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The wallpaper's got to go before you paint the walls, experts advise

Q. I don't like the wallpaper the former owner of my house put up in the family room. I'd like to paint the room instead. Do I have to remove the wallpaper first? M.S., Oak Park, Ill.

A. Painting over wallpaper is not recommended, says Howard Clark, a licensed construction supervisor in Hopkinton, Mass. It may look fine for awhile, but down the road there's a price to pay. Here's a list of potential problems:

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1. Latex paint directly contributes to loosening paper on the wall. Since both the paint and the paper paste are water-based, you're likely to get bubbles under the paper.

2. Oil-based paints shrink as they dry, so areas with minimal paste may pop loose. Seams and edges often appear through the paint.

3. Once paper is painted, it renders paper-removing solution ineffective. The surface must be scored to promote absorption, making future removal tedious, and leading to damage that will take time to repair.

4. While you can often apply paper over paper, it's too risky to apply new paper over painted wall covering because the result will be unstable.

Removing paper isn't that difficult. Vinyl coverings peel off without preparation, and for others, just spray on a couple of coats of remover, allow them to soak in, and the paper will peel off in big pieces. It's important to thoroughly wash off the paste (soft, natural sponge works best), then allow the walls to dry before priming and painting.

Mr. Clark asked a friend who is a professional painter his opinion of painting over wallpaper. "My buddy was blunt: 'Painters don't paint over wallpaper,' which left little to discuss," he says.

Readers: Pose your questions and we'll seek out experts on home repairs, gardens, food, and family legal issues. Send queries to the Homefront Editor, The Christian Science Monitor, One Norway Street, Boston, MA 02115 or e-mail

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(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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