10 DIY Wallpaper Mistakes to Avoid

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Jul 04, 2010 | Linda Merrill

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Once upon a time, wallpaper was a very common element of design in most homes, particularly through the late 19th and mid-20th centuries. And more often than not, it was the homeowner who selected, ordered and hung the paper. The popularity of wallpaper, aside from simple fashion, was due to the fact that paper hides all imperfections in a wall. Bad plaster jobs or cracking were easier to cover with paper than to repair.

As building became more professional during the housing boom of the postwar years and toward the end of the 20th century, wallpaper became a purely decorative element. By the turn of the 21st century, it had gone largely out of fashion. As a result, most of us have no idea how to hang our own wallpaper! Now that it has rebounded in popularity, knowing how to hang wallpaper is a skill worth learning. Of course, hiring a professional paperhanger is an excellent choice if your time or DIY skill is limited, and your budget is not. 

If you do intend to tackle this job on your own, here are 10 tips on how to hang wallpaper the right way -- and how to deal with mistakes should they occur.

  • Measure twice, order once. Take very careful measurements of your room so that you can accurately estimate the number of rolls needed for the job. There are online estimators available, plus the wallpaper store will likely have someone who can help.
  • Depending on the complexity of the pattern, order 15-25% more paper than you estimate you need in case of mistakes or tears. 
  • Save all scraps larger than 12" for future repairs. Surprises like indelible markers or accidental rips, or even the removal of curtain hardware, will leave visible holes and marks. If you have enough of the original wallpaper from the same print run or dye lot, you will be able to repair the damage. 
  • Some papers are "straight match" and some are "drop match." A straight match is one where the pattern meets up at the exact same spot as you install it on the wall. However, a drop match is one where the pattern calls for the paper to be hung in a staggered pattern, which results in a more overall, less linear, pattern. More paper is required for drop match patterns because there is more waste. Add at least 10-15% to your estimate to accommodate this.
  • Wallpaper installations will always have an awkward end point where the last sheet to be installed doesn't quite match the first sheet. Take some time to determine the place where this awkward point will be least noticeable, such as above a door frame or closet. Don't ever start the papering process near the focal point of a room. 
  • Learn how to end-match patterns and how to cut the paper properly for the end match. One thing to keep in mind when learning how to hang wallpaper -- especially wallpaper borders -- is that vinyl wallpapers can't be overlapped, as they will not stick to one another. Either purchase a vinyl-over-vinyl paste, or end-match the papers to avoid overlap altogether.
  • Printed wallpapers are produced in dye lots, which sometimes do not match, so that the colors may be slightly off. This is another reason why it's important to order sufficient quantities for the job.
  • Wallpaper is generally hung wet and as a result, it can shrink a bit while drying. Avoid gaps in seams by slightly overlapping the paper when installing. As it dries, the paper will shrink slightly and you will be able to press into place.
  • Dark wallpapers are known for developing visible white edges where the ends of the paper meet. A time-honored tradition for reducing the visibility of these edges is to paint over them with watercolor mixed to match the background color of the paper as closely as possible.
  • A very common newbie mistake is to not smooth out the paper from the center. We tend to think top-down, or outside-in. However, those methods will increase the potential for air bubbles to be trapped under the paper. Before the paper dries to the wall, you can still smooth away bubbles by pushing the them toward the edge. But once the paper is dry, water down the bubbled section of paper until it's soft; then prick the air bubble with a pin and re-smooth. 

Learning to estimate and install one's own wallpaper can be an enormous money saver. Even if you are hiring a professional, knowing how to hang wallpaper will make you better able to manage the process.

Don't be intimidated by potential wallpaper pitfalls. The end result is worth it. If you want to try it without committing, use temporary wallpaper. Fix any small mistakes yourself.

Updated January 10, 2018.

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