Category Archives: Decorating

Peeling paint on bare plaster

Do you get those days when an idea springs into your head – and the idea works? It’s been that kind of day.

See, when I stripped off the hideous wallpaper on the “feature” (ack! ack! ack! ack!) wall in the bedroom, I was left with great big splotches of paint on the bare plaster underneath, the rest of the paint having come off with the wallpaper. Once the paint dried, it started peeling, and we’re talking about a large wall. Gah! How to get all the paint off!

Well I tried everything I could think of. Sandpaper, gloop,  paint scraper, even a tentative go with my little electric sander. None of them were satisfactory. Dust, the risk of damaging the surface of the plaster, getting the plaster damp, not to mention the mess. Plus the new edges kept drying out and peeling too, so I was achieving nothing very fast. So I left it for a while, in the hope that an idea would go off like a lightbulb and save the day.

Well it did. And it did.

Masking tape.

If you work backwards, the reason the paint came off was because it was stuck to the back of the wallpaper. So why use a different method when the answer is right there in front of one’s nose.

Paper masking tape, the cheapest you can get, which is what I’ve got, does the trick. Mine’s only 3/4″ wide but I shall use what I’ve got rather than buying anything wider.

The plan of attack needs adjustment from time to time, but here’s what works for me. Unroll about 12 inches of tape, and apply to the edge of one of the areas of peeling paint, at an angle of about 30 degrees. Straight up and down doesn’t tend to work.. Smooth firmly along the tape for best adherence, then peel away. Ta-da. Paint stuck to the tape, and bare, smooth, paint-free plaster. Rejoice! You don’t need to tear off bits of tape, either. Just keep unrolling the tape and apply the next bit to the wall. You can use the gaps along the tape to pick up any stray flakes and stubborn bits of paint. You’ll probably need to experiment with whether you pull down or up or leave it for about 15 seconds before peeling it off. Just go with the flow.

Don’t bother trying to use heat on it, though, like a hairdryer. Just use the tape on the paint and the heat from your fingers to smooth it down firmly. Otherwise, as I found, the peel-off isn’t as efficient.

I’ve just done about a square metre of wall in half an hour. Yeah it’s not fast. But neither is sanding, glooping, scraping or anything else, and I have no mess. Zero. My wall isn’t damp, I haven’t accidentally dug into the wall with a sharp edge and there is no dust or dried paint. Result!

Plus, I guess the good result will depend on the kind of paint underneath. This won’t work on paint on wood or anything else of course – this was a thin layer of what seemed like a latex-based paint on a bare plaster wall. But, I am closer to realising my interior design bedroom-fest, and I am bristling with ideas.


A night on the tiles

Didn’t want to spend loads of money on tiles for the bathroom, the kitchen and hall. Didn’t want vinyl or lino. Didn’t want carpet, or laminate. I’m a fussy old bird.

The current hall floor is vile. Old, brittle vinyl tiles in brown and dirty cream, some of them missing or cracked, and the surface underneath is that black bitumen stuff that apparently contains asbestos. Some of them have the remains of carpet glue that is impossible to get off. Look at these pictures and despair:

HallTiles small


Solution: home made tiles! Ding ding ding!

First things first – remove all those ghastly vinyl tiles, hoover and seal the underlying surface with a waterproof polyurethane.

Then I shall use carpet tape to lay the tiles, so that if any scuff up in the future they will be fairly easy to replace.

Enter the beautiful hand made cardboard tiles painted in beautiful colours or a pattern or whatever comes to mind. I have a few pattern ideas mapped out on graph paper, having measured the hall down to the 1/4″ – gotta have those tiles fit like a dream!

Once all the tiles are down I shall seal the floor with three or four coats of polyurethane. Given the length of time some of them take to dry I might be having to put a plank down between the bedroom and the bathroom. Either that or a pulley system with a bucket. I must investigate drying times!

So, here’s what I have ready:

Blunt chisel and hammer to get the old tiles up
Sealant once I’ve cleared all the tiles, hoovered and then washed the floor.
Double-sided carpet tape.

For the tiles:

Thick cardboard (not the corrugated type or it will squash)
Paper to paint and cover large areas of cardboard
Adhesive to fix paper to cardboard
Cutter mat and craft knife – carefully measure the tiles out and cut.

Clear polyurethane (matt or shiny – whatever)
Large paintbrush

That’s the plan. I shall keep you updated with progress. 🙂

Painting a straight line

The idea is that my bedroom has a main colour all round the room – a lovely dusky blue / heather shade – with a wide band above it for some arty-farty contrast in rag roll or some other kind of painting technique. So far so good. The design is drawn. The plan looks good. So far.

Next thing to do is to get the horizontal line on the wall, equal all the way round and with no apparent deviations, dips or strange heights. Usually, the experts say, you just whip out your laser leveler, get the straight line on the wall and apply the masking tape for instant horizontal-ness.

I do not have a laser leveler. And, because I’m doing this decorating on my own, I don’t have someone to hang on to the other end of a bit of taut string while I ping a chalk line against the wall. However, what I have bought for my sweet self is a spirit level.

SpiritLevelsmallNot only does it tell me that my living room floor is level – look! it’s level! – it’s got a long straight edge. It’s then the work of a moment to mark the height of the horizontal line and then to work round the wall drawing a line along the straight edge once I know the level is spot on.

Once I’ve got the pencilled line, it’s on with the masking tape, right along the whole length of the line around the room, with the bottom edge flush with the pencilled line.

