Wallpapers and wallpaper paste go hand in hand. But some special wallpaper materials require specific glues or pastes. The surface, too, plays a significant role, especially as wallpaper isn't always necessarily applied to walls. The DIY movement is on the up and up and knows no creative limitations, and wallpapers can be used to beautify doors, glass, furniture surfaces, stairs, and much more, in an arty and individual manner.
If we were to ask the magic mirror from the fairytale "Snow White" for advice, our question would be this: "Mirror, mirror on the wall, what's the correct wallpaper paste on the wall.... and on any of the other possible surfaces, and what do we need to take into consideration when it come to the type of wallpaper?"
In this article, you will find out everything there is to know about the correct wallpaper paste, at the right mixing ratio, for particular surfaces, and why the condition of the surfaces is so important.
Wallpaper paste basics
You can buy wallpaper paste as a powder to mix or as a ready-made concoction in any DIY shop. The powder varieties come in paper packaging and should therefore be kept in a dry place. Wallpaper adhesive powder has to be mixed with water according to individual instructions and requires a specific time to soak in order to acquire its jelly-like consistency. All the necessary information regarding the ratio of water to powder and soaking times can be found on the packaging. Reputable manufacturers also offer liquid adhesive. This is usually a concentrated fluid which is also mixed with water, but its original consistency prevents lumps and generally makes for an easier mixing and soaking process.
Make sure you adhere to all instructions regarding mixing quantities and soaking times, follow them step by step, and remember to also check our tips in the wallpapering instructions named How to hang paper-based wallpaper/Mixing wallpaper adhesive.
Ready mixed wallpaper adhesive is usually sold in 16 kg buckets. Depending on the composition, ready mixed wallpaper adhesives can be used for paper, woodchip, vinyl, structured or non-woven varieties, but it can also be defined as dispersion adhesive.
The information label on your wallpaper roll will tell you which adhesive is required in terms of the type of wallpaper as well as characteristics like material, weight and adhesive requirements. For wallpapers that are impermeable to water vapour, like vinyl or metallic foil wallpapers, the adhesive has to contain dispersion or plastic dispersion glue. Alternatively, pure dispersion glue has to be used in order to achieve the necessary adhesion strength.
When it come to wallpaper adhesive, quality is key, so don't be a penny-pincher. High-quality types of adhesive consist of natural, non-toxic starch and methyl cellulose. Special additives, in particular synthetic resins, are added for increased durability and easier application. In high-quality adhesives, the proportion of methyl cellulose is equal to or higher to that of starch, which provides excellent adhesive strength.
Commercially available adhesives according to wallpaper types
Please find below an overview of common adhesives used according to wallpaper types:
- Standard adhesive consists of cellulose ether and starch - the right choice for light to heavy paper-based wallpapers.
- Special adhesive contains synthetic resin in order to increase the adhesive strength - perfect for heavy wallpapers like wood-chip, vinyl, anaglypta or textured wallpapers. Depending on the exact composition and the manufacturer, it is also suitable for textile, silk, grass or cork wallpapers.
- Textile adhesive contains the basic components as well as added plastic dispersion glue and other additives, all of which help to increase adhesion. This type of adhesive can be used alone or added to other glues for textile, metal, foil and industrial wallpapers.
- Adhesive for non-woven wallpapers is designed specifically for non-woven varieties. When using non-woven types, the adhesive is applied directly to the wall (rather than the wallpaper); this means that the glue needs to have good initial adhesion to ensure the dry strip of wallpaper sticks to the wall. Furthermore, the consistency of the glue is almost splatter-free. To make it easy to identify which parts of the wall glue has already been applied to, non-woven adhesive can contain so-called colour markers. However, they are completely transparent once dried.
- Machine adhesive/adhesive for wallpapering devices - as the name indicates, this specific glue is meant for wallpapering machines. It's of a thin consistency and contains synthetic resins for better adhesion.
- Dispersion adhesives are ready-to-use plastic- or synthetic resin-based glues. Their consistency and colour is distinctly different from the usual commercially available glue types. Dispersion adhesive can be purchased in containers of various sizes (depending on the surface area it is to be applied to). It can be added to glue in order to give it a great deal more adhesive strength, or used on its own. This type of adhesive is suitable for heavy and water-proof wallpapers like glass-fibre, vinyl and textured wallpapers, which all require great adhesive strength.
