not acceptable for most wallpapers. A professional paper hanger experienced with how much compound to use, how much pressure to apply when sanding, etc. will obviously deliver the best results. A pro will also create less dust from sanding, and therefore less mess to clean up!

Q: Shouldn’t I have the drywall contractors working on my new home leave the texture off the walls I intend to wallpaper?

A: Never! An untextured wall is not smooth enough for proper paper hanging. There are always variations in taping and nail marks which will show through the wallpaper. In fact, untextured walls usually require more preparation than a wall which has a typical flattened texture. Filling in the valleys on the entire wall leaves a much smoother overall surface than an untextured wall that is simply patched and smoothed in some areas.

Q: Do some wallpapers show flaws more than others?

A: Yes. Almost all vinyl coated papers, papers with shiny surfaces, very dark backgrounds, and papers with very light backgrounds and little pattern will magnify flaws. Patterns tend to hide textures.

Q: Isn’t it OK to hang heavy papers, such as grass cloth, over textured walls?

A: While it’s true that a heavy grasscloth paper would hide the texture on a wall, the seams tend to split after a period of time because of uneven adhesion to the textured wall.

You spend a lot of time and money selecting wallpaper in order to create a special look that will last many years. Inexpensive paper applied to a properly prepared wall can look richer and last much longer than the best, most expensive paper applied to a badly prepared surface. Considering this can allow you the best results on any budget.

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