Tips for Applying Peel and Stick Wallpaper

Updated: Sep. 22, 2023

With these tips for how to successfully apply peel-and-stick wallpaper, you too can have fresh, Instagrammable walls.

Peel-and-stick wallpaper has gained popularity as a DIY-friendly way to freshen up your walls.

It lacks the longevity of traditional wallpaper, which is why it’s sometimes described as “temporary.” But it’s also generally easy to reposition and remove.

Christer Bechtell, owner and wallpaper installer at Macuna Wallpapering, says some peel-and-stick papers peel and stick better than others. Some peel easily, which is good when you want to remove it. However, Bechtell says, some stick too well and can damage the wall when they come off.

The good news? With proper surface preparation, careful reading of the directions, a little patience and these application tips, you can transform your space with peel-and-stick wallpaper.

Prep the wall

  • Most peel-and-stick wallpapers go over eggshell paint, a lower-luster sheen. If you’re not sure of the paint sheen on the wall, Bechtell suggests touching it. “Does it feel dusty? Does it feel like flat paint? Does it feel gritty? That indicates [peel-and-stick wallpaper] will probably not stick,” Bechtell says. At the other extreme, if the wall is super shiny and smooth, it might stick too well and damage the wall when you peel it off.
  • If you go with a coat of eggshell paint, let it sit for about four weeks before applying wallpaper, Bechtell says. That gives the paint time to offgas so it won’t create bubbles in the wallpaper.
  • Many professionals prep walls with Zinsser Gardz. It’s drippy and can be hard to work with, but it creates a translucent, slight sheen that’s great to wallpaper over. Its slightly tacky surface works well for peel-and-stick wallpapers, Bechtell says.

Mark a line for your first piece

  • Identify the most prominent spot in your room, because that’s where you want the wallpaper looking its best. Start in the corner of a wall in that prominent area.
  • Create a plumb (perfectly vertical) line, a guide for your first piece of wallpaper. Use a level for guidance as you draw a light vertical line on the wall with a pencil. Keep it light so it doesn’t show through your paper.

Peel backing a little at a time

  • Peel down about five inches of the backing to start, Bechtell says. Let the bulk of the roll sit on the floor while you pull that first piece up toward the ceiling. Stick it to the wall starting where the top of the wall meets the ceiling. Use the plumb line as a vertical guide down the wall.
  • Move slowly as you work down the wall, taking off the backing, a little at a time as you go. Be careful not to catch the paper on anything or peel the backing too roughly. For some peel-and-stick wallpaper, Bechtell says “just the weight of pulling the backing paper off it will stretch the image.”

Smooth the wallpaper

Cut the paper

  • With a utility knife, cut the excess paper at the baseboards and around windows and outlets. Bechtell recommends leaving about two inches of extra paper when you initially cut in case you need to pull up and reposition the paper.
  • When you’re satisfied with the positioning, use a putty knife to push the edge of the paper into any crevices in baseboards and window frames. Then make a final cut with the utility knife.

Line up the next piece

  • Pull five inches of backing off the next piece of paper and pull it to the top of the wall. Use the first piece of wallpaper on the wall as a guide and line up the pattern across the two pieces. You’ll have some excess paper at the top that needs to be cut off once you align the pattern.
  • No alignment is necessary if the paper lacks a repeating pattern.

Check for bubbles

  • If you find bubbles in a piece you’ve already hung, Bechtell says use your thumb to work from the outer edge of the bubble to the center to smooth it out. If that doesn’t work, take a pin and poke a tiny hole in the middle of the bubble. Then smooth it with your thumb again.
  • Don’t use a smoothing tool at this point because it could stretch the wallpaper.

Be patient

  • Patience is key to hanging peel-and-stick wallpaper.
  • If you don’t get a pattern match or alignment exactly right no matter how many times you reposition it, remember you’ll see those mistakes more than anyone else. “If you can’t see problems from five feet away,” Bechtell says, “then there isn’t a problem.”