Have you ever thought how much nicer your walls would look if you couldn't see the cover plates around your switches and outlets? This Instructable will show you how to make them disappear on wallpapered walls.
Step 1: Tools and Materials
Nearly everything you need is something you will already have around the house. You will need a clean work surface, such as a table or countertop. And you will need the following:
- Small flat-bladed screwdriver
- X-acto or other small knife
- Rubber gloves (optional)
- Matching wallpaper (you saved the leftover roll, right?)
- Denatured alcohol, or similar solvent
- Spray adhesive
- 2ft x 2ft or larger square cardboard
You can use a variety of solvents for cleaning the plates. But I recommend denatured alcohol, for a couple of reasons. It evaporates very quickly. It leaves no residue. And it isn't strong enough to hurt the plastic wall plates. You could use paint thinner or mineral spirits. But they take much longer to evaporate. Lacquer thinner and acetone will soften some plastics (and table finishes).
Any spray adhesive will probably work. I've had the best results with 3M brand Super 77. Strong stuff (note clever movie reference).
Step 2: Prepare Your Piece of Wallpaper
This part is pretty straightforward. I'll start with a warning, though.
You will be removing the protective cover plate from a switch or outlet, exposing the live metal electrical connections. Contact with these parts could result in a significant electric shock, which could cause severe injury or even death. If you are not comfortable with this, locate and switch off the circuit breaker (or remove the fuse, if applicable) to the device you are opening. If you can just resist the temptation to stick your fingers in there, you should be fine.
Locate the screws that hold the cover plate on. Use the small screwdriver to remove them. Put the screws somewhere where they won't get lost, dropped in a floor vent, or eaten by a child or pet.
Unroll a portion of your leftover wallpaper, and match the pattern to the wall around the device. Once you have an idea where you need to cut, use the scissors to make an oversize rectangle of paper that covers the opening. Leave plenty of excess paper around the area. It will be trimmed later.
If your wallpaper is like mine, it will want to curl up. Carefully reverse roll it, or drag the front side over a table edge to remove its "memory" so that it generally lays flat.
If what you're covering is relatively flat, like an outlet, you're ready to go. If it is a switch, you will need to carefully cut a small slit in the paper to allow it to slip over the protruding part. Make the slit as small as you can get away with. And, make it neatly without tearing the paper. There isn't much room for error here. If you're covering a coax cable outlet, it's easiest to simply remove the coax bulkhead fitting from the plate first.
Step 3: Apply Glue and Paper
Now the fun begins. Take some of the alcohol and wet a paper towel or clean rag. Use that to wipe off the wall plate until it is squeaky clean. Once it is clean, try to avoid touching the surface with your fingers.
Place the wall plate and your wallpaper rectangle on the cardboard. The wall plate should be face up. The wallpaper should be face down. Spray a medium, even coating of adhesive on both. Allow them to sit for a couple of minutes and "tack".
Carefully pick up the wall plate and place it into position on the wall. If you only touch the edges, you should be able to let go of it without it sticking to your fingers. On outlets and switches, the wall plate should hang there without any screws. Other types might need help, which I'll describe in the last paragraph below.
Now, carefully position the wallpaper scrap over the wall plate, aligning the wallpaper pattern with the surrounding wall. Try not to allow them to touch yet. If they do touch, you can peel them apart if you act quickly. Understand that because of the shape of the plate, a perfect match all the way around the plate is impossible. So get it reasonably close along the top edge and one side. Once you're happy with the alignment, touch the wallpaper and plate together in a few spots to stick them together.
Now you can remove the plate and smooth out the wallpaper on its surface. Do not attempt to conform the paper to the edges yet. You should end up with something like the photo. Note that in this case, I almost cut my paper too small on one side.
If you're covering a wall plate for a telephone or coax receptacle, you'll have a little more to do. Since these are held into the rough-in box with screws, and don't have anything else to align them, you have to use one of the mounting screws to hold it in place. I typically just use the top screw, and avoid pressing the wallpaper against the plate above that screw. Once the wallpaper is aligned, I fold back the paper and remove the screw. Alternately, you could get creative and stick the plate to the wall with double-sided tape or chewing gum. But I don't bother. The screw method guarantees alignment, and doesn't risk damage to the surrounding wallpaper.
