Removing Wall Covering To Restore Plaster Walls

Technical Procedures Disclaimer

Prior to inclusion in GSA’s library of procedures, documents are reviewed by one or more qualified preservation specialists for general consistency with the Secretary of Interior Standards for rehabilitating historic buildings as understood at the time the procedure is added to the library. All specifications require project-specific editing and professional judgement regarding the applicability of a procedure to a particular building, project or location. References to products and suppliers are to serve as a general guideline and do not constitute a federal endorsement or determination that a product or method is the best or most current alternative, remains available, or is compliant with current environmental regulations and safety standards. The library of procedures is intended to serve as a resource, not a substitute, for specification development by a qualified preservation professional.


We’ve reviewed these procedures for general consistency with federal standards for rehabilitating historic buildings and provide them only as a reference. Specifications should only be applied under the guidance of a qualified preservation professional who can assess the applicability of a procedure to a particular building, project or location. References to products and suppliers serve as general guidelines and do not constitute a federal endorsement nor a determination that a product or method is the best alternative or compliant with current environmental regulations and safety standards.



  1. This procedure includes guidance on removing wall covering from plaster walls to restore the original plaster finish. A process of dry stripping or use of a commercial wallpaper stripper and scraper is outlined under Execution.
  2. covering is sometimes inappropriately applied over historic wall finishes when spaces are renovated or modernized in order to minimize maintenance. Depending on the function and location of the space, these coverings are often inappropriate and poorly maintained, which ultimately detracts from the character of these areas. Therefore, when feasible in areas of significance, removal of the wall covering and restoration of the plaster walls is recommended.
  3. See "General Project Guidelines" for general project guidelines to be reviewed along with this procedure. These guidelines cover the following sections:
    1. Safety Precautions
    2. Historic Structures Precautions
    3. Submittals
    4. Quality Assurance
    5. Delivery, Storage and Handling
    6. Project/Site Conditions
    7. Sequencing and Scheduling
    8. General Protection (Surface and Surrounding)
      These guidelines should be reviewed prior to performing this procedure and should be followed, when applicable, along with recommendations from the Regional Historic Preservation Officer (RHPO).



  1. William Zinsser & Co., Inc.


  1. Household vinegar
  2. Wallpaper stripper such as "DIF" (William Zinsser & Co.Inc.), or approved equal.
    1. For 22 oz. bottle of "DIF", mix contents with 2 gallons hot tap water in ordinary garden sprayer or bucket.
    2. For gallon size bottle of "DIF", mix 3 cups per 2 gallons of hot tap water in ordinary garden sprayer or bucket.
  3. Clean, potable water
  4. Clean, soft cotton cloths
  5. Sandpaper (20 grit)


  1. Wall covering scoring tool such as "PaperTiger" (William Zinsser & Co., Inc.), or approved equal.
  2. Wallpaper scraper or putty knife (4"-5" wide is recommended)
  3. Garden Sprayer
  4. Bucket
  5. Wallpaper steamer - available at local tool rental, paint or wallpaper stores.


  1. If possible, try to determine the type of wallpaper being removed. It may help in deciding what technique to use. In general, however, a standard process of removal is outlined below in Section 3.03.
    1. For Paper-backed Vinyls, Foils or Mylars: Application of stripper (as described below) should remove the top surface of these types of papers, leaving the paper backing on the wall, which can probably be removed with a second application of stripper.
    2. To test for waterproof wall coverings such as coated (washable or scrubbable) wallpaper, painted wallpaper, or papers that can't easily be pulled off, spray the surface with water; if spray beads up and runs down the wall, wall covering is waterproof.
    3. Fabric-backed vinyls or other strippable wall coverings can usually be easily pulled off the wall, if it has been properly sealed. If not, follow stripping procedures as outlined below.


  1. Protection: Cover floor with newspapers or drop cloths. Protect carpeted areas with waterproof drop cloths.



  1. Dry strip as much of the paper as possible. Start at a top corner and work down along the vertical seams while peeling back the paper.
  2. Lightly score remaining paper using 20-grit sandpaper, or use a perforating/scoring tool.
  3. Apply a 50/50 solution of vinegar and hot water using a hand-held spray bottle and scrub the surface with a 3M scrubbing pad.
  4. If wallpaper still remains, apply an enzyme wallpaper stripper.
    1. Apply wallpaper stripper using a garden sprayer if working in a controlled environment, or apply stripper using a hand-held sprayer or sponge.
    2. Saturate wall with solution, starting at the top and working down to the floor.
    3. Allow solution to sit a minimum of 15 minutes.
    4. Reapply solution, and allow to sit again for a minimum of 15 minutes.
    5. Strip paper working in a small area at a time. Wet surface again and peel off paper using a wallpaper scraper or putty knife.
    6. Apply remaining solution to remove traces of paste left on the walls.
  5. If other procedures are not effective, try steaming the walls to remove the paper. Also, for small stubborn areas where paper remains, try using "Goof-off"(available in most hardware stores). Follow manufacturer's instructions.
  6. Once the paper has been successfully removed, remove residual paste by scrubbing the surface with a blue 3M scrubbing pad, water and a sponge.
  7. Rinse walls thoroughly with clean clear water and allow to dry at least 24 to 48 hours.
  8. Clean plaster wall surfaces and remove loose paint. See 09200-08-R and 09900-08-S for guidance.
  9. Make plaster repairs as required and repaint. See "Restoring Metal Leaf On Plaster", "Lathing And Plastering Walls And Ceilings", "Patching Hairline Cracks In Plaster", "Three-Coat Plaster Patching Holes", "Rescuing Loose Wall Or Ceiling Plaster", and "General Guidelines for Painting Exterior and Interior Surfaces" for guidance.