The Room-by-Room Guide to Buying Wallpaper

Here’s a guide to wallpaper and the areas for which they are best suited.


Paper-backed vinyl consists of a solid vinyl surface laminated to a paper backing. It is washable and, since the paper backing gives extra strength to the vinyl, very durable—qualities that make it good for high-traffic hallways and such.


Sheet vinyl is vinyl through and through with no paper backing. It’s by far the best choice for kitchens and bathrooms because it is resistant both to moisture and to stains and grease and is easy to clean. The absence of a paper backing makes it a bit fragile, however, and it does not hold up well to a lot of wear and tear.


  • Vinyl-coated paper is essentially paper wallpaper that has been coated with vinyl to make it resistant to dirt, grease, and moisture. You can wash it with a damp sponge. It’s the most common and best all-round wall covering.
  • Coated fabric wall covering is cloth coated with vinyl or acrylic. Because the underlying fabric can absorb moisture, this type of wall covering is best used in low-moisture rooms.
  • Natural fiber wall coverings are made of grass, jute, cork, hemp, sisal, and other natural materials laminated to a paper backing. They can be very decorative and are good at hiding a wall’s imperfections, but they are tricky to hang and to clean.
  • Foil coverings are made by laminating a thin sheet of aluminum foil or a Mylar-like material onto a paper base. They add drama and reflected light to a room, but are very unforgiving of flaws in a wall. If a wall is less than perfect, apply lining paper first.

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Originally Published in Reader's Digest