How to Hang Wallpaper (the Permanent Kind!)
Start small—in terms of project and print.
Updated Sep 30, 2021 8:23 PM
Peel-and-stick wallpaper has taken over the DIY scene, but some of the best prints are of the permanent variety. What’s a design lover to do? Shanan Campanaro, the creative director and founder of EskayeI, has confidence you can tackle the project yourself—as long as it’s on the smaller side, like the back of a bookcase or an accent wall. With the right tools, products, and patience, you’ll get the hang of it (pun intended). The key is to understand the ins and outs of how to hang wallpaper before you pick up the paste.
Should You Really Hang Wallpaper Yourself?
“If you’re someone who loves puzzles or logic games, hanging wallpaper might give you joy,” says artist and wallpaper designer Kate Zaremba, but she adds, “At the same time, it’s an expensive material to be playing with.” So if you’re a DIY novice or tackling a big space with lots of corners, Zaremba recommends finding a professional to install permanent wallpaper. “The paper itself is thicker, so it’s difficult to handle, and you’re dealing with permanent glue, which needs to be removed if you mess up. It requires more know-how on all fronts,” she explains.
For true newbies, Zaremba suggests removable, prepasted wallpaper—it goes up the same way, but you don’t have to apply the tricky adhesive. “You just dunk the panels in water to activate the glue, like licking a stamp,” she says. Campanaro adds you can also find pre-trimmed styles, which will save you even more hassle.
Common Wallpaper-Hanging Mistakes to Avoid
Don’t Choose a Simple Wallpaper Pattern
“Choose a dense print or textured paper; the busier the better!” says Caitlin Higgins, partnerships director at Emily Henderson Design. (She should know: She’s wallpapered more than half of her apartment.) Why? Small-scale motifs help disguise mistakes and the imperfections of older walls. “Emily hung a beautiful pink paper in a busy print by Rebel Walls in her 100-year-old living room and it hides the lumps and bumps beautifully,” Higgins points out.
Don’t Assume Peel-and-Stick Wallpaper Is Easier
Pre-pasted wallpaper, the foolproof option, has the “slippery when wet” quality of traditional paper, making it easier to line up the seams. Peel-and-stick options, on the other hand, “work like giant stickers and are harder to unstick when you mess up,” explains Zaremba.
Don’t Skip the Prep Steps
To make sure the adhesive sticks well, spackle the walls and give them a light sanding, and then apply a coat of primer (especially if you’re dealing with newly constructed walls), before you move on to wallpaper application.
Don’t Let Spills Dry
Paste is sticky business: Get it on the front of your paper and you risk ruining the surface if it dries. If you do spot a drip, remove the paste quickly but gently using clean water on a microfiber cloth. (Psst: Baby wipes work, too!)
Don’t Use a Dull Utility Knife
Geoff Sarkissian, a contractor, warns that he was once thwarted by a dull razor blade, which can tear the paper. A utility knife with segmented razor blades is best so you can continually snap off the blunt ones.
How Much Wallpaper You Need
Start by calculating the total square footage of your wall (total wall height x total wall length) and round up to the nearest whole number. Then divide the total square footage of the room by the square footage of one roll of wallpaper. (An American double roll typically covers about 66 square feet.) If math isn’t your forte, Higgins relies on a wallpaper calculator like this one from Wallpaperdirect.
You may need to up your order if your pattern has a repeat that’s difficult to match; plus what one company calls a single roll, another might call a double roll, so always double-check with the manufacturer before you purchase. As a general rule, buy 10 to 20 percent more wallpaper than you think you need to accommodate for mess-ups (and to have some leftovers for future repairs).
How to Hang Wallpaper for a Statement Wall
Master paper hanger Mitch Ehrlich, the go-to installer for high-end brands like Eskayel, shared his must-haves with us. (Name-drop: He was on the four-man team that papered the Oval Office for President Obama!)
- Ladder (don’t stand on a bucket!)
- Fine sandpaper
- Tape measure
- Metal straightedge
- Segmented “snap-off” utility knife with lots of extra blades
- Sharp scissors
- 9-inch medium-nap paint roller
- Primer (ask your local retailer for a recommendation)
- Heavy-duty premixed clear paste
- 8-inch wallpaper smoother
- Broad knife
- Seam roller
- Microfiber towels
- Glue syringe (20ml capacity will suffice)
- Baby wipes
Step 1: Prep the Surface
First things first: “For amateurs, this is a two-person project. Do not attempt this yourself!” says Ehrlich. Once you’ve wrangled a friend, lay down a drop cloth, remove switch plates, and spackle any holes in the walls, as if you were going to paint. Lightly sand the surface, then clean off any dust with a damp microfiber cloth. Prime the walls with the roller, and let the primer cure for about two hours.
