How to Install Wallpaper – A Complete Beginners Guide

Wallpapering can seem like a daunting task if you’ve never done it before – how do you make it stick, get a lovely smooth finish and match a pattern?! I was first shown how to wallpaper by my Mum, when I was about 12 years old. Since then I have wallpapered periodically in most of the homes I have lived in through the years. Having recently had my first experience of peel and stick wallpaper, I thought it might be helpful to outline the process of hanging wallpaper in more detail, as it really is a DIY task for most people. So here are my (and my mum’s) top tips for how to install wallpaper:

Types of Wallpaper

There are 3 main types of wallpaper available. The first is paste the paper, the second is paste the wall, and the third is peel and stick wallpaper. Paste the paper is the most common type of wallpaper and generally there is the widest choice of designs available for wallpaper that is installed in this way. Paste the wall wallpaper is also widely available, while peel and stick wallpaper is relatively new in the UK and therefore doesn’t have the widest selection of designs at the moment.

Buying Wallpaper

First thing to say, is that when buying wallpaper, really thin feeling paper can be trickier to install than thicker paper. Once it has either been pasted or pressed on to a pasted wall, thinner wallpaper can be more prone to wrinkling and tearing as it becomes wetter with the wallpaper paste. So the type of wallpaper you buy can be a key consideration when considering how easy it is to install. It is also worth mentioning that wallpaper comes in a huge range of price brackets from cheap as chips to eye-wateringly expensive. Just because a wallpaper is more expensive, doesn’t make it easier to install – in fact quite the opposite in my experience!

Rolls of different design wallpaper

When buying all types of wallpaper it’s really important to make sure that all the rolls you buy come from the same batch – and have the same batch number. This can easily be found on the label for the wallpaper. This is because different batch numbers can have variations in the colouration of the pattern etc. and so there is a risk they might not match up properly on the wall.

Picture shows the batch number on a roll of wallpaper

How Much Wallpaper Do You Need?

To work out how many rolls of wallpaper you will need, measure the width of your wall (or walls) and also the floor to ceiling height. The wallpaper label will tell you the width of the wallpaper and also the length of the roll. So dividing the width of the wall but the width of the wallpaper should tell you how many pieces or ‘drops’ you will need to cover the wall. Then look at the length of the roll, and divide this by the ceiling height to work out how many ‘drops’ you can get from each roll. Remember to allow a bit of extra paper for pattern matching, and also mess ups! If maths isn’t your forte, there are lots of calculators available online to help you work out how many rolls of wallpaper you need.

Other Equipment You Will Need To Install The Wallpaper

As well as the wallpaper (of course!), you will need a number of other items to successfully install your wallpaper.

Equipment Needed For Paste The Paper Wallpaper:

  • A spirit level or plumb line
  • Wallpaper table
  • A step ladder or stool
  • A bucket
  • A wallpaper paste brush
  • Wallpaper paste – You can buy this readymixed, or in powder form that you mix with water.
  • Wallpaper smoothing brush or smoothing tool
  • A seam roller
  • Wallpaper scissors and / or a utility knife
  • A clean damp cloth

For paste the wall installation you need everything as above except the wallpaper table – although this may be handy for laying your wallpaper out on while you cut the lengths.

For peel and stick wallpaper, you just need a spirit level or plumb line, a smoothing tool, possibly a seam roller and a sharp pair of scissors.

Choosing Which Wall to Wallpaper

If you are a complete beginner, it’s probably easiest to wallpaper a single wall as a first go, and to choose one that doesn’t have too many obstacles like windows or doorways in it.

Preparing The Wall For Wallpaper

In order to get a good finish, you need to make sure that the wall you are going to paper is prepared and ready. Do this by removing any previously hung wallpaper, filling and sanding any holes or cracks and then giving the whole thing a light sand so that it’s nice and smooth. Once you have sanded, give it a wipe down with a damp cloth to remove any dust.

