Paint or Wallpaper?

Certainly the choice of paint or wallpaper for new or redecorated walls comes up frequently. Here are some considerations to help you make a choice.

Allergies and Sensitivities

For those who are sensitive, be aware of the new choices in paint and wallpaper. Paint is available with low or no Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) and in non-toxic form. The “Green Seal” signals you that the paint has low VOCs. Vinyl wallpapers are also a source of VOCs, as do the adhesives in pre-pasted wallpaper. Unseen mold growing behind wallpaper can also cause health problems. Non-toxic wallpaper adhesive is available, and it is possible to buy wallpaper that is not pre-pasted.

Kid and Pet Friendly

One of the big considerations in choosing your wall decorating technique is whether cleaning is going to be an issue. In an adults-only home, you may feel fairly confident about making a choice base purely on aesthetics. But in a home with children and/or pets, practical issues may play a more important role.

home institute 1 Pets may choose to sleep leaning against the wall, and even the cleanest pet will eventually leave a mark over time. With children there are several possible issues:

• running a hand along the wall, for fun, or for balance when walking on stairs;

• missing the light switch and touching the wall beside;

• drawing on the wall (it happens);

• throwing a ball against the wall;

• simply bumping oneself or things one is moving around the house (chairs and other furniture, for example) into the wall.

In all these cases, you may want to choose a so-called vinyl wallpaper, an alternative wallcovering that isn’t paper, or "scrubbable" paint. Wallpaper that is actually paper is more easily damaged and more difficult to clean or repair.

If you really want wallpaper, consider the option of covering the lower wall with, say, beadboard and wallpapering the upper portion of the wall. You may also choose to use wallpaper in rooms that the children spend less time in, whether it is the master bedroom or a home office.


If you’re in a situation of making a purely aesthetic choice, both paint and wallpaper have a lot to offer.

Paint—There are many choices involved in painting that can give you as much variety as you could possibly want.

    • Thousands of colors are available, and you can have custom colors mixed.

    • A number of paint finishes can give your wall just the right look. Consider matte or flat, eggshell, satin, semi-gloss, and high gloss.

    • Two main types of paint are available: water-based latex paint is one type. The other is oil-based alkyd paint. Water based tends to be the easiest to use and clean up after.

    • A variety of faux painting techniques introduce endless possibilities of variations. Some often used techniques include bagging, colorwashing dragging, frottage, ragging, and sponging.

    • Other techniques such as stenciling, color washing, crackling, and aging are also popular.

Wallpaper—There are many choices of wallpaper as well, and the more intricate papers don’t necessarily require extra work on your part.

    • Thousands of patterns are available, allowing you to easily add a décor element, or personalize a space. Florals, stripes, children’s designs, and a wide range of other patterns allow a wide choice. There are even wallpapers available that are meant to look like a faux finish paint treatment.

    • Different types of material including paper, vinyl, fabric, foil, cork, and others are sold in rolls and applied just like wallpaper. Although perhaps technically better called wallcoverings, they are similar enough to stand with wallpaper here as an alternative to paint.

    • In a situation where you don’t really want the wall to show through, wallpaper can help. Suppose the wall is cracked, uneven, or not exactly at a right angle with the floor. Wallpaper can help disguise imperfections that paint may exaggerate.

Written by Mary Elizabeth

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