Contact Paper, a Pantry Secret Weapon


Contact paper has long been heralded as the flexible superstar of home decorators on a budget. It's cheap, very durable, comes in an array of colors and patterns, and is easy to remove.  It's one of those decorating secret weapons that hide a lot of surface sins.

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Homeowners can quickly expand their decor palette or whip up a quick upgrade to disheveled furniture with the miraculous adhesive-backed paper.  In the kitchen, contact paper has long been a favorite for covering and lining cabinets and pantry shelves. People are even using contact paper on... countertops... and floors! It doesn't stop there, folks are using it to dress up fronts of dishwashers, cover ceiling fan blades, apply to stair risers, create a kitchen backsplash and create custom wall decals.

DIY people are using contact paper to upcycle vintage furniture as well. Here is some inspiration from the Etsy vendor, BrushingUpOnVintage. I don't know if they use contact paper, but the fun details added to vintage kitchen chair stepstools are very cool.

Pantry counter and shelves covered in checkered contact paper.

Pantry counter and shelves covered in checkered contact paper.

Of special mention is the removability factor of contact paper. Contact paper and peel-and-stick wall paper get high marks as a temporary decorating solution for rentors. Because they are easy to remove, the application doesn't affect the terms of most apartment and house leases.

Just for the fun of it, here is a picture of a retro 1970s geometric contact paper used in a stairwell of my house.  This is NOT wallpaper, but it does prove that you can hang contact paper on a wall. The cheerful design has been brightening up