Open Your Mind to the Wonders of Peel-and-Stick Wallpaper (2023)

The most intimidating decorating choices are the ones that have to last. You can always switch out photos in frames or change which trinkets you put on which shelf, but when it comes to things that cost a lot (like big pieces of furniture) or take a lot of effort to change (like wall colors), there’s a lot of pressure to nail it. After all, it’ll be that way for a long time. Right?

Not necessarily. A cheap and reversible way to make your mark, even on a large scale, is peel-and-stick wallpaper. Perhaps you’re a renter who can’t make any permanent changes to your apartment, or perhaps you just want to decorate your walls without getting paint on your sweatpants. With a little bit of planning, a removable wallpaper can transform dull spaces—without losing your security deposit.

A quick primer

Peel-and-stick wallpaper differs from traditional wallpaper in that it’s meant to be removable without damaging the walls. Regular wallpaper is meant to last, so it’s glued to the walls with a paste strong enough that removing it will almost certainly damage the drywall beneath. Peel-and-stick is just what it sounds like: It comes with an adhesive backing, like a huge sticker. (A few removable wallpapers come pre-pasted with adhesive that you need water to activate; peel-and-stick is a much simpler, less messy option.) Peel-and-stick wallpaper can be made of a number of different materials, from vinyl to paper to luxurious textiles like linen or grasscloth. The last term you need to know is ‘‘repeat,’’ which refers to the space covered by a pattern before the design starts again. (For example, a 24 inch repeat means the pattern begins again every 24 inches, which helps you figure out how to line it up.)

Assess your space

Before you get too far into the project, take a look at your walls. Are they textured? If so, you’ll have trouble getting that peel-and-stick paper to do its job, which is to stick to the wall. Aaron Murphy is an interior designer with a small firm in Cedar Rapids, and he told Dwell that "you need a smooth surface," which is "terrible if you have textured walls and are looking for an easy fix." If you have that classic ’70s popcorn wall, it won’t work. (But that doesn’t mean you can’t find other uses for removable wallpaper, as you’ll see below.) If your walls are just a bit textured, you could apply a skim coat of drywall to it beforehand, though this isn’t easy to do well, and you might want a professional’s help.

Another important factor to consider is the type of paint on your walls. The paint on my rental apartment’s doors and cabinets, for example, is desperate to escape; it comes off if you just look at it wrong, let alone if you try to stick a whole sheet of adhesive to it. If you have a type of paint that’s easier to clean and low in volatile organic compounds (VOCs), it may be harder to get your paper to stick. Peel-and-stick paper adheres more easily to glossier paints than matte paints, too. Making sure the surface is super clean and then wiping it down with a mix of isopropyl alcohol and water can help secure the paper.

This is where samples can come in. Many stores sell wallpaper samples for cheap—at Rifle Paper Co., samples are just $3. Tape these up in the space you’re planning to cover to see how it looks, or apply them to an inconspicuous area and check how they’re holding up after a week. Just make sure you have a sense of whether the pattern is scaled down to sample size. A friend of mine, Sarah, used removable wallpaper for the powder room of her beautiful old house in Salem, MA. Sarah told me she "probably ordered 25 samples from five or more companies and stared at my top ten for hours before picking one." As a homeowner, Sarah went with removable wallpaper over traditional wallpaper because she read that the walls under wallpaper in wet or humid spaces can develop mold. Peel-and-stick wallpaper is much easier to remove for cleaning every few years.

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Choosing your paper

My go-to site for browsing removable wallpaper is Etsy. There are seemingly endless options on the site, many of which are from sellers with thousands of positive reviews. (I’ve personally purchased from GreenPlanetPrint and found the quality to be excellent.) Some of the patterns available on Etsy look very similar to more expensive (but high-quality) options from companies like Chasing Paper or Wallshoppe. On the other end of the budget spectrum, Target sells removable wallpaper under its stylish Opalhouse brand, and Wayfair, World Market, and Amazon have many affordable options, if you’re willing to gamble a bit more on quality. A good seller will tell you the size of the repeat and answer your questions; Sarah told me that talking to customer service representatives was "really helpful" in figuring out how much to order. Many sites also have tools to help you calculate exactly how much you need.

