Hanging wallpaper like a pro is all about prep.

By Wendy Rose Gould
Updated June 24, 2019
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Flip through a stack of interior design magazines from the last few decades and you’d likely notice a surge in wallpaper popularity around the 1960s and '70s, a waning across the next three decades or so, and then a serious revival in recent years. You can credit home decor TV shows or Instagram stars, but at the core of wallpaper’s popularity is the fact that it’s one of the fastest ways to infuse personality and dimension into a space.

“I thought wallpaper had reached its peak, but I’m thrilled to be wrong,” says Emrys Berwick, co-founder of Berwick Edel, an interior renovation company based in NYC. “There is a color, pattern, and texture for everyone and for every room. The options are limitless, and the right wall covering can bring your interior space to a new level.”

Whether you’ve merely toyed with the idea of learning how to hang wallpaper or you’re already fully committed to the project, knowing what the process looks like from start to finish is step number one.

Preparation Is Key

As is the case for all DIY projects, preparation is just as important as the actual installation when it comes to learning how to hang wallpaper.

Step One: Smooth and Prime the Walls

“You’ll first want to make sure the walls are flat. Bumps and holes should be fixed,” says interior designer Suzanne Falk. “Next, paint the wall the [base] color of the paper in case seams were to show through.”

Berwick also recommends using an oil-based primer to seal the walls followed by a coat of wallpaper primer. “This ensures the installation—and eventual removal—of the wallpaper goes as smoothly as possible,” he explains.

Step Two: Map Out Your Wallpaper

Another thing you’ll want to do is anticipate how you’ll need to hang your wallpaper in the designated space, especially if it’s patterned. You’ll also want to consider where and how the seams fall.

“The fewer seams the better, and mirroring seams on opposite walls creates symmetry,” says Berwick. “No matter the wallpaper, each room will always have a best or most logical layout, so always map it out before you actually start cutting and hanging the wallpaper.”

Once your walls are ready and your wallpaper is cut accordingly, you’ll want to make sure each piece is hung straight and level. Berwick recommends a plumb line or a 6-foot level for this, and notes you’ll have to repeat the line for each new wall.

How to Hang Wallpaper

Traditional wallpaper requires wallpaper paste (use the product recommended by the wallpaper brand) and a process referred to as booking that allows the paste to soak into the paper itself.

Step One: Booking

To book your wallpaper, apply the paste evenly over the whole surface of the cut wallpaper piece from one end to the middle, Berwick says. “Next, fold the pasted side onto itself, leaving a few inches of exposed, pasted paper. Finish the other half and fold back towards the middle right up to the other folded edge.”

Step Two: Start Hanging

After about three minutes, you can hang your wallpaper. Starting from the top, hang your first piece using the plumb line (or level) as a guide. Once placed, use a plastic smoothing tool to release any bubbles. While doing this, it’s best to start in the middle of the wallpaper with your tool and push the bubbles and creases to the outer edge. Don’t pull or stretch the paper at all. Continue this process until all wallpaper pieces have been hung. To trim excess from the top and bottom, use a fresh razor and move carefully to prevent tears.

Note that non-woven wallpaper sometimes provides the option of pasting the wall first and then hanging the wallpaper on top without booking.

“If your paper allows for this technique, then you won’t need a table, but you will need a brush to cut in all the edges of the wall with the paste,” Berwick says. “Only paste one section at a time with a few inches of overlap and maintain an efficient speed as to not let the overlapped paste dry before your next piece of wallpaper goes up.”

There are also wallpapers that have water-activated adhesive. These are typically soaked in water, booked, then hung. When in doubt, default to the product’s application instructions.

How to Hang Peel & Stick Wallpaper

If all the above sounds a bit overwhelming, then a peel and stick option might be more your speed.

“Peel and stick wallpaper isn’t as much of a commitment compared to traditional wallpaper. It’s also a quarter of the price for material, easy to install, and temporary so you can pull it off anytime,” Falk says. “A drawback is that it’s a much lower quality product. It’s typically a digital print, and therefore a completely different product compared to traditional.”

When placing peel and stick wallpaper, you’ll want to prepare your walls, map out the pieces, and use a level the same as you would with a traditional version, says Berwick. No booking is required, but you’ll still want to apply from the top down, work slowly, and smooth out bubbles as you go.

Wallpaper Maintenance

Considering all the effort you put into hanging your wallpaper, it makes sense that you’d want it to remain intact for a long time. When installed correctly, it should last for years. Should any minor damage occur, try using a touch of paint or colored pencils to hide a blemish. In the case of major damage, replace one panel of wallpaper. (Pro tip: keep extra wallpaper on hand in a sealed container.)

“Vinyl wallpaper is the most durable and can actually be washed with soap and water. Also, most paper wallpaper comes with a matte glaze, which offers decent protection from finger prints and minor scuffs. These can be gently wiped like painted walls but always test on an inconspicuous area first,” Berwick says. “Textured wallpapers made with linen, silk, grasscloth, or other materials can be vacuumed, but should never get wet.”

As always, refer to the manufacturer’s instructions if you have questions about hanging wallpaper.