Old seams on your wall can be over­come with a lit­tle hard work

Regina Leader-Post - - HOMES - JEANNE HU­BER

Q The wall­pa­pered walls of my home were painted over with la­tex paint by the pre­vi­ous owners. Now the seams are show­ing through the paint. They feel like hard ridges.

How can I fix this prob­lem and make the walls smooth enough to re­paint with­out first hav­ing to re­move the wall­pa­per?

A You might be able to make the walls smooth enough for new paint with­out strip­ping the wall­pa­per, but you won’t know for sure un­til you can test whether the wall­pa­per be­tween the seams is se­curely at­tached.

It’s best to re­move wall­pa­per be­fore paint­ing, ac­cord­ing to Cyndi Green, a long­time board mem­ber and for­mer pres­i­dent of the Wall­cov­er­ing In­stall­ers As­so­ci­a­tion and owner of Cyndi Green Wall­cov­er­ing Sales and In­stal­la­tions in Mon­roe, La. But be­cause ear­lier owners didn’t do that, she sug­gested you start by cut­ting out one raised seam. Use a sharp util­ity knife and a straight­edge and slice tidy strips about a quar­ter inch out from the seam on both sides. Pry out at least some of the raised ma­te­rial with a thin putty knife. Then, us­ing a broad putty knife, test whether the wall­pa­per lifts eas­ily.

“It is en­tirely pos­si­ble that the pa­per is not sta­ble now at all and would just strip down com­pletely with the paint,” Green said in an email. “It just de­pends on what kind of wall­pa­per it was.”

You might find that the wall­cov­er­ing has a top layer of vinyl that’s easy to pull off or that the whole strips come off eas­ily. In that case, you’d be bet­ter off re­mov­ing the wall­pa­per and start­ing over, even though it isn’t your pre­ferred so­lu­tion. But if the wall­pa­per is 100 per cent pa­per with no vinyl, the paint may have pen­e­trated it enough so it can’t eas­ily be re­moved and get­ting rid of the ridges might be the best op­tion.

To smooth the walls with­out re­mov­ing the wall­pa­per, cut along the raised seams, just as you did the test strip. Clean out the raised bits. Then coat these ar­eas with a primer that seals por­ous sur­faces. This could be an oil-based primer or a wa­ter­based prod­uct.

Af­ter the primer dries, fill the re­cesses with dry­wall joint com­pound, also known as dry­wall mud. Use a four-inch dry­wall joint knife to smooth the patch and level it with the ad­join­ing wall­pa­per. The patch ma­te­rial will shrink a bit as it dries. The next day, top it with a new layer. Use the dry­wall knife to feather the edges. Once that layer dries, check to see whether the sur­face is level with the pa­per on ei­ther side. Add a third layer if nec­es­sary. Af­ter the fi­nal coat dries, you might need a lit­tle touch-up sand­ing. Do this by hand, us­ing a fine-grit sand­ing sponge or 120grit sand­pa­per. Wipe or vac­uum all the dust. Then prime the filled ar­eas with a sealer for por­ous sur­faces. And then, fi­nally, you’re ready to re­paint.

Why all the fo­cus on which type of primer to use where? Wall­pa­per ad­he­sives soften when ex­posed to mois­ture and dry­wall joint com­pound con­tains mois­ture. Seal­ing the un­der­ly­ing sur­face first keeps mois­ture in the joint com­pound from seep­ing un­der the ad­join­ing wall­pa­per and loos­en­ing it. And the primer-sealer on top of the patch keeps it from be­ing more por­ous than the sur­round­ing painted wall­pa­per. If the poros­ity varies, paint dries un­evenly, lead­ing to a splotchy look. Not all primers seal out wa­ter; you need to prime with a prod­uct specif­i­cally de­signed to seal por­ous sur­faces.

If you don’t want to do the work your­self, you might con­sider call­ing a pain­ter, a dry­wall ex­pert or a wall­cov­er­ing installer. Green’s ad­vice: If you just want to make the seam ridges flat and then re­paint, call a pain­ter. A pain­ter also could add tex­ture to blend in the patches if needed. If you want to start over, a wall­cov­er­ing installer could iden­tify the cur­rent type of wall­pa­per and would know the best way to re­move it, so you could then ei­ther re­paint or in­stall a new wall­cov­er­ing.

And if you’re not sure how to pro­ceed? Ask a wall­cov­er­ing installer to visit your home and give you an es­ti­mate. Es­ti­mates are of­ten free, al­though some com­pa­nies charge for trip costs, Green said.


It’s al­ways best to re­move wall­pa­per be­fore you paint. How­ever, you may be able to over­come the prob­lem by re­mov­ing vis­i­ble ridges rather than try­ing to scrape off old, firmly at­tached wall­pa­per.

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