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A note on quality

Murphy told Dwell that the quality of paper you use is more important for high-traffic uses, like "to line a tray, or cover up a kid’s table." Murphy recommended a thicker vinyl paper, which has the bonus of being "waterproof, and more tear resistant." The downside is that these papers are pricier, "as high as $20 or $30 per square foot." For lower-impact areas, Murphy said you can get away with "any peel-and-stick or temporary paper."

Tech solutions

One techy way to save yourself from making a big mistake is using photo editing software—I use the free, browser-based service Pixlr—to simply plonk your wallpaper options into a photo of your space and see how it looks. The lighting might be slightly off, so take your results with a grain of salt, but using a photo editor can give you a rough idea of what a pattern would look like. (I got this tip from Dwell contributor Veronica de Souza, who uses it for buying rugs, and whose impeccable style elevated my apartment decorating game.) Some sellers, like WallPops, have their own tools to do this, and it’s also just a fun way to spend an evening.

Our friend The Computer can also help you narrow down your pattern choices. In decorating my apartment over the last year, Canva’s color wheel tool has been indispensable. I don’t always abide by its advice, but it’s very helpful to know what theoretically looks good together. Using another tool like Color Picker, you can import your photo of your room and identify and copy the hex code for a color in the photo, like in your couch or a rug, and paste it into Canva’s tool. This will show you the exact colors that will work with what you already have, which will help you pick a wallpaper pattern. Murphy said that he usually tells clients to look at the artwork and throw pillows in their space to find their colors. Or, do it the other way: Take a color from the wallpaper patterns you’re drawn to and see if the color wheel tells you it’ll go with what you’ve got. (Or you could be like me: Start out with a color scheme in mind, then sort of lose track of it and end up with a kooky rainbow look. It’s maximalist!) Once you’ve narrowed down your colors, you can sift through the options more easily.

Pattern picking

Wallpapers, even for a single accent wall, will obviously take up a lot of visual space, so choosing the right print is important. Patterns that are too intricate or detailed can look busy if they’re covering a big space; patterns that are too big condensed into a small area might look cramped. Heather Goerzen, managing editor of design content at Havenly, said she personally leans "towards smaller motifs in smaller spaces: like a powder room, mudroom, or butler’s pantry." For bigger spaces, you can scale it up: "bigger botanicals, scenes, and even murals." There’s certainly no end of beautiful floral and botanical prints available right now. Don’t get too stressed, though: Have fun choosing your favorite prints! This is the best part, apart from the satisfaction of seeing it on your wall.

Getting it right

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You’ve picked your wallpaper, checked out a sample, and made sure it’ll stick to your walls. All that’s left is to actually put it up—and this part is definitely the scariest. Murphy said the best thing you can do is "practice, practice, practice." If you can afford an extra roll to practice with and see how the repeat lines up, do it. There’s nothing like just having a go to help you figure out what you’re doing. If you make a mistake, you can usually make minor adjustments while you’re applying it, but you don’t want to look at it the next day and realize you messed up.

There are many guides online to the actual application process, and most sellers offer their own how-tos for their specific products. They all boil down to the same basic advice: Make sure your wall is clean and smooth; measure and mark where each piece will go before you start; go slowly but confidently. You’ll want an x-acto knife or similar very sharp blade (be careful, I hear my mother saying) to trim the edges, and a squeegee or a plastic bench scraper can help with smooth, even application. If there are switch plates or outlets in the way, remove those first. A level tool will help you line everything up, too.

Your best bet for applying it right the first time is to have a partner or friend help you. It’s much easier to line up the corners and remove the backing carefully with someone else. The old "help me paint and I’ll provide the wine and/or pizza" trade works just fine here, plus there’s no danger you’ll knock a can of paint over on the rug after two glasses of Beaujolais.

