Father and daughter painting a living room

Wallpaper Vs Paint: Cost, Durability And More

Andrew Dehan6-minute read
September 01, 2021

When redecorating your home, you’re probably interested in giving your walls a new look. This means choosing either paint or wallpaper. Where paint will give you a solid color to build on, wallpaper can really make a room special.

Read on to understand factors to consider when deciding between wallpaper and paint, including the pros and cons of each.

Wallpaper Or Paint: 5 Factors To Consider

If you’re a homeowner or renter, you have a choice between wallpaper and paint when decorating your walls. (Note: if you’re a renter, you may need to clear it with your landlord first, or risk losing your deposit.)

Weigh these five factors before jumping into the decorating project.

1. Cost

Which is cheaper: paint or wallpaper? The answer is paint. Paint is almost always cheaper to buy and apply than wallpaper. The average cost of painting is $1.50 – $3 a square foot. For a 2,000-square-foot house, that’s a range of $3,000 – $6,000. That is, if you pay a professional to do it.

If you DIY, your costs will be considerably less. You’ll need to pay for paint, which is $30 – $60 per gallon. For a 2,000-square-foot house, Pro Paint Corner averages a cost of around $500, which includes paint and supplies like brushes, rollers and caulking for repair work.

Wallpaper is more costly than paint upfront. Rolls of wallpaper run $25 – $50 on average per roll. Installation is pricier too, costing up to $7 per square foot, according to Angi.com. The good news with wallpaper is that you rarely wallpaper a whole house – it may just be a room or two, or an accent wall.

2. Durability

In general, wallpaper is more durable than a painted wall. Where paint can easily chip and peel, wallpaper can take a little more abuse. Paint requires more maintenance to stay looking fresh. Modern vinyl wallpaper can be cleaned with soap and water without fear of damage.

If your wallpaper is damaged, repairing it means replacing the whole sheet, which is much more time-consuming and expensive than touching up with some leftover paint. Still, if kept clean and intact, your wallpaper can last 15 – 20 years. By that time, that same wall will have had to have several coats of paint to stay in good condition.

It should be noted that old-fashioned wallpaper made of actual paper should not be placed in highly humid areas, like bathrooms. High humidity causes wallpaper to bubble up and peel, meaning it will need to be replaced sooner rather than later.

3. Selection

There are a lot of choices when it comes to both paint and wallpaper. If you’ve ever visited a paint shop or paint center in your local hardware store, you’ve seen the vast swatches of paint colors to choose from. From fields of Ireland green to periwinkle blue, there are plenty of options. On top of color, you have finish choices like matte, glossy and semi-gloss.

Wallpaper specializes in patterns. Bright florals, elegant damask prints, fun polka dots – the effect of wallpaper can be chic, formal or subtle. Wallpaper can also come in a variety of textures, from smooth to rugged, or with embossed designs that really stand out.

4. Installation

Painting is easy. Clean the walls, sand any damaged areas, tape off areas you want to protect, put down a drop cloth and start painting. If you’re just painting a bedroom or two, it can be an easy DIY job. You’ll want to consider hiring professionals if the job expands beyond that and you need it done quickly.

Wallpaper, on the other hand, is more time consuming. You’ll need to do all the prep work you did for painting, but you’ll also need to measure and cut all strips to size, leaving a 4-inch overhang. You’ll also need to cut holes to for doors, windows, power outlets and light switches. Then you’ll need to roll on glue to each strip and hang them so the patterns match and you don’t notice the seam.

Peel-and-stick wallpaper is a new option that attempts to make the whole gluing process easier and less messy. Each piece of wallpaper is like a giant sticker. Actual results may vary and you may need to use glue anyway to maintain adhesion.

Hiring a professional to hang wallpaper, while expensive, may be worth every penny if you’re planning on doing more than a room or two. Unsure if you want to pay someone? Try doing a few walls yourself and see how it goes.

The Pros And Cons Of Decorating With Wallpaper

There are many reasons why people love wallpaper. It’s durable and can really make a room special. Here are some of the major reasons to go with wallpaper, as well as cons to weigh if you’re considering it.

The Pros Of Decorating With Wallpaper

  • Easy to clean: Wallpaper is super easy to clean. It doesn’t absorb dirt and grime as much as a painted wall. You can dust it and spot clean it, and if you choose vinyl wallpaper, you can wash it with soap and water.
  • Wide variety of design styles: The biggest draw for wallpaper is its style. Getting these patterns and designs with paint is a much more involved process. Well-placed wallpaper can make your home feel exceptionally special. It can follow any trend or design influence and looks great as an accent wall.
  • Long-lasting value: If you take care of your wallpaper, keeping it clean, free from excess moisture and damage, it can last for decades. If you’re looking for longevity, choose a classic pattern that won’t fall out of fashion in 5 years.

The Cons Of Decorating With Wallpaper

  • Difficult to remove: Depending on the type of wallpaper, removing it can be in a real pain. Newer wallpapers can be peeled off easier than older types. Almost all types require scoring the paper and then either using a steamer or chemicals to loosen the glue used to hang it.
  • Higher cost: Wallpaper has a higher upfront cost than paint. It’s more expensive per square foot, especially for quality, durable wallpaper. Hanging it yourself is a great way to cut costs if you can pull it off.
  • May peel in high-moisture rooms: High-moisture rooms, such as a bathroom or kitchen, can cause wallpaper to peel off. This may take years to occur but can happen eventually.

The Pros And Cons Of Decorating With Paint

Paint is easily the most popular way to decorate a house’s walls. Here’s why paint is so popular, and a couple cons to showcase why wallpaper is still the better option for many.

The Pros Of Decorating With Paint

  • Lower cost: Paint is cheaper to buy and put up than wallpaper. If you’re doing the job yourself, you can save even more.
  • Easy to change: If you decide you don’t like a color, it’s easy to change. Just paint over with a primer and a couple coats. Both renters and homeowners can take advantage of this.
  • Endless colors and shades: If you can think of the color, chances are, it exists in paint form. Countless colors are available with different options for shades and finishes.

The Cons Of Decorating With Paint

  • Frequent maintenance: Paint in high-traffic areas needs to be washed and maintained frequently to keep its fresh look. Dirt can easily accumulate, especially in often-touched areas, like around light switches. Paint can also chip, requiring you to touch up the area.
  • Limited design choices: Unless you’re a skilled painter – or are hiring one – you’re going to be limited to a solid color. Painting patterns or designs like what you can get with wallpaper requires a lot of time and skill.

Paint Vs. Wallpaper: Which Is The Better Choice?

Whether you paint or wallpaper is up to your vision, your budget and your circumstances. If you’re looking for the lowest upfront cost, doing a paint job yourself is your go-to. Then again, if you plan on being in a space for a long time, investing in high-quality wallpaper can really elevate the design of a room.

If you want the best of both worlds, choose wallpaper for one room or an accent wall, and paint the rest of your home. Renters should stick with painting, removable wallpaper or other temporary design ideas.

The Bottom Line: Design For The Long-Term

Both painting and wallpaper can be great for bringing life into your home. If you plan on being there for some time, think about the long-term. Don’t choose flash-in-the-pan decorating trends or too loud or dominant of colors and designs, lest you tire of the choice and change your mind.

Want to explore some ideas to get some inspiration? Explore these popular interior design styles to match your new walls.

Andrew Dehan

Andrew Dehan is a professional writer who writes about real estate and homeownership. He is also a published poet, musician and nature-lover. He lives in metro Detroit with his wife, daughter and dogs.