Misuse of Household Appliances

In our fine Casa Decrepit tradition of using tools and materials from the fine arts or handcrafting in home repair and restoration, Noel suggested we take out my textile steamer and try it out for stripping wallpaper.

We'd been kicking around some suggestions for stripping wallpaper, including things like spraying vinegar or fabric softener on the walls, and boiling water rolled on. The first two would create offensive smells, while we just could not figure out how to do the latter without burning ourselves. We could invest in huge quantities of WP Chomp, which is the wallpaper stripper I've used in other rooms, but that gets pretty expensive. So it was looking like we were going to be renting a steamer. Which is when Noel thought of using the little Conair jobby to do the trick.

I'm sure that somewhere in the legal department at Conair, there is a lawyer making a note that says "refuse all warranty claims from those idiots in Alameda." This steamer is a little appliance I bought for our wedding (I like to tell people I bought it for a unique "unity steamer" ceremony, but I bought it because I needed to unwrinkle my veil). It worked very nicely, and since then I have used it minimally, mostly for steaming dry-clean-only clothes that needed it, or for steam-blocking knitted clothes. I was feeling moderately guilty about keeping it around given how little I use it. Not any more.

Here we have a bit of the back hall before I started a little steaming session.

Before steaming

And twenty minutes later, significant progress.

One hour later

It even helps get the chalky paste stuff off the walls (that greyish coat over the yellowish plaster). I do find that in really thick, dry areas I still need to dampen the walls with the sprayer and let them soak for half an hour for maximum benefit.

Part of me wonders how much more effective a steam iron would be on the wall, but the failure mode for that is much more likely to actually destroy the appliance. (But maybe I can try to find one at a thrift store.)

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posted by ayse on 04/01/09


A great, creative re-use of an item that's otherwise just taking up space most of the time. Conair's legal department be darned to heck for a really long time.

Impressive! The rented steamer I used the first time I stripped wallpaper was too much for the terribly decrepit plaster. Since then I've just scored and sponged on warm/hot water.
I like your steamer set up better than the rentables ones.
love this blog, Ayse. I was looking forward to a garden update - really enjoyed your post yesterday. My dream is to have a couple of small fruit trees someday in my garden.

I think the clothes steamer fits somewhere in the middle between the rented steamers (much faster) and using warm/hot water. It is pretty easy to clog it up with falling debris (did that already), but it beats the water approach, which I don't find to work very well. Our plaster may be more durable than yours; except where the only thing holding it on the wall is the wallpaper, it can take a thorough steaming with no issues.

And I'm glad you like the garden posts. I'm kind of crazy about my garden.

Growing up Catholic, I can't imagine a household without two steam irons; the primary and the backup. Glad to see you're making progress, and thankful there isn't a single green thing in this post. :)

My fiance and I just purchased a 1926 Craftsman foursquare that has wallpaper EVERYWHERE. (It is even in the closets; it is on the ceilings of the closets.) I'm so glad steaming worked so well for you. This gives me great hope, as our realtor has promised to loan us a steamer!

That looks really good. You may as well save the money and just use that thing.

Sorry for the blank post above - Firefox was playing tricks on me.

What I wanted to say: try the steamer, but dont cling to it for dear life - it might not work in your case. Wallpaper steamers seem to be loves or hates - for some people they work like a charm (like here) for others they don't work at all, like for me. For comparison: Black&Decker steamer: heavy beast, constant drip of hot water (condensing on the wall or worse ceiling) and a miniature water tank needing to be refilled every five minutes. Result: half a wall on a good day. Try 2: big paint brush, 2 gal. bucket half full of cold tap water. More than half a room on a good day.

So, try both methods (or even more) and see what works best.

I just wanted to let you know that after going through 2 bottles of DIF gel and removing roughly only 10 square feet of wallpaper, I have revisited your *glorious* old house blog in hopes that forwarding this entry to my fiance will convince him to borrow a steamer. I have tried Pirhana, DIF, hot water, cold water, and two different kinds of scrapers- and NOTHING is working. And except for the inevitible 2 or 3 filled cracks, the plaster seems to be in excellent condition, so I'm very curious to see what a steamer could do for us. Tonight I might take a whack at hot water and fabric softener in a spray bottle, just so I might make SOME progress this evening... I'll let you know how it goes!

Thanks again (so much) for the awesome blog!

River, the condition of the wallpaper does make a difference, and it's definitely true that in places where the wallpaper was not applied over the chalky paint, the work is much slower. But the steamer really makes it much easier. I still find a real wallpaper steamer faster, but the clothes steamer had the advantage of being something we already owned, and with less risk of burns.

Note: We're getting pummeled with spam comments, so I've turned off the ability to use any HTML or include any links for the time being. Email with any issues.

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