Beyond your walls

If you aren’t ready or able to cover a whole wall, there are many other great uses for removable wallpaper. In my apartment, I used peel-and-stick wallpaper to decorate a big, empty space behind our king-size bed, since finding a large enough piece of art seemed daunting and expensive. I cleaned, sanded, and painted a large, empty frame I found on the street, measured the opening, and requested a custom-sized peel-and-stick wallpaper from an Etsy seller. If you go for something similar, make sure to measure the frame and to check the repeat size on the wallpaper pattern, to make sure you’ll have enough coverage. Vintage and estate sales often have old frames that you can repurpose, or you could even do a gallery wall of wallpaper samples behind IKEA frames for just a few bucks each, for maximum-maximalist style.

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Another option, also widely available on Etsy, would be to buy an arch-shaped vinyl decal to replace a headboard; Murphy said those are very popular. He’s seen some creative uses for peel and stick paper, from covering a fridge to the inside of a lampshade. Covering a kitchen backsplash is also a great way to spice up your kitchen, with many prints available that mimic tiles. (You can cover tiles in peel-and-stick paper, too.) Both Goerzen and Murphy mentioned stair risers as a trending use for paper. But, Goerzen cautioned, don’t worry too much about what’s popular: "Go with what you love, not just what’s trending. You’ll be much happier after the fact."

Once you open your heart to removable wallpaper, you will start seeing every smooth, flat surface in your apartment as a potential home for a beautiful print. The drawers of a credenza, the back of your bookcase, or the walls of a closet will start to look bare and plain. The only limit is your imagination.

Related Reading:

Dwell on This: Wallpaper Isn't Just for Walls

Give Your Home a Quick Refresh With This Room-by-Room Guide

How to Work with the Dated Designs You Hate in Your Home


What is the downside of peel and stick wallpaper? ›

Sometimes, peel and stick wallpaper doesn't adhere well to walls. This can leave bubbles and air pockets. It can also be difficult to remove without tearing the paper or leaving residue behind. This requires additional treatments in order to prepare your walls for a new look.

What is the advice on peel and stick wallpaper? ›

Tips for Applying Peel and Stick Wallpaper
  • Prep the wall.
  • Mark a line for your first piece.
  • Peel backing a little at a time.
  • Smooth the wallpaper.
  • Cut the paper.
  • Line up the next piece.
  • Check for bubbles.
  • Be patient.
Aug 24, 2022

What is the best prep for peel and stick wallpaper? ›

Clean, smooth surfaces are the best. A peel and stick wallpaper will properly attach itself to your wall only if its surface is smooth and clean. Before proceeding with the installation, spend a few minutes getting rid of dust and dirt. Use a microfiber cloth dipped in isopropyl alcohol to wipe down the entire surface.

Why not use peel and stick? ›

Safety concerns. Some peel and stick wallpapers, especially the cheaper variants, use lead-based inks or other potentially toxic materials that can over time compromise the quality of your home's indoor environment.

Which is better peel and stick wallpaper or paste? ›

Durability. Removable wallpaper is not nearly as durable as traditional non-woven wallpaper. The peel & stick paper can peel, seemingly on its own and you will have to stick it back on the wall. The adhesion is nowhere near as strong as paste.

How long do peel and stick wallpaper last? ›

With proper application techniques, peel-and-stick wallpaper can last five years or longer. That being said, it does not last nearly as long if applied incorrectly or removed and reapplied more than once.

Does peel and stick wallpaper come off easily? ›

Regardless, removable wallpaper has it will always be way easier to remove when you compare it to regular wallpaper. Traditional wallpapers require wet paste for application and normally tear your wall apart when removed while peel and stick wallpapers will typically come off without leaving much of a mark.

Does peel and stick wallpaper peel off easily? ›

Unlike regular wallpaper, to remove peel and stick wallpaper, you peel up the corner of the wallpaper and gently pull off, leaving behind zero residue or mess. Easy as that! Regular wallpaper is a little more cumbersome (and messy) to both install and remove.

Do you have to prep walls for peel and stick wallpaper? ›

Not shockingly, you need to clean your walls before applying wallpaper. “Wipe down the walls at least a few days ahead of time to allow for the walls to be clean and dry before application,” Rees says.

