Painting Over Wallpaper

By Mike Cupit


I’m a professional decorator of almost 20 years. Over the years I’ve often been asked about painting over wallpaper, whether it can be done and what procedure you should take. It isn’t an ideal solution to be honest, but it can be done, and it is the simpler option. I thought I’d take a little bit of time to explain the positives, negatives and the process involved. I’m also going to talk about the best primer to use when painting over wallpaper.


Possible Problems When Painting Over Wallpaper


There can be issues!! After all, most wallpapers are not designed to be painted over. In fact, most vinyl wallpapers are manufactured so dirt and other impurities won’t stick to their surface, so coating them in any product is going to cause complications.


The first issue you have is the overall look once you’ve finished painting. You will probably see the seams and the texture of your paper. Fair enough really, you know your finished wall or ceiling isn’t going to look perfect, but as a quick freshen up, it’s fine.


The next issue you may have is bubbling!! I say “may” because it isn’t a problem you’re guaranteed to encounter. I suppose it depends on how well the wallpaper was installed and whether the correct adhesive was used. Bubbling is caused by the moisture of the paint penetrating the paper, which then expands. If the wallpaper isn’t stuck down well enough, this expansion will lift the paper away from your wall in localised patches (bubbles). Even if you do encounter bubbling, 9 times out of 10 it will dry back sound as the paper contracts again.


The last issue you should look out for is your seams opening!! This too is caused by the wallpaper expanding. Unlike bubbling, opening seams can be easy to fix. Just get a knife full of wallpaper adhesive in each of the open seams as you go (remember to wipe off the excess adhesive).




This is actually quite an easy step. If your wallpaper is smooth enough, give it a wipe down with a moist (not too wet) cloth and clean water. This will remove any film of dirt and allow your primer to adhere to the wallpaper.


IF (and it’s a big if), your wallcovering is completely smooth, you could try and hide seams by filling them. I often do this after the primer for adhesion issues. Plus you can see whether you’re going to have issues with seams opening.


The only other thing you need to do is caulk around the edges (between wallpaper and ceiling / wallpaper and skirting etc). This will help tidy everything up and mask the fact there’s wallpaper on your wall. Use a good quality decorators’ caulk.


The Best Primer When Painting Over Wallpaper


As previously mentioned, most wallpapers are not designed to be painted over. So, often you need a “problem solving product” to counteract this. To emulsion straight onto wallpaper is slightly reckless and you will likely encounter problems.


Water-Based Adhesion Primer

A good quality water-based adhesion primer such as Bullseye 123, Dulux Super-grip or Crown PX4 is ideal. This simply acts as a bonding coat, meaning it will stick to problem surfaces such as vinyl wallpaper and provides the perfect base to paint over. Water-based adhesion primer is the easiest product to use by far, but you are adding water to your surface which could cause your wallpaper to bubble.


Oil-Based Adhesion Primer

You could go one further and use an oil-based adhesion primer such as Zinsser Cover Stain or Crown PX3. These products are not very nice to use, give off a lot of odours and are not very good for the environment, but they do come with a couple of advantages over water-based alternatives. The first being, the oil will not penetrate your wallpaper as freely as water would, so you can avoid potential issues with bubbling (however it can still happen in some cases). The other advantage with an oil-based primer is its stain blocking capabilities. Without it, you might (although it is a rare problem), get seepage through your seams which may discolour your emulsion.


Zinsser Wallpaper Cover-up

This is a step further still!! Available from Tool Station and other stockists, Zinsser Wallpaper Cover-up is a specialist product designed specifically to prime wallpaper ready for painting. It absolutely stinks, so keep your room well ventilated!! However, it is fast drying, blocks ALL stains, sticks to any wallcovering, gives a solid barrier coat between wallpaper and emulsion, will not penetrate your wallpaper and is even less likely to cause bubbling than anything else out there.


The Best Emulsion to Use on Your Wallpaper


Wallpaper is likely to expand and contract as you paint it, so you need a paint which will stand up to this. Avoid retail paints and cheap contract matt emulsions. These do not contain much in the way of polymer binders, so will not be flexible enough to deal with the movement. A good quality trade vinyl matt emulsion will be much better. Or you could go down the softsheen or eggshell rout.

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Painting Over Wallpaper / The Best Primer When Painting Over Wallpaper