Beginning Your Wallpaper Install

The first thing to do when beginning your wallpaper install, is to give yourself a straight line to work from. Personally I usually choose to start in the middle of the wall so that you end up with even sized part-pieces of wallpaper at either end of the wall. You can also choose to start just slightly less than than a width of a sheet of wallpaper in from a corner. So say your wallpaper is 52cm wide, you start your first piece of wallpaper maybe 48cm in from the corner of the wall. Take your spirit level, or hang your plumb line and draw a straight line lightly in pencil down the wall. Whatever you do, do not just assume that the corner or edge of the wall is straight – as they almost never are!

Cutting A Length of Wallpaper

Measure from the top of the wall down to the skirting board and add about 10cm to the measurement. This is going to be your first length of wallpaper. Lay something heavy on one end of the wallpaper on the wallpaper table to stop it rolling up while you are trying to measure and make your cut. Make sure you inspect the wallpaper roll as the outer edge of the roll can often get a bit torn or worn looking from being handled in the shop. You don’t want to use this part.

Pasting The Wallpaper

If you’re using paste the paper style wallpaper, you should have your wallpaper paste and brush ready to go. If you’re mixing up wallpaper paste from powder, it is important not to use more water than what the instructions say – as it will make the glue too runny and the paper won’t stick properly.

Begin pasting the paper from the middle of the sheet to the edge. To try and keep your wallpapering table clean, it’s worth pushing the paper over to one edge of the table and pasting from the middle to the edge on this side, before pulling the paper over to the other edge of the table and pasting from the middle to the edge on other side. Keep a clean damp cloth on hand for wiping any glue that you might get on your hands and also the wallpaper table. Try to make sure that the wallpaper is covered as evenly as possible with paste.

As it’s likely your length of wallpaper will be longer than the wallpaper table, paste a section of the paper at a time and then loosely fold the wallpaper in a sort of concertina – the sections that are glue to glue will stick gently together. This also makes it a bit easier when you are hanging the wallpaper as you don’t have to deal with the whole wet gluey wallpaper sheet at once. Instead you can slowly unstick it as you go.

Once you have applied the wallpaper paste, most wallpapers require you to wait a few minutes for the paste to soak in a bit – check the wallpaper instructions for how long the manufacturer recommends. This bit is really important – the wallpaper stretches as it softens with the wallpaper paste, so if you don’t wait it will be really difficult to get a really good flat and seam-free finish.

Paste The Wall Wallpaper

If you’re installing paste the wall wallpaper (this is a much easier method!), then measure the width of your wallpaper and roughly mark the area where the wallpaper will go. Paste this area, it might be easier to do this with a paint roller rather than a wallpaper brush so that you get a nice even coverage. You don’t really want to paste too much of the wall at a time when using paste the wall because if you do, by the time you’re ready to hang the next sheets of wallpaper the paste will be starting to dry out. Obviously, with paste the wall paper you don’t normally have to wait between pasting the wall and installing the wallpaper. Other than that, the process is pretty much the same.

Lining Up Your First Sheet

Once your first sheet of wallpaper is ready to be installed on the wall, lift it off the wallpaper table and undo the first part of the concertina you have made. Allowing about 5cm at the top of the paper, begin to press the wallpaper on to the wall – lining up with the vertical line that you made with the spirit level / plumb line earlier. Gently press the paper in to place and then use the wallpaper smoothing brush to flatten it down. If you get any really large bubbles or wrinkles at this stage, simply lift the paper and re-apply it and then smooth it down again.

Smooth the paper out from the middle to the edges. This helps to get all the air out and keep it nice and flat. If any wallpaper paste squeezes out of the edges, wipe it away with a clean damp cloth. Once you have the whole sheet of wallpaper applied, you are ready to trim the top and bottom of the paper.

To trim the paper, first press the wallpaper firmly against the ceiling or skirting board with a narrow rounded object (I often use the handle end of the scissors) to get a cut line in the paper. Next, gently peel the paper away from the wall and using the wallpaper scissors, carefully cut along the line you have made. This should give you a nice neat finish where the wall meets the ceiling or skirting board. Your first sheet is on!

