We Just Heard About a Renter’s Hack That Makes Traditional Wallpaper Removable — Here’s What We Learned

published May 9, 2023
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A kids room with wallpapered walls, grey-green ceilings and doors
Credit: Tessa Cooper

Wallpaper is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it breathes life into a space by adding texture, color, and intricate details, but on the other, it’s somewhat of a pain to install (and even trickier to remove). Sure, peel-and-stick versions are a renter-friendly alternative, but even that method comes with its own set of challenges. 

One of the drawbacks with peel-and-stick wallpaper that Shelby Vanhoy, who rents this fabulous NYC apartment, experienced was that it was tough to find a pattern that fit her son’s nursery, she says on her blog, Pretty in the Pines. Vanhoy kept going back to traditional, non-removable wallpaper options.  

But as a renter, Vanhoy wanted to find a way to have her cake and eat it too (aka use the pattern from the traditional wallpaper but make sure it was easily removable). This is where we meet the liquid starch method. After seeing how people attached fabric to walls using liquid starch, Vanhoy thought it might work with traditional wallpaper, too. She ordered Sandberg’s “Emrik” pattern in misty blue and decided to test it on one of the walls in her son’s room.  Here’s how she did it.

The Tools and Process

Vanhoy ordered all the necessary tools, including liquid starch (she recommends multiple gallons), a squeegee, a paint roller and tray, an X-acto knife, and wallpaper. The tools — minus the wallpaper — cost her under $100. Once she had her materials handy, it was time to start wallpapering.

“The process that we decided to try was pretty simple. We just covered the wall in liquid cornstarch by rolling a paint roller through it and covering the walls. The more, the better,” Vanhoy explains. “Next, we’d place the wallpaper in the right position on the wall, and the liquid cornstarch would dry fairly quickly, acting as the paste.”

Once she applied the wallpaper, Vanhoy smoothed out the bubbles, which was the process’s most time-consuming and messy part. “I tested out pieces for removal, and it peeled right off with little-to-no residue,” Vanhoy says. “It wasn’t a perfect solution, but it definitely worked as an easy-to-remove wallpaper solution. After everything dried, we used an X-acto knife to get a precise cut at the edges.”

It didn’t take too long to complete, either. Because Vanhoy started with a smaller wall, she estimates it took around 20 to 30 minutes for every 2 square feet. And since she applied it, it’s maintained its integrity besides peeling on the edges of each panel. (In hindsight, Vanhoy says she’d use much more liquid starch around the edges where the panels meet.)

Important Note About Liquid Starch Wallpapering

If you’re in a rental and have a small space where you want to add some vibrancy, Vanhoy says it’s a great method to try out. However, she says to be aware that you might notice changes in the future. “It is definitely only for temporary decorating. If you rent, it could be a fun way to add pattern to a small space. But don’t expect it to look perfect 6 months out,” she says. “We definitely noticed peeling up at the corners and edges and probably could have used more liquid cornstarch during the application process to help with this.”

But if you’re looking for a way to add wallpaper to your space and go in with a lot of liquid starch and the understanding that it’s not a forever solution, this is a smart, renter-friendly method to try. 

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