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This Should Work: Taking it all off

I spent the weekend in my room with a hot stripper. It cost too much. And by Sunday night I was exhausted. Read on for the sticky details.
This Should Work with Bruce MacNab

My house is old, probably dating back to the 1860s. There was no full bathroom so I decided to convert an upstairs bedroom into a 3-piece bathroom.

This room was wallpapered. I don’t like wallpaper in bathrooms because it’s likely to peel and trap moisture, possibly causing mould or mildew.

You can remove most modern wallpapers easily but the vintage paper and glue is a different story. You have to steam it to remove it. This is where the stripper enters.

I rented a wallpaper stripper, also called a steamer, which is basically a big kettle with a hose directing steam to a square paddle.

You heat the wallpaper with the paddle until the steam loosens the glue. This won’t work well if the wallpaper has been painted. Luckily for me, this wasn’t an issue.

Some of the paper will peel alright but much of it needs scraping with a trowel or paint scraper.

Turns out my walls were never properly plastered. The smooth white finish plaster was never applied, only the rough scratch coat made from mortar and horse hair.

Across the centuries, farm families had tried to smooth the walls with layers of wallpaper. They did a good job. I had no idea the plaster was so rough until I stripped the wallpaper.

PHOTO TSW 33 Taking it OffThis wallpaper steamer helped remove four layers of paper from the walls and sloped ceiling. Photo by Bruce MacNab.

In between the four layers of wallpaper I found spackling and patches done with butcher’s paper where they filled some of the deep hollows in the wall.

Before I knew it I was knee deep in old wallpaper. It got messy. The wallpaper glue reactivated and soon I had bits of paper stuck to everything—shoes, clothes, and the floor. The steamer’s hose got coated in paper too.

The rental store had warned me if their stripper didn’t come back spotless they would clean it themselves and bill my credit card. For a moment I contemplated cancelling my card. In the end I did the right thing and cleaned their machine.

Between stripping the walls and scrubbing the machine I put in about twenty hours work. The rental for the weekend cost $50.

This winter I’m planning to strip five more wallpapered rooms. It only makes sense for me to buy my own steamer. The rental shop offered to sell me a used machine for $280.

It looks like I’d better get ready for more weekends with a stripper. Let the peeling begin.

Bruce MacNab, a Red Seal carpenter, has taught carpentry courses for NSCC and the Guysborough County Adult Learning Association. Visit him online at