Natural, Non-toxic Wallpaper Removal

Reader Contribution by Staff

The first time I crossed the threshold of the house I recently purchased, I could tell that it had been meticulously cared for. Everything was clean and well-maintained, and although there were a few minor decorating changes I knew I would want to make when time and money allowed, I thought I could live with the design ‘as is’ until that time arrived. I moved in about two weeks ago, and once everything was unpacked (as my grandmother says, ‘a place for everything and everything in its place), I came to a different conclusion: The kitchen wallpaper has to go. Now.

Of course, it wasn’t exactly one of the home’s main selling points, but it must have looked a lot better with the seller’s furniture than with mine. While it was in good condition and installed correctly, it just wasn’t me. I didn’t see any point in delaying the inevitable, and thus began my first home-improvement project. I had a gift card from Lowe’s, so I decided to start there.

A relative of mine damaged a wall attempting to steam wallpaper off, and I was wary of liquid wallpaper strippers, as common sense told me I’d be doing my indoor air quality and the environment a disservice by using harsh chemicals. Sure enough, the brand carried by Lowe’s had an ominous warning on the label — their product contained a substance known by the state of California to cause cancer and birth defects. So I asked a salesperson about non-toxic alternatives. He said that, for some wallpapers, vinegar and water is highly effective when used with a scoring tool. I felt a little silly for not thinking of that myself.

Sure enough, I decided to test a small section of paper at about 6:30 yesterday evening, and by 9:30, the entire wall was bare (that includes stopping for dinner). It literally came off in sheets. I was thrilled! Results will undoubtedly vary — I was lucky that there was only one layer, and the paper was fairly new and not brittle. I used two parts white vinegar to one part warm water, but I think you could get by with 50/50 or maybe even less.

I admit that I was a little doubtful in the beginning. I was confident that it would eventually work, but by passing on the commercial chemical formula with the ‘enzyme action,’ I expected to contribute more time and elbow grease. Lesson learned: Natural products really can be just as effective as their toxic counterparts, despite what the labels say.

More information on products that can be hazardous to your health can be found in the Household Products Database.