(Washington Post illustration; reader photo)
6 min

Q: I purchased the cutest wallpaper for my beach house, and my trusty and experienced wallpaper professional put it on the wall. When we returned months later, we saw that the wallpaper had started to peel. The installer was stumped — he had primed the painted drywall with primer, as he always does, and he had papered other rooms in the house with no problems. The room is dry and the air conditioning is on much of the time. The installer reglued the paper that peeled, using Roman pro-880 ultra clear strippable wallcovering adhesive, but the paper began to peel again within a couple of weeks.

I contacted Anewall, the wallpaper manufacturer, and after much back and forth, they said this had never happened before. I love this wallpaper and would love to keep it. Is there any way to get it to stay on the wall?

A: Wallpaper can peel for many reasons, but it’s not always possible to pinpoint what went wrong.

It’s clear from the picture you sent that the wallpaper is Anewall’s Bombora mural. It’s a pre-pasted paper, which means the back was coated at the factory with an adhesive that just needs water to become gooey and effective.

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Anewall gives very simple, basic instructions for installing its pre-pasted wallpapers: Use only on a wall that’s smooth, without even orange peel texture. Wipe down walls first with a clean, dry cloth. Plan the layout so the first sheet leaves an extra 2 inches on the left, and mark where the right edge will be with a pencil and a level. Run a damp paint roller over the back of the first sheet, then “book” the panel by gently folding each end to meet at the middle, with the glued surfaces touching. Wait 10 minutes for the glue to absorb moisture. Hang the panel, leaving 2 inches extra at the top and aligning the right edge to the pencil line. Smooth out the panel with a plastic scraper, squeegee or damp sponge. Go over edges with a seam roller, and trim off excess paper. Repeat for the other panels.

These are the same basic steps you’d use for any pre-pasted wallpaper. But while they make the process sound like a breeze, the instructions leave a lot out.

Ben Heighway, who works in sales and marketing for Roman Decorating Products, which makes wallpaper adhesives and removers, said the condition of the wall is one of the most critical factors. Although it is sometimes possible to successfully install wallpaper on a smooth, painted wall without any preparation other than wiping off dust and cobwebs, as Anewall suggests, more upfront work is often needed. In a kitchen, for example, you might need to start by washing the wall to remove grease. Priming the wall first is also smart; it helps prevent peeling and makes it easier to remove the wallpaper when you want to redecorate.

If you’re papering over painted walls that are in good condition, use a general-purpose primer, such as Roman’s pro-909 vinyl prep. For new, never-painted drywall, choose a primer such as Roman’s pro-977 ultra primer. It seals the drywall paper so the wallpaper adhesive doesn’t soak in. For a painted but patched wall, a primer such as Roman’s Pro-999 rx-35 sealer/primer seals the patches, which otherwise would be more porous than the surrounding paint. This primer would also be the one to use if you skim-coat drywall mud over a textured wall to create a smooth surface suitable for covering with wallpaper.

Making sure the room isn’t too hot, too cold or too humid during the installation is also important, Heighway said. The temperature should be at least 50 degrees. If it’s air conditioner season, leave it running. If the adhesive dries out before you’re done installing it, the wallpaper can peel. High humidity, including after the paper is installed, can also lead to peeling, so avoid installing wallpaper in a bathroom with a shower.

With pre-pasted wallpaper, shelf life can also be an issue. Anewall’s website doesn’t mention this, but the company responded to a request for an interview by sending a spec sheet for the paper it uses. It’s a wide-format inkjet paper called Magic Sleek from Dietzgen Corporation in Tampa, which was recently sold to Sihl Group. The Magic Sleek spec sheet says the paper has a two-year shelf life. A representative for Dietzgen said the company lists the date of manufacture, which is also the start of the two-year period, on each roll it ships. She said the paper gets too curled to print on as it ages. Wallcovering pros trading tips online say the issue is how the adhesive ages: When it’s too old, it doesn’t absorb enough water to work well.

If the paper is old or if you don’t know when it was made, you can apply water, wait 10 minutes, then test with a finger to see whether the adhesive has become tacky. If it hasn’t, treat the paper as if it was not pre-pasted. Even if the adhesive seems to still be okay, you might want to use a separate adhesive. Many wallcovering professionals routinely do this with all pre-pasted wallpaper they install, as cheap insurance against problems. Roman’s pro-880 adhesive ($7.98 a quart at Home Depot), which is suitable for most wallpaper types, should be diluted with up to a pint of water per gallon of adhesive when it is used with pre-pasted wallpaper.

So where does all this leave you? Unfortunately, there are a bunch of questions, and the answers may or may not lead to a solution. Your installer primed first, but was it the right kind of primer for the condition of the wall? Was the wall smooth? Did the wall need to be washed first and allowed to dry? Was the paper properly moistened, booked and left for 10 minutes? Was it so old that the adhesive didn’t get tacky? Did the primer or the adhesive used for the repair freeze? (That can ruin these products.)

If only one or two areas have peeled, you might try regluing them again, perhaps after first washing off the wall behind, letting that dry and brushing on some new primer. Or, if you have an unused piece of the wallpaper, Heighway suggested testing in an inconspicuous place, such as the wall behind a door in the room. Apply the test piece following all the steps. Let it dry, then inspect. If it peels, the edges have come loose or you see any bubbles or cracks, something’s wrong. It might be smart to give up and find a different solution. If the test looks good and only one panel of the mural is peeling, perhaps Anewall can reprint just that panel so you can take the bad one down and redo only that area.