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How to Wallpaper or Paint Over Existing Wallpaper

Updated: Jun 30, 2023


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Photo of couch with pelican patterns in front of pelican wallpaper

The old 60’s wallpaper is peeling at the joins of your living room walls and the years of wear and tear are really beginning to show. It’s no wonder you use a fake background on those Zoom business calls!

If you’re an “embarrassed-of-my-walls” homeowner in need of some DIY direction, then read on! In this post, we’ll explain how you can save time and money by painting or wallpapering over existing wallpaper to transform your walls into a space that you’re really proud of.

It would be simple enough to splash a coat of paint over the walls in the hopes of freshening things, but this can cause the wallpaper to “bubble”. It also doesn’t work if there are rips and imperfections on the old wallpaper. Yes, there are a few steps to get from start to finish, but the end result will be much more satisfying and you’re less likely call have to call in the experts to patch up your job afterwards.

Let's get started!

How to Assess the Wall

Before you do anything else, you need to assess whether painting your wallpaper is actually going to work!

If you have a textured wallpaper or wallpaper with patterned ridges on it, you need to check to see how high the ridges/bumps are. If they are less than 2mm, then you can paint or wallpaper over them. However, if the ridges protrude past 2mm, then your only option for sprucing up the wall is to completely strip the entire wall/s of wallpaper.

Applying paint or primer to this wallpaper will only cause tension in the product as it dries, which in turn will cause a “bubbling” effect (air bubbles).

If your wallpaper falls into this category, don’t despair – we’ve got some steps at the end of the blog just for you!

Prepping the Wall

Okay, so if your wallpaper is flat or has ridges that are less than 2mm, you can start prepping your wall for paint or wallpaper.

Photo of tub of glue, wallpaper and a brush on the floor

Let’s tackle those annoying joins, where the wallpaper is peeling away. Get yourself some PVA glue and stick those sections down. Be sure to have an old, clean cloth handy to wipe away any excess glue. You can also glue down any sections of wallpaper that have cuts or nicks in them. Allow the glue to dry overnight – or at least 12 hours. This timing is dependent on the time of day and is also season and weather dependent. If you’re tackling your project in the winter months, then allow double this time for the glue to dry completely.

Coating the Wallpaper with Sealer

With the glue well and truly dry, it’s now time to clean the wall with a damp cloth before you coat the entire area with a sealer coat.

Once you’ve coated all the walls with sealer, allow it to dry overnight or at least 12 hours. This timing is dependent on the time of day and is also season and weather dependent. If you’re tackling your project in the winter months, then allow double this time for the glue to dry completely.

How to Wallpaper or Paint Over Existing Wallpaper

Photo of two people painting a wall

The next step is to paint the wall/s with two coats of your chosen colour. Allow the first coat to dry completely before applying the second. We recommend using a roller for an even paint job, starting with the perimeter of the wall, and then filling in the middle.

If you are applying new wallpaper instead of paint to the wall, then you will need to apply a coat of high-build acrylic (water-based) sealer, and then sand it after it has dried (about 12 hours or overnight. As above, if you’re painting in the depths of winter, then allow double this time for it to dry completely). After this, you may apply wallpaper SIZE (an adhesive product) and then apply your chosen wallpaper.


If the ridges or texture on your wallpaper is thicker than 2 mm, you will need to strip the entire wall of wallpaper and the backing paper. Here are our recommended steps:

How to Strip Wallpaper

Photo of hands stripping wallpaper

If you need to strip the wallpaper and backing completely, Orkney Painting & Decorating recommends that you use a steaming machine and a wide, flat scraping blade. The heat from the steam loosens the wallpaper glue, making it easier to pull off.

How to Prep the Wall after Stripping the Wallpaper

When all the wallpaper is completely stripped, the entire wall needs to be plastered to give you a smooth surface. After the plastering has dried adequately, it’s time to sand the wall.

Next, apply a coat of Resene SureSeal (an oil-based or alkyd-based primer).


Photo of hands applying wallpaper to a wall

After the primer has dried (usually around 12 hours or overnight – but again, double this time if you’re priming during winter), layer on two coats of your chosen paint. If you are using wallpaper instead, then be sure to apply SIZE (an adhesive product) first, followed by your chosen wallpaper.

# Tips and Reminders for Wallpapering and Painting:

  • Check the depth of any ridges/patterns on your wallpaper – this is crucial before you do anything else, to check whether you can actually wallpaper over it!

  • Always paste the wall, not the paper.

  • Measure the wallpaper (allow 10mm overlap depending on the type of paper and pattern) / Measure the wall to be covered by wallpaper / Choose your wallpaper.

  • Calculate how many drops (ceiling to floor) each roll allows for so you can buy the right amount.

Photo of a turquoise couch and pink chair in front of a wall covered in leaf wallpaper

If all these steps sound a little daunting, we suggest breaking the job down into chunks.

Wellington painters Orkney Painting & Decorating recommend that you seek professional opinion about the current state of your wallpaper and the thickness of the ridge/pattern before committing to any of the above scenarios. It’s better to be sure you’re going down the right path before it’s too late.

If this “How to” has been helpful, check out our other tips on the blog:

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