Different types of wallpaper, and how to use them

Once considered an outdated décor choice, conjuring up images of garish floral designs or too-bold stripes, wallpaper has recently experienced a much-deserved resurgence in popularity. There's a wallpaper design for virtually every taste and style and the sheer volume of choices means you're guaranteed to find something that suits your needs.

To paste or not to paste? 

some wallpaper, a tray, a paint roller and a paint brush

Before you begin, it's important to know wallpaper generally falls under three application categories, listed here in order of difficulty from easiest to hardest. First, there's self-stick (or peel-and-stick), where you simply peel to expose an adhesive backing and stick it to the wall. Next, there's pre-pasted, in which you wet the paper to activate an adhesive coating. Finally, there's non-pasted (or un-pasted), which means you'll have to apply a separate adhesive paste to the wall before applying the wallpaper. The good news is that the majority of wallpapers come in all three application categories, so you can roll up your sleeves as much or as little as you want to.

Traditional wallpaper

Once the most popular type, traditional wallpaper has been largely replaced with its vinyl and non-woven varieties. Its main component is cellulose, so it's ecological and breathable. Ideal for bedrooms and dining rooms, traditional wallpaper is very affordable, but the colours tend to fade over time and they're not washable.

Application: Non-pasted only. 
Pros: Traditional wallpaper is inexpensive and ecological. 
Cons: It's difficult to install, hard to clean and does not hold up very well over time.

Vinyl and vinyl-coated

a baby in a small tub with a patterned wallpaper background

The days of finicky, delicate paper-only wall coverings are behind us. Vinyl or vinyl-coated wallpaper is durable, water resistant and easy to care for. Wallpapers in this category are either solid sheet (completely vinyl, meaning it's fully scrubbable and peelable), vinyl-coated paper (a vinyl top layer applied to a smooth paper base) or vinyl-coated fabric (a vinyl topcoat applied to a textured fabric backing). Because vinyl is treated with a chemical protectant, it's an excellent choice for high-traffic rooms or high-humidity environments, such as kitchens, bathrooms and playrooms.

Application: Self-stick or pre-pasted are most common, but you can also find the non-pasted variety. 
Pros: Vinyl and vinyl-coated wallpapers are durable, stain-resistant, easy to install and remove. 
Cons: They don't allow the walls to breathe and may give off toxic fumes, so they shouldn't be used in badly ventilated spaces or bedrooms. Their “artificial” look is not to everyone's taste. 

Non-woven wallpaper 

a living room with a tropical leaf wallpaper

Responsible for the latest wallpaper resurgence, non-woven wallpaper is a combination of natural and synthetic fibres, which is why it's most utilized for medium-to-higher-end patterns. They're chemical-free and therefore an ideal choice for individuals with allergies or sensitivities. These panels are both simple to install and easy to remove. Non-woven wallpaper is easily washable and breathable, making it a great choice for virtually any room in your house, especially kitchens, bathrooms and high-traffic areas. If you have chosen a non-woven wallpaper (as opposed to the traditional paper variety), you need a special wallpaper paste. This paste is applied directly to the wall (unlike paper-based wallpapers, which is spread on the back of the wallpaper itself). This also means you don't have to wait to let the paste soak into the paper. Non-woven wallpapers can be removed later dry without leaving any residue.

Application: Self-stick, pre-pasted and non-pasted are all available for non-woven wallpaper. 
Pros: Non-woven wallpaper is eco-friendly, easy to install and remove and stain resistant. It tends to have a higher-end feel than vinyl-treated wallpaper. 
Cons: It's not as durable as vinyl-treated wallpaper. It will also show irregularities and wall imperfections more easily. 

Grasscloth and other natural or textile fibres

Via yorkd on Flickr

Grasscloth wallpaper is an excellent choice if you want to add understated natural texture to a room. It's traditionally made from weaving natural fibres (such as linen, jute, reed and hemp) together in a tight, uniform pattern. Unfortunately, hanging grasscloth can be challenging. The delicate natural fibres and paper backing are fragile and hiding the seams between panels takes an experienced eye (and hand). Grasscloth is best suited to accenting one wall, such as in a living room or bedroom, but can look great all over if you have the budget for it.

Other natural-fibre wallpaper textiles include bamboo, silk, cotton or twine, all of which can be used to beautiful effect. Unfortunately, textile wallpaper of any kind will be cost-prohibitive, difficult to apply and not as durable as other varieties. If you love the look of grasscloth but don't want to deal with the hassle of paste, consider a “faux-grasscloth” made of vinyl, which mimics the textured look with its printed pattern.

Application: Non-pasted only (with special paste). 
Pros: Grasscloth creates an elegant, naturally textured look. 
Cons: It's expensive, difficult to install and susceptible to moisture or stains.

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