Bathroom Mini Makeover

In the time before River, the COVID-19 pandemic at least provided me with a little extra time to get off my arse and complete some household projects. As I mentioned before, when we bought our home, it had an interesting mix of Southwestern, Native American, and Asian style. Our downstairs bathroom was one such room.

I grew up in the Southwest. I love the Southwest… just not in my Minnesota bathroom. Décor aside, it is a small, ugly bathroom – probably remodeled in the 80’s sometime. It needs a complete gutting down to the studs with new flooring, lighting, vanity, and shower. But who has the money for that? Not us.

So, how do I stomach this room until such time as I can tear it down and start over? The answer was clear. The wallpaper had to go. By removing the busy wallpaper and replacing it with a simple, calming color, I believe we can get several more years out of this room before I take a sledgehammer to it.

I set upon researching the easiest, best way to remove wallpaper. YouTube, Pinterest, and good ol’ fashioned Googling gave me some great ideas. In this post, I will share with you what I did as well as some things I learned along the way. (This was a helpful experience because our upstairs bathroom also has wallpaper that needs to come down.)

First, I removed the old caulking that was sealing the edges of the tiled walls and the wallpaper. Next, came the walls. Wallpaper consists of two layers. The decorative top layer and the sticky, paper underlayer. The top layer came off easily, and in huge pieces. This was great, because I could save a large swatch of the hideous stuff for posterity and it gave me a huge boost of confidence. “This paper is ancient!” I said. “It should come off easily.” I was sort of right…


Next, I used a wallpaper scorer to scuff up the underlayer so that the wallpaper removing chemicals mentioned below could saturate more easily. Scoring requires a LIGHT touch. I thought I was using a light touch, but apparently, I am more ham-fisted than I thought. I pressed too hard and scored the drywall behind the paper, which required patching. But we’ll get to that later… After realizing my destruction on the first wall, I lightened up, and barely tickled the remaining walls using the scorer in a circular motion.

I then used DIF wallpaper remover to saturate the bottom paper layer. I read many articles recommending everything from homemade concoctions to ready-made, store-bought products like DIF. In the end, my father had some DIF left over from his own wallpaper removal project and gave me the remainder. You can’t beat free, so I thought I would give it a try.

This is what I learned: When the blogs and videos tell you to saturate the area, they really mean SATURATE. Don’t be stingy with the product. I thought spraying ‘a lot’ was enough. It was not. The photo below shows my original attempt at saturating the surface. When I started scraping the walls, only the wet spots came off easily. The dry spots were still stuck like cement to the wall. Eventually, using gloves, I started massaging the DIF into the walls like I was applying suntan lotion. I waited about 3-5 minutes, and started scraping with a medium-sized, flat putty knife. Working in about 4 square foot increments, the underlayment started easily peeling away. It was messy and sticky, but it really wasn’t difficult. Again, I felt this boost of superiority. I could have my own show on HGTV! I used needle-nosed pliers to remove any tiny bits of paper in small cracks, but in a short time, the underlayment was also down.

The next step was to scrub any remaining glue residue from the walls. This was the WORST PART of the entire project. It took so much more effort and time than I anticipated. I scrubbed and scrubbed. Every time I thought it was clean, I would find more shiny, sticky glue residue and scrub some more. This step took hours and my arms were incredibly sore; but eventually, I was satisfied that the walls were clean.

Next, I primed the walls using Zinsser Cover Stain, Oil-Based primer. My research suggested that you prime the walls both before and after repairing any damage. This will help cover any stains (as the name implies), seal in any smells, and prep the surface area.

Clean walls, pre-primer. Note the stains and damage.

Learn from the mistake I have made not once, but twice before: when using oil-based paint or primer, have the store shake it at the paint counter! When roaming the isles of Home Depot, it’s so convenient to just pull your primer off the shelf and head to the checkout stand, but take that extra moment to ask the paint counter to shake it for you. If not, when it comes time to paint, you will have to mix, and mix, and mix… Mix WAY more than latex paint. The oil needs to be fully integrated into the paint and even when you think it is fully mixed, you need to mix some more. I don’t have any fancy mixing devices, so this was just me, a stir stick, and about 30 minutes of an arm workout.

With the walls primed, Logan helped me skim coat the walls with Ready-mixed, All Purpose Joint Compound to fix any damage I did while scoring. This was the first time either of us skim coated and it definitely takes a little practice. I bought a highly recommended rubber drywall taping knife (or mud knife), but it turns out we were unhappy with the flexibility of the rubber blade. We just couldn’t get that “skim” effect. So, we bought a standard, stainless steel knife that we liked better and used a 14-inch mud pan. Then, we just sort of experimented. I’m definitely not an authority on how best to do this. The YouTube videos make it look so easy, but I really think it is a practiced art. We had some trial and error but, in the end, a few light coats worked better than one thick coat. You must sand in between each coat which made a huge mess. Be sure to wear a mask and goggles to protect yourself from the drywall dust. Eventually, we got a smooth, unblemished result! I primed the walls for a second time and it was FINALLY time for my favorite step: paint!

I love painting. It is the least expensive way to make a huge impact in your home. You can express yourself with color and, if you’re unhappy with the result, you can change it. In this case, I felt comfortable using a bold, dark color because the bathroom has a window and a lot of white tile. I chose Benjamin Moore’s Hale Navy (HC-154), a lovely and popular shade of navy blue, since it compliments my home’s overall color scheme. 

After (Baby Yoda’s temporary home.)

In a nutshell, the things I thought would be hard turned out easy, and the things I thought would be easy turned out hard. I am pleased with the results and feel emboldened to tackle the larger upstairs bathroom project. With some new hand towels and artwork, I think I can live with this ugly little bathroom for several years before bringing in the sledgehammers.


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