Don’t you love plaster walls? When painted and kept in good condition, plaster walls look great and provide a great sound barrier. They’re architecturally significant, especially in older homes.
They just feel right in some homes and structures. My old home has plaster walls that are still in good shape. Nonetheless, they need repair and repainting from time to time, which can challenge even the best of good intentions.
Yes indeed, plaster is a beautiful element when it’s kept n good condition. When it’s not, look out. Removing old plaster can be particularly problematic.
Old plaster tends to crumble at the slightest touch so best to be careful when approaching this home improvement project. Working with plaster can also be intimidating.
If you need to build your confidence, read this guide and think if this is a project you can do yourself. Of course, practice makes perfect when working with plaster walls.
Removing plaster walls
Step 1: First, you will want to prepare yourself. Make sure you have the proper safety gear to wear. That is goggles and a respirator, which is an advanced form of a dust mask. It will protect your lungs from dust particles and other things that might be in the air.
You don’t really know what’s used in your walls until you start breaking them so it’s good to be properly prepared. Some of the dust can be really harmful and irritating.
Then you should wear clothes that cover as much skin as possible. This will protect your skin from the sharp plaster parts that might be falling and wood lathes as well. Ear protection might be good as loud noises will damage your ears.
Hoodies are good here as they will protect your head and dust won’t be getting under your shirt so easily. Removing plaster is dusty work so it’s good to be prepared.
After that, you can prepare the room for plaster removal by putting some protection on the floor like cardboard or plastic so you won’t damage the floor with falling plaster. It’s also easier to clean like this.
Step 2: Now after properly preparing, it’s time for action. To begin with, make a hole in the plaster with your hammer or crowbar. Usually, a heavy hit or two will do, you don’t have to mind it too much as the wood lathe behind it will give in a little and it will make the plaster come off.
As stated, plaster breaks rather easily, so you will have a hole in no time. Behind it, there should be a wood lathe. It is also easy to break and in this guide, we will remove the plaster wall by breaking the wood lathe behind it.
You can also remove the plaster on top of it first, but more about that comes later.
Step 3: Now that you have made a hole in the plaster, it’s time to start breaking the wood lathe behind it, or pry it away from the wall. The wood lathe is what the plaster is adhering to, and it is nailed to the studs.
If you cannot break through it easily, insert a crowbar in between the wood lathe slats and pry one piece away from the wall. This will probably cause a good deal of plaster to fall away with it, and you should be careful when it pops away from the wall.
After you have one section, the rest of the wall will be easy to remove. Use your hands to tear off the wood lathe or use your crowbar by pushing it through the gaps and using leverage to remove the lathe. You should be careful as the plaster might come off in big pieces.
Note: If you only want to remove the plaster don’t break the wood lathe. Just use something sharp and wide to hit between the wood lathe and plaster. Something like a hammer drill might work as well as it can be irritating to get it off if the plaster is sticking hard between wood lathe gaps.
This is why we go total demolition route here, not trying to be civil at all.
Step 4: Now you should remove nails from the studs. If you’re building a new wall with drywall or something else, they will be on the way. It will be easier to continue with the clean studs.
Now it’s time to clean. If you covered the floor in the beginning, this will be easy and done fast. Just shovel the plaster into a bucket and carry it outside. The small parts can be rolled into the plastic when you’re done with the big pieces.
Things worth noticing
Sometimes you might not want to remove all of the plaster. Then you have to limit the damage somehow by making joints to the wall. This way you can remove the wall and be in control of what will and will not come off. You have to be careful not to hit the wood lathe too hard as it might cause the rest of the wall to come off it.
If you can cut the plaster with a saw or angle grinder with a masonry blade first, it will limit the damage even more. Angle grinder will make lots of dust without vacuum so be prepared for that, it’s not the nicest thing indoors.
How to remove plaster walls with wire mesh
I left this to last as it is not much different from removing plaster that is done without wire mesh. Depending on the wood lathe behind it, it might be good to make a hole and start demolishing the wood lathe-like before.
The mesh is attached to the wood lathe and will start coming off as well, it is just more work. Another way is to remove the wire mesh and plaster from the wood lathe. You need to hit the attachment points of the wire mesh to get them off the wood lathe.
I’ve done this with a hammer drill and also with a crowbar and hammer. A big crowbar will work well as you can use more leverage on the wire mesh attachment points. Ideally, you would have tools of multiple sizes.
Not everyone knows how to remove plaster walls as drywall is so popular these days. Just check for lead paint and asbestos first before you begin the project as those are truly harmful and were quite common back in the day.
If these are not present, there is no reason you cannot remove a plaster wall yourself. Sure, it’s dirty work, but it’s also rewarding to know just how capable you are in home improvement.
If you have other kind of walls, here is how to remove plaster from concrete and brick walls. It can be a little bit different process.
Also, think about the money you will save doing it yourself. If it’s a day job it won’t be a small amount. If you’re doing new walls you can check this guide on doing knockdown texture and this one for ceiling medallions.