Conventional wisdom states that we should never sleep in a room that has just been painted, but the same also applies to wallpaper. Like paint, wallpaper paste and PVC-coated wallpapers contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs).
VOCs are released as fumes, especially in a hot room, as they have a low boiling point and turn to gas. If you sleep in a room that has just been wallpapered, you’ll breathe in these harmful substances.
Wait at least 24 hours before sleeping in a room that has been wallpapered. If you have compromised immunity, including respiratory concerns, wait for 3 days, as 72 hours will be enough time for VOCs to evaporate in a well-ventilated room.
If you have trouble breathing in a wallpapered bedroom or experience dizziness, nausea, or eye irritation, leave the room and wait for the wallpaper to dry before re-entering.
Can You Sleep in a Freshly Wallpapered Room?
You shouldn’t spend any prolonged time in a freshly wallpapered room, least of all to sleep.
As discussed, wallpaper and wallpaper paste contain harmful chemicals, which is why professional decorators wear face shields while they work.
After wallpapering a room, ventilate it and move elsewhere in the home.
Under no circumstances should you sleep in a room wallpapered less than 24 hours ago. Breathing in VOCs is always harmful but especially while sleeping.
While at rest, you breathe air more deeply than during waking hours. Moreover, your body is attempting to heal and repair, which is hard to do while combatting the effects of unwelcome chemicals.
Why Does New Wallpaper Smell?
A question that is just as relevant as “can you sleep in a room after wallpapering?” is “will I want to sleep in a room after wallpapering.” When you apply wallpaper to a wall, it releases an unappealing scent.
Both wallpaper itself – especially if constricted from PVC, commonly known as vinyl – and wallpaper paste can release a pungent smell. These aromas come from VOCs, providing another reason to avoid sleeping in a freshly wallpapered room.
Masking the Smell of Wallpaper
While it’s best to avoid sleeping in a room that has just been wallpapered, you may not be able to stay out of the area entirely. Many bedrooms contain closets and other essential home components, making regular access compulsory.
Take the following steps to avoid subjecting yourself to the scent of wallpaper paste:
- Ventilate the room by opening windows if this is an option.
- Consider redistributing air with a tower fan.
- Fill a small dish or saucer with vinegar and place this in the room, as this will absorb the aroma.
- Light scented candles or incense sticks if you can be sure they won’t create a fire hazard.
- Sprinkle baking soda on soft furnishings, hoovering this up after a couple of hours.
If you have purchased plastic– or vinyl–coated wallpaper, you may wish to clean this up to prevent any foul smells. Half-fill a spray bottle with water and fill the rest with vinegar; spray this on the walls, sponge it off and pat dry.
Above all, be patient. The aroma of wallpaper paste is distinct, but it’ll be temporary. Ensure you have somewhere else comfortable to sleep for a few days if the scent lingers, but it’ll pass eventually.
Are Wallpaper Fumes Toxic?
The fumes wallpaper and its paste release contain VOCs, which are invariably toxic to varying degrees, and some are even carcinogenic. The most common wallpaper and paste VOCs are toluene, formaldehyde, and xylene.
Not everybody will be impacted by the toxins in wallpaper and wallpaper paste, especially if you avoid sleeping in the room after applying the decorative touches. Pregnant women, people with compromised immunity, and asthmatics are most at risk. The impacts of VOCs can include:
- Shortness of breath.
- Dry and irritated eyes.
- Organ damage.
The International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health links PVC-heavy wallpaper and paste that contains multiple VOCs with atopic dermatitis. If you’re worried about the fumes released from wallpaper, minimize risk through the following approaches:
- Only purchase wallpaper marked with Greenguard certification, which means lower VOCs by default.
- Purchase decorative wallpaper created with water-based ink rather than solvents.
- Avoid wallpaper coated with vinyl or PVC, as these contain VOCs that Greenguard doesn’t assess.
It’s almost impossible to avoid all potential hazards with wallpaper, so some risk management will always be necessary. Don’t sleep in it immediately, no matter how you wallpaper a room.
How Long Does it Take Wallpaper to Dry?
Wallpaper can dry as quickly as two days after application, or it may take a week or two. You don’t need to wait for the wallpaper to be completely dry before sleeping in the room. Just allow the VOCs to dissipate and make it easier to breathe freely.
Many factors influence how long it takes for wallpaper to dry, including the wallpaper and paste you use, the condition of your walls and the humidity levels of your bedroom. A well-ventilated room will dry faster than a tightly-closed space.
Don’t close all the doors and turn up the central heating in a freshly wallpapered room. This will trap the VOCs within, and due to their low boiling point, VOCs will turn to gas in a hot room.
Let the walls breathe, and take your time before re-entering the room.
Alternatives to Traditional Wallpaper Paste
As wallpaper paste smells bad and is potentially toxic, you may be keen to avoid using it. You can make your own if you don’t want to purchase wallpaper paste from a DIY store.
You’ll need the following ingredients:
- Wheat flour
- Alum powder
Alum powder is a chemical compound made from potassium and aluminum. You can find it in some pharmacies, as it’s sometimes used as a natural alternative to deodorant.
Take your ingredients and pour one-and-a-half cups of wheat flour and half a cup of flour into a bowl. Pour in a cup of water and stir to ensure no lumps form. Pour into a saucepan and add two more cups of water, then heat until the paste boils, stirring all the while.
Once the mixture starts to firm up, remove it from the heat and stir in the alum powder. After this, transfer the paste to a container and use it as soon as possible. Be aware that homemade wallpaper paste may not be as effective as a store-bought alternative.
Another alternative is to purchase self-adhesive wallpaper that doesn’t need paste to stay in place. These wallpapers may still contain VOCs, so check the ingredients carefully. According to Indoor and Built Environment, toluene is often found in self-adhesive wallpaper.
Is Wallpaper or Paint Better for a Bedroom?
Just as sleeping in a room straight after wallpapering is inadvisable, you’ll also need to give the paint time to dry. Depending on your brand, the paint may need even longer to dry before a bedroom is safe.
If you apply paint that contains a substantial number of VOCs, it could be as long as two weeks before it’s safe to sleep in the room. Open as many windows as possible and consider getting an air purifier.
Beyond safety concerns, wallpaper vs. paint on a bedroom wall comes down to durability. Paint will chip and flake over time, but wallpaper can peel if poorly applied. Damp-proof paint is more sustainable than wallpaper if your bedroom is prone to high moisture.
If you have wallpapered your bedroom, wait at least 24 hours before sleeping in it. If you have a compromised respiratory system or are pregnant, wait longer to be on the safe side. Allow all fumes from wallpaper paste to dissipate rather than taking any risks.