Q&A / 

Drywall Paper Repair Tips

DEAR TIM: I was removing an ugly ceramic tile backsplash in my kitchen. Some of the drywall paper came off with the old glue. It looks horrible. A home center employee told me I have to put in new drywall. This can't be true. Is there a way to repair this so the wall is once again perfectly smooth? Surely you know secret ninja tricks that will save me! Shelly B., Siesta Key, FL

DEAR SHELLY: I'll never forget the first time that happened to me. I was removing large sheets of thin wood paneling that had been nailed and glued over unpainted drywall. Oh my goodness, what a mess I had. The second time it happened to me, I was stripping off wallpaper in a bathroom. The paper hanger didn't prime the drywall with the proper sealant to prevent the wallpaper glue from bonding to the drywall paper.

First, the advice you received from the home center employee is completely wrong. You don't have to replace the drywall. I'm going to describe to you how to repair it. It's a shame that so much bad advice is dispensed each day inside those big box stores.

The common drywall that's found in many homes is made with fairly high-technology paper. You'd be surprised how thick the actual paper is. You can see it if you look closely at a cross section of drywall after it's been cut or at the end of a piece before it's installed.

The side of the paper that faces into your room and the other side that touches the wet gypsum at the factory both are made to resist the water that's in the finishing compounds and the wet gypsum. But the center part of the paper will react violently if water reaches it.

The torn paper area of the drywall has been trimmed and it's ready to be repaired. Photo Credit: Tim Carter

If you've ever tried to patch drywall where the facing paper is torn off exposing the core of the paper, you'll quickly discover that the water in the patching compound almost always causes bubbles and blisters to form. The more you pop them and recoat them, the faster they return.

The first step in making a blister-free repair is a razor knife. You use this tool to trim any partially peeled up paper around the edges of the damaged area. You must have crisp cut lines all around the damaged area with no peeling paper.

Once you've done this simple step, you should then coat the brown inner-core paper with an oil-based sealer that dries quickly. You can purchase spray cans of these primers, or you can brush on clear or white shellac. Just be sure that whatever sealer you use, it doesn't contain any water. You can even use left-over oil-based paints.

Be sure when you apply this sealer, that you paint or spray over the edges of the damaged area onto the undamaged drywall paper. You want to seal the thin edges of the drywall paper too.

Once the sealer has dried, you can then skim coat the area with regular drywall compound. The area that needs to be coated is probably less than one thirty-second of an inch, so it's not very thick.

To speed up the repair process, you might consider using the setting type joint compounds. These are powdered products that you mix with water. They come in various setting times. If you use a fast-setting one, you can apply two coats of the compound in less than 30 minutes.

To get a silky smooth finish, be sure to use the topping compounds that come in the buckets. These products really do finish smoother.

The biggest mistake homeowners make after a repair like this is not applying the right paints after the repaired area is dry and sanded. If you don't paint it properly, even though the area is perfectly smooth, you'll still see the repaired area in certain light.

One ninja trick I've used for years is to use a special sealer primer paint over the freshly sanded area. Remove all dust before painting.

The primer/sealer does two very important things. The sealer component of the paint actually seals the very porous repair compound preventing the next coat of paint from soaking in.

The primer aspect of the paint contains coarser pigment particles that help homogenize the texture, on a micro level, so the texture of the repaired area and the other drywall surrounding it match. Doing this makes the patched area disappear once the final coat of paint is applied.

You can watch videos about the special primer paint here - paint primer video.

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12 Responses to Drywall Paper Repair Tips

  1. I am doing my dinning room which has the same problem the wood panelling was glued to the sheet rock. Of course it tore the paper off in spots. My question is instead of one or a couple of places I have a whole dinning room to fix. This is very time consuming is there any thing I can do that will maybe be a little faster? I have found that even though I'm cutting around the lose part it still peels off more than where I cut am I not doing something right? PLEASE help Tim thanks Christy

  2. I totally understand. I worked some on the cutting today and I'm moving right along....I hope. Would the basic Kiltz primer work for sealing areas that are damaged? I'm sure because its oil base? I really appreciate the detailed response to the lady. That wad very very helpful. I'm always doing some kind of DIY project around the house. Thanks for your help. Christy

  3. Wish I would have read this about an hour ago before I slapped a bunch of joint compound over drywall that I just pulled some old faux wood paneling off of (glued of course). More bubbles than a Lawrence Welk re-run! Very informative about how the paper surface is manufactured. Once the compound dries, a new blade is going into the ol utility knife!

  4. I took wallpaper off in a half bath. Behind the toilet, was difficult and i scraped some paper off the drywall. i had a contractor stop to look at it and he may have trimed it (i do not know) but spackled joint compound on it. He says i am ready to go. I am worried that i will have a problem in the future. What should i do now? Was some paper still there and I will be okay going forward with a water based primer like Aqua Lock and paint?

  5. i have a few small walls that have a bubbling like texture going on and I think the old owner did one of those mistakes not prime, or clean or wrong paint on top. A patch came off and started to take off more and more like easier than wall paper to peel off in bi chunks. It is taking off the drywall paper down to that brown paper. The biggest wall is about three feet wide and regular height ceilings. Would I be able to patch the whole wall in this manner although time consuming or do I need new drywall now? Or could i even put the thinnest drywall on top would that be easiest? I have had a lot of bad workers sadly from a handyman to carpet guys so I really want good advice and just to do it myself. Thank you so much for the help.

  6. So glad I found this article! I do have a question though - how do you fix the bubbled areas after you did it wrong? Sand it down and cut it out, then seal it?

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