Step 4: Trim Paper and Complete Covering
Now you can trim your wallpaper using the scissors. Leave about 3/8 in - 1/2 in of paper on all sides. You should end up with something like the first photo in this step.
To get the paper to conform to the corners, you have to trim it. To do this, visualize a point on the paper about 1/8 in outside the corner of the plate. Use the scissors to cut to the point from each adjacent edge. The cut should be on a slight angle so the resulting cutout is obtuse. See photo. Once the cutout is done, use the scissors to cut a small slit from the inside corner of the cutout toward the corner of the wall plate. Do this for all four corners.
With the wall plate face down on your work surface, roll it up on edge to smooth the paper over. Go a little past 90 degrees to put a crease into the paper and make subsequent folding easier. Once again, do this for all four sides.
Now you can use your fingers to finish folding the paper over on the back side of the plate. Be sure to press down well on the back, as there will only be adhesive on the paper there.
Flip the plate back over, and use the scissors to trim the small bits of paper that will stick up in the corner. You should end up with a perfectly mitered paper layer in each corner. Press down any protruding bits with your fingers. Note that if you are using an "unbreakable" plate, you probably won't get all of the wrinkles out. But do the best you can. Note my comments about unbreakable plates at the end of this instructable.
Using the knife, trim out any openings in the wall plate as shown. Run the knife along the outer edge of the opening, using the knife and plate like a pair of scissors to cut the paper using a shearing action. Go slowly and carefully here, so you don't rip the paper. The sharper the knife, the better. Don't use much pressure, or you may cut the plate or yourself.
Lastly, make two small slits in each screw hole. The easiest way to find them is to use finger pressure to feel for the hole, and press down. That will leave a small circular impression in the paper to show you where to cut. Don't bother trying to cut out a tiny circle of paper. The screw will hide the paper there.
Step 5: Finishing Up and Final Thoughts
Now all that's left is to replace the wall plate and enjoy your handiwork. I have a few more thoughts to add.
You can purchase replacement screws for these that come pre-painted in several colors (white, ivory, brown and black are common). If your existing plates are not colored similarly to the wallpaper you are using, you may be able to get a better match. By the way, should you need to know, outlets and switches use #6-32 x 1/2 long slotted oval head screws. Telephone and other plates use longer screws of varying lengths.
Or, you can use some acrylic paint and a small artist brush to paint them to match exactly. I suggest if you do this, you go ahead and install the screw first, and back it out a couple of turns before painting. I've found that the less you handle the screws after painting, the better they look. This lets you paint them without handling them, and without getting paint on the surrounding paper.
It seems that the home improvement stores no longer want to carry traditional wall plates, preferring to sell the "unbreakable" variety. I personally don't like them, because they are too glossy. And in this instance, I really don't like them because they aren't flat enough. Traditional wall plates are flat all the way out to the edges, where they have a small radius. Unbreakable ones have a slight domed shape, which makes getting a good, wrinkle-free covering nearly impossible. The second photo above shows what I am talking about. Those wrinkles in the corners result from trying to get a flat piece of paper to conform to a three-dimensional, compound curve. If you shop around, you can still get the older style plates for common items. But I haven't been able to find them for telephone jacks or coax cable outlets. For cable outlets, I get a blank plate and drill a 3/8 hole in the center. I haven't found a solution for telephone jacks yet. I guess these are going away anyway. So maybe you just want to use blank plates to cover them up, lol.
If you don't have any matching wallpaper, or if your wall is covered with something else, like tile, you can often find a coordinating printed shelf paper to use. This goes on the same way, except you don't have to use any spray adhesive. However, don't buy the really cheap stuff. It tends to not stick very well, and rips quite easily.
Well, that's it. I hope you've enjoyed this instructable. It's my first. So go easy on me with the comments.