Using Wallpaper to Decorate Your Home - On the House

Using Wallpaper to Decorate Your Home

By on September 2, 2015

We went to a web site on wallpaper and the first page included this quote. “Since the earliest recorded times people have been decorating the walls of their homes. Recently, wallpaper has enjoyed a renaissance. People are now more selective in their decorations. No longer is wallpaper used as a cover-up for bad walls, or to not show soil, or to cover smudges, or to keep out cold winds. Wallpaper is now used to make a statement, to create an effect or a mood, or a theme, and to enhance the ambiance of your surroundings. There are new decorative effects, new colors, and new and innovative designs, textures, and surfaces.”

So true! We definitely agree. Except for one thing. Wallpaper doesn’t hide smudges. Whether a wall is painted or wallpapered dirt has a way of showing up in the most noticeable places. The trouble is that wallpaper can really be difficult to clean.

If the surface is painted with oil base enamel just about any good non-abrasive cleaner can be used successfully with little or no scrubbing. Latex enamel is a little more difficult to clean and can be rubbed dull with some cleaners. A good quality flat latex paint also can be cleaned, but it us porous by nature which makes it the most difficult paint surface to clean. The more dull the paint surface, the more porous it is, and the harder it is to clean. In all cases all you have to do is spray on the cleaner, wipe with a damp towel, rinse and dry.

With wallpaper it can really get complicated. Paper is easily dissolved by water. So what is wallpaper? It’s paper. Paper on the wall. Some wallpaper is simply “nonwashable” and some is “washable”, or “scrubable”. If the paper on your walls has been there for a while you may not know which type it is. You may have purchased different types for several rooms and are confused about which is which. If you have an extra scrap lying around take it to the wallpaper store and see if they know whether it can be washed or not. If not, try our test method. Wipe the paper with a damp cloth. If it doesn’t change color or appearance it probably can be washed.

No matter what, never clean wallpaper without first testing a spot in an inconspicuous area such as behind a piece of furniture. No, not behind a glass table. Something solid. Get the picture? OK, so it isn’t dirty behind the furniture. We want you to find out whether the wallpaper that you have will take the cleaner that you intend to use. If clean paper holds up to the test then the dirty paper probably will too. Always test you cleaning method in a hidden area before trying it out in the open.

Vacuum your wallpaper frequently and don’t let it go too dirty before cleaning. The more there is to clean the longer the surface will have to remain wet. The longer it remains wet the greater the chance will be that it will be damaged. Again – water and wallpaper don’t mix.

Scrubable Wallpaper

Wallpaper that is labeled as scrubable is either vinyl or vinyl-impregnated. In either case the surface is far less susceptible to damage than plain old paper wallpaper. Scrubable paper can be cleaned with a foam cleanser or a mild detergent solution applied with a sponge or a soft cloth. Do not use abrasive cleaners. Keep in mind that some liquid cleaners do contain abrasives. Read the bottle carefully. Also, just because the paper is scrubable doesn’t mean that it can resist a flood of water. One more time – water and wallpaper don’t mix.

Washable Wallpaper

Wallpaper that is labeled as washable is usually plastic coated. Washable paper is better than plain old fashioned paper wallpaper, but it isn’t as damage resistant as vinyl or vinyl coated wallpaper. Soap and water also can be used to clean washable paper, but the detergent must be milder. And the water must be used SPARINGLY. Finally, the surface must be patted dry. Rubbing – even with a soft dry cloth – could damage this type of wallpaper when it is wet. Here’s how to do it:

  • Make a sudsy solution of a mild liquid dish detergent in one bucket and cool rinse water in a second bucket. Does it strike you that this process has to be done quickly?
  • If you intend to clean the ceiling always clean it first – papered or not.
  • Next, clean the wall – FROM THE BOTTOM UP. Wipe gently first with the cleaning solution immediately followed by a damp rinsing sponge.
  • Pat gently with a clean soft cloth to dry.
  • If an area is heavily soiled and must be cleaned again wait until the paper is completely dry.

Non-washable Wallpaper

Regular old-fashioned paper wallpaper also can be cleaned, but not in the manner you are accustomed to. For non-washable paper you’ll have to stop by the wallpaper supply store and purchase a commercial wallpaper-cleaning product. It’s a dough-like material that is waterless and is especially made to clean – you guessed it – paper. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions carefully and – what else – test clean a spot in an inconspicuous location.

Finally, keep in mind that wallpaper and water don’t mix! And, good luck!

For more home improvement tips and information search our website or call our listener hot line 24/7 at 1-800-737-2474.

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