I’m lucky in that my walls are pretty much level. There aren’t any nicks or bumps, and it’s easy to press the tape firmly to the wall so that when I start painting, the paint doesn’t leak under the tape and give me a ragged line. If you’ve got uneven walls or you’re painting over textured wallpaper, you’re going to get leaks.

The tape is on. The paint is stirred and poured. Rather than risk getting all exuberant and rolling paint right over the tape, I’ve got some paint in a pot with a 2″ brush, so I can paint just below the tape before I let loose with the roller.

There are different schools of thought on when you should remove the tape. Some say you should wait until the paint is dry before peeling it off. Others say you should peel it off while the paint is still a little damp, so that you don’t tear any paint off. I always plump for the second option and it works pretty well for me.

See? Nice straight blue line, and then the gap between the paint and the ceiling. Huzzah!

There are also schools of thought that say you should work from the top downwards, so I should have done the blue after I’d done the top border. But I haven’t yet decided on the design, and the look of the room is going to spark those ideas. So that’s a rule I’m very willing to snap in half.

Once I’ve done the design, my plan is to add a white moulded border along the line, probably making it out of papier-mâché or recycled wood, sanding it and then painting it white. We’ll see. Watch this space.

Stripping off in the hall

My plan had been to strip all seven doors, jambs, skirting boards and meter cupboard back to the original wood and then use a light woodstain. What to use? An electric sander was out of the question as I thought it might be too noisy for a frail elderly neighbour to cope with, and a heat gun – well, let’s just say I didn’t want to risk an emergency visit from some nice men wearing breathing apparatus and hard hats and carrying a hose.

That left either taking all the doors down and having them stripped professionally, which was out because of the budget or using a chemical stripper and some elbow grease.

Chemical stripper it was, so I slapped some on to the bathroom door. That was when I discovered, after having fought with the layers of gloss paint and lost, that underneath the paint were bits of hardboard nailed to a slab of wood with a hole in it and you would not believe how hard it’s been to strip paint off that thing. Two of the other doors are also hardboard-covered wood. Stripping1

It’s just not worth it because the hardboard will look like utter crap once it’s stripped. See what I mean? Even using the stripping compound twice and the shave hook, I just couldn’t get a good strip going. What’s a girl to do?


Plan B, which by happy chance involves far less stripping, is to strip only the door jambs and the skirting boards. Two of the remaining doors are covered in hardboard too and I don’t fancy spending hours and hours and HOURS stripping them when I can think of better things to do with my time.

So, on with the cunning plan. Here’s the technique. Opened all the windows in the flat and left the doors open for a good draft. Put on my safety goggles, gloves and a face mask, slopped some of the stripper into a plastic pot to work from, and used an old 1″ paintbrush to paint on a thickish layer of the stripper over the hall-facing side of a door jamb.

Stripping2Left it for 20 minutes for the top layer of paint to do its crinkle thing – shown thusly in the pic – and scraped all that off with the straight edge of the shave hook.

Some of the underneath layer comes off too, but it’s been there for years and is a tough beast to handle. On went a second layer of the gunk for 30 mins and another scrape.

Using different edges of the shave hook gets all those pesky bits of paint out. It’s worth doing a final slop-down on remaining bits of paint and letting that sit for 30 mins before scraping that off. Then a wash down in soapy water and let it dry, then give it a good sand with sandpaper to smoothe out any nicks and dings I’d left in the wood.


I’d spread out a large decorating sheet on the floor before slapping on the gunk and scraping to catch all the bits, and then let them dry out before disposing of them. Otherwise they get stuck to the floor. Pain.

Once I’ve finished all the stripping I’ll protect the wood with some stain.

Having checked with my council’s Environmental Health Officer, paint scrapings and stripper can be put in a bag in the grey bin for landfill, but I’ll continue to find out more to see if other solutions might be available in the future. If anyone has better ideas, just jot them in a post underneath!

Update: you know that feeling you get when you succumb to a need greater than yourself and you do that thing? Well I did that thing. I bought a small sander. It’s shaved off about 90% of the time I was going to spend sanding all those door frames and saved me from 26″ biceps.  It’s a VonHaus, fits into my grubby little paws perfectly and doesn’t scream like most high speed electrical things. It’s more like a very loud wasp trapped in an echo chamber.

I now have a drill AND a sander. How hard can it be to reach the moon …


  • Hiring an electric sander currently costs anywhere between £13 to £25 per day exc VAT. Heat guns cost upwards of £13 plus VAT.
  • You can pick up an electric hand sander for round about £25-30, unless you want to go for one of the bigger beasts.
  • Door stripping services charge an average of £20 per door and possibly less depending on the number of doors. Many offer a pick up and re-fit service so factor in those costs too.
  • Eco paint stripper is around £20 per litre and contains no volatile organic compounds (VOCs), unlike many traditional paint strippers, but you still need to wear a mask, protective goggles and gloves and you should open the windows.
  • Chemical paint strippers can be highly noxious air pollutants so check the brand and the tin before you buy. Look for the ones that are non-caustic and do not contain methylene chloride, although you’ll still need to wear your protective gear and open the windows. Average cost across the brands is £27 for 2.5 litres.
  • If you’re using chemical or eco paint strippers, invest in a shave hook scraper rather than relying only on a flat scraper. It’ll help you with those twiddly bits and give you more control over the paint removal. Cost is between £5 and £15 depending on the brand.