If, as the paper dries, you start to get bubbles appearing in the wallpaper, don’t panic -try as best you can to gently pry up the wallpaper and then smooth it down again to get the air bubbles out. It’s best to do this as soon as possible – before the wallpaper is completely dry. Don’t worry too much though – lots of the smaller bubbles tend to go away as the paper shrinks a bit as it dries.

How to Install the Second Sheet of Wallpaper

If you’re installing a plain wallpaper, then happy days! Just repeat the previous process and gently press the second sheet of wallpaper down next to the first. However if you are using a patterned wallpaper, here’s how to install this:

Place your roll of wallpaper on the floor in the place where you want to put it on the wall. Gently pull the roll so that it undoes and lift it up and into position on the wall next to your first sheet that you have already hung. Find where the pattern matches up and then holding it in position, gently fold the wallpaper over at the top, so that you know where to measure from. Allow at least 5 cm above your fold mark for cutting, and 5cm below the bottom of the skirting board too – as before.

When you offer up the second sheet to the wall, find a place near the top of the wall where the pattern joins and work gently from there. Press the wallpaper so that it sits next to the first sheet – but doesn’t pull up over it.

Once your second sheet is on the wall, use a seam roller to roll down the join between the 2 sheets of wallpaper to make sure the join is nice and flat.

You can now continue installing your wallpaper in this way until you get to the last sheets at either end of the wall.

How to Install the End Pieces of Wallpaper

When you reach the end of the wall, it’s likely the last piece of wallpaper you need to hang will be narrower than the space. Therefore measure the width of the space, plus add an allowance of a couple of centimetres. Make sure you measure the gap in more than one place to allow for those wonky walls! Line up and cut your sheet of wallpaper as before. Once you have done this, take your measurement and using a tape measure and straight edge, draw a line down the length of your wallpaper. Make sure that you’ve drawn your line on the right side of the paper so that your pattern will match up. Then carefully cut the wallpaper lengthways to size.

Now you can paste and hang your sheet of wallpaper. Once you have hung the paper, gently press the overlap into the corner of the wall, in the same way that you do with the ceiling and skirting. And then taking the wallpaper scissors, gently pry away the edge of the wallpaper and carefully trim the excess off. I usually find it easiest to do this starting from the bottom of the wall and working up. Once you have cut away the paper, wipe the wall down with a damp cloth to remove any wallpaper glue.

How to Deal With Obstacles

Probably the most common obstacle to deal with on a wall is plug sockets and light switches. Fortunately these are relatively easy to wallpaper around. Before you wallpaper the section with the plug socket or light switch within it, first unscrew the faceplate a bit so that it is very slightly away from the wall. Next hang your wallpaper. When you reach the plug socket, let the wallpaper hang loosely over the socket (try not to let it get too wet).

Gently press the shape of the socket into the wallpaper. Now taking your scissors, cut a hole from the middle of the socket and out towards each of the corners of the socket. You can then gently prize the wallpaper away and start to press it around the socket and onto the wall. Once you are happy you have a good fit, you can trim back the peeled back paper and press it just under the edges of the faceplate. Screw the faceplate back down tight and wipe it down to remove the glue.

What to Do When You Mess It Up

First thing to do if you mess up is not to panic! Most of the common mistakes are fixable. For example if you trim too much off when cutting around a light switch, you can just stick the slither too much that you trimmed off carefully back into place. Once it’s dry you can barely tell.

This is the same for the top or bottom of the wall. If it’s a larger piece that you messed up, for example you cut the wallpaper too short and there’s a gap at the bottom of the wall, you can usually cut another piece to cover the gap. As long as you pattern match it exactly and let it overlap a little to stick down over the gap. Again, once it’s dry it won’t notice. As a precaution though, when I wallpaper I always like to give myself a bit of extra wallpaper. So that if it really goes horribly wrong I can afford to start again with a new sheet.

Here’s a little video of when I was cutting around a plug socket when I was installing the peel and stick wallpaper a few weeks ago. This went a bit wrong as I cut a bit too much off around the edge of the plug socket on one side. You can see in the video that I just stuck the slither back on and smoothed it all down. You really can’t tell that I messed it up!

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