Dispersion adhesive is also used as border glue for glueing borders on wallpapers (e.g. vinyl borders on vinyl wallpapers). Handy tubes are available for this purpose and for delicate wallpaper repair jobs.
Which adhesive for which surface?
Generally speaking, the commercially available adhesive types listed above are suitable for concrete, cement, gypsum/plaster and plasterboard. For all types, the surfaces need to be prepared thoroughly. You can find more about this topic in our instructions How to prepare the wallpapering surface.
As a general rule: It is less about the type of surface and more about its quality/consistency. Furthermore, material and water vapour permeability play an important role. The rule of thumb is: The surface needs to be dry, clean, even, stable, adhesive and absorbent. Here are a few tips and tricks for surfaces when it comes to creative options for wallpapering:
Wallpapering wood (furniture, wooden planks, stairs)
Untreated, dry and absorbent wood free of varnish, wax or resin is the best surface for wallpaper adhesive. Which glue or adhesive to use depends on the specific wallpaper material and its water vapour permeability (see information Re: types of adhesive). The adhesive should be spread thinly and evenly in order to prevent soaking the wood.
In most cases, this means pre-treating furniture and other wooden surfaces. Sanding or stripping wood surfaces creates clean, stable and adhesive surfaces. Once varnish, wax or water-proofing substances have been removed, the surface needs to be cleaned thoroughly. It is recommended that a primer is applied to achieve the optimum results for strongly absorbent types of wood.
Wood veneer cannot be sanded or stripped as this would damage the surface. Nevertheless, when planning to use wallpaper to beautify these types of surfaces, they have to be pre-treated first. Here, the best method is to apply a primer. For rough, untreated surfaces like chipboard, OSB boards, panelling or plywood, primer is not necessarily required. If walls are panelled with these types of wood products, the wallpaper can tear at the edges after drying. In these cases, the edges should be filled and smoothed; alternatively, applying plasterboard also provides smooth and even surfaces.
Wood is a living material, which constantly changes. It absorbs moisture, which makes it expand. Once it dries, the wood contracts again. In order to prevent wooden elements from warping when adhesive is applied, we recommend wallpapering both sides (using the same wallpaper for both sides!). For instance: when treating cupboard or wardrobe doors, [PE1] don't just wallpaper the outside, but the inside, too.
Pasted wallpaper strips, too, expand first, only to then shrink again once dry. However, this is only true for paper-based wallpapers. In order to prevent this effect, inherently stable non-woven wallpapers should be used. It is important to ensure even drying, the room temperature should neither be too high nor too low, and the air humidity should also be moderate.
Wallpapering on tiles, ceramics, natural stone, clay
In our instructions on How to wallpaper bathrooms and the guide blog Wallpapers for Bathrooms and Kitchens, you will find detailed information regarding wallpapering tiled walls/surfaces and what you need to consider when it comes to preparing those types of surfaces. The type of adhesive required depends on the specific wallpaper and its water vapour permeability. Generally speaking, this will be adhesive with added dispersion glue. The same rules apply for ceramics, natural stone and clay.
Wallpapering on plastic, glass and metal
Due to their smooth surface, plastic, glass and metal do not provide sufficient adhesion for the glue, and even primer cannot easily be applied. Special and/or dispersion adhesives are sometimes recommended for plastic and metal, but once wallpapered, surfaces of this kind are almost impossible to put back into their original state, and it is particularly tricky and elaborate to remove the special adhesives.
The cleanest option which leaves the least glue residue is double-sided (for glass: transparent) tape which is applied to the 4 edges of the surface to be wallpapered. For larger areas, another strip of sticky tape should be applied to the middle, too. The wallpaper strip is then pressed on from the top via the sides and the middle to the bottom, all the while checking for creases and air bubbles. In order to achieve this, the strip of wallpaper is constantly smoothed out. For glass doors or glass elements on furniture, it's always the inside that is being wallpapered.
Last but not least
There is no such thing as a "one size fits all" solution for the right glue or the best adhesive when it comes to tricky surfaces. Often, the way forward is "learning by doing", and sometimes this approach requires trying out various options.