Step 2: Measure and Cut
Using a measuring tape, measure the height of the walls and add about 4 inches (that’s what’s called the drop length). Next, set up a clean, dry table on which to roll out your wallpaper. Be sure you are working with the design faceup! Find the point in the pattern you want to see at the top of the wall (if it’s a large motif, you should see a complete image—you don’t want to see a giraffe’s head cut off at the ceiling, for example!). Cut straight across the paper about 2 inches above that point. You’ll trim the extra off after you’ve hung the wallpaper.
Turn the paper over and measure out the drop length on the back. Using your ruler, mark a straight line with a pencil and cut along it. Hold it up against the wall to double-check your measurements before you move on.
Step 3: Check What Kind of Pattern You Have Next
Consult the wallpaper packaging to see if it’s a straight match pattern (where the motif lines up exactly from strip to strip) or a drop match pattern (where the print is diagonal or staggered). Consult the paper manufacturer’s instructions to match the pattern, and hope the friend who is helping you loves a brainteaser. Once you’ve figured this out, cut the rest of the pieces accordingly so the print will align all the way down the wall.
Step 4: Apply the Paste
Lay your cut sheets of paper print-side down on the table, with the first strip you plan to start with (usually at the far left side of the wall) on top. Line up the edge of the paper with the edge of the table. Using the paint roller, apply the wallpaper paste in the middle from top to bottom, then out to the sides, until the surface is completely covered. Let the glue soak into the paper for as long as it states on the label. Then grab each end of the sheet and loosely accordion-fold it to bring over to the wall. The folds will be slightly stuck together—that’s exactly what you want!
Step 4: Hang Your First Piece of Wallpaper
You’ll have about 15 minutes after the paper is pasted to make adjustments. Climb onto the step ladder with your folded strip. Gently unfold the top half of the accordion and let the bottom half hang down, still stuck together. Adhere the top edge to the wall so that it slightly overlaps the ceiling; 1 to 2 inches is a safe amount. Once in place, gently smooth outward with your hands or a dry cloth. When it starts to feel “tacky” (the time varies paper to paper), roll down the bottom piece and smooth it onto the wall.
Step 5: Repeat
Repeat the same process with the next sheet, aligning it as close to the first as possible. If there ends up being a small gap, use two hands to slide the second strip next to the first while the glue is still wet. Then go over the seam with your wallpaper smoother. If you worked the pattern-matching out right during the cutting process, the print should look continuous.
Step 6: Smooth the Seams Even More
After 15 minutes of drying time, run the seam roller along the seams. Consult your wallpaper manufacturer’s instructions on how to handle overlap and corners—this varies based on how the paper was printed.
Step 7: Clean Up the Edges
Summon your patience and allow the paper to dry for at least three hours. Then you’ll need to trim away the excess paper at the ceiling and floor with the straightedge and utility knife. Push your straightedge into the upper corner and keep the knife’s razor blade pressed hard up against it as you drag it along the top edge of the wallpaper sheet. Take the same approach to cut holes for the outlets, doorknobs, and any other obstacles. It doesn’t have to be perfect—once you get the doorknobs and covers back on, your handiwork will be hidden! Since this is a statement wall, corners won’t be an issue.
Step 8: Say Goodbye to Air Pockets
Most bubbles will disappear as the wallpaper dries, but for any stubborn ones, use a glue syringe to pierce the air pocket and inject a few drops of wallpaper paste. Then gently flatten the spot with the plastic smoother.
What’s Different If You’re Using Prepasted Wallpaper
Assuming the prepasted paper is also pretrimmed, you will have 9-inch or 12-inch panels that are ready to hang when you take them off the roll. You’ll simply lay out several strips of wallpaper on the floor to see how they line up, then go around the room with a tape measure, a level, and a pencil, and mark where every strip of wallpaper will go. You won’t need to cut any wallpaper at this point; you will trim off excess paper at the bottom after it is dry.
From there, you’ll activate the glue by submerging the first sheet of paper in the tub of water. Once fully wet, you’ll remove the strip and loosely accordion-fold it to make carrying it easy, just as you would with regular wallpaper. Then you’ll follow the rest of the steps as we detailed above, with one exception: You won’t need to worry about pattern matching. “As long as you start every roll at the top of the wall, your patterns will automatically match,” says Zaremba. The only thing left to do is take a step back, pat yourself on the (sore) back, and watch your little mistakes disappear into the awesomeness of your freshly patterned wall.