Do you overlap seams on peel and stick wallpaper? ›

The two strips should be tightly next to each other at the seam but not overlapping. Once you've got it matched up, it's easy – simply continue removing the backing from the wallpaper a bit at a time and use your smoothing tool as you go to smooth the wallpaper onto the wall and prevent bubbles and wrinkles.

Do walls have to be perfectly smooth for peel and stick wallpaper? ›

Whether your peel and stick wallpaper will stick and stay depends on a number of factors such as the strength of the adhesive, size of your wall, type of paint, type of wall texture, and room temperature. Having a perfectly flat and smooth wall is IDEAL if you want the best results.

How do you make peel and stick stay on? ›

“For the best outcome, make sure the underlayment is smooth and clean,” Collier says. “If the floor is wet or dusty at all, the tiles won't stick properly.” In addition to cleaning, make sure your floor or wall is free of any problematic bumps or wrinkles.

What do you put under peel and stick? ›

Lay 1/4-inch plywood underlayment over your existing floor if you have any doubts that the peel-and-stick tile will adhere to your existing floor.

Can peel and stick get wet? ›

Peel and stick wallpapers are a type of wallpaper that is easy to install and remove. This type of wallpaper is often moisture-resistant, making it a good option for bathrooms. It is a type of vinyl-coated paper that sticks to walls with the help of a special backing.

What is the easiest wallpaper to put up? ›

Peel and stick wallpaper is relatively new to the interior design world, and is the easiest type of wallpaper to remove. It's also the easiest to apply, requiring virtually no prep work or clean up.

How much does it cost to install peel and stick wallpaper? ›

The actual labor costs of hanging wallpaper can range from $1 to $7 per square foot or $3 to $9 per yard. It's approximately $25 to $80 per hour to have a professional put up wallpaper.

Does peel and stick wallpaper damage walls when removed? ›

Fortunately, no! Wall decals, wall stickers, and removable wallpaper all can be removed gently, and they shouldn't damage your wall paint underneath.

Will peel and stick wallpaper last? ›

The pro's take: “As long as the surface you apply to is clean, smooth and has the correct paint finish, the peel-and-stick wallpaper should last for as long as you'd like to keep it up,” says Rees.

Is peel and stick wallpaper good for walls? ›

Peel and stick wallpaper is normally recommended for smooth flat painted walls, however in some cases the surface has a light texture you can apply the wallpaper on textured walls, they adapt to a perfect finish!

How do you prepare a wall after peeling wallpaper? ›

Start by adding a skim coat to the walls using a 12 inch drywall blade and joint compound. Then grab a pole sander and give the wall a good sanding, hitting all the high spots. Wipe down with wet cloths to get rid of the dust. Now your walls are uniform and smooth and ready for a fresh coat of paint.

Is it cheaper to paint or peel and stick wallpaper? ›

It is considered generally cheaper to use paint than wallpaper in the beginning. Paint also needs fewer supplies overall. That being said, both provide a wide variety of options with regards to cost, so it's still possible to spend more depending if you use high-end paint.

Does vinyl wallpaper look cheap? ›

In terms of aesthetics, some vinyl wallpaper can have a less sophisticated feel than fabric or paper-based wallpaper: "Some vinyl-based removable wallpaper can look thin and cheap making a space feel more youthful and less grown-up," says Wood.

How forgiving is peel and stick wallpaper? ›

Self-adhesive, removable wallpaper is forgiving, allowing you to lift the paper and reposition if necessary and as needed.

How do you make peel and stick wallpaper permanent? ›

A simple solution for the problem is to clean the wall (recommended 2-3 times) with a mixture of 70% isopropyl alcohol and 30% water, let dry completely, test the adhesion with a sample and afterwards proceed with the wallpaper installation.

Do you have to overlap peel and stick wallpaper? ›

DO YOU NEED TO OVERLAP PEEL AND STICK WALLPAPER? It does help to overlap ever so slightly to give it that seamless look, but don't go overboard. Depending on your pattern, you won't need to overlap very much. Try to match up the patterns to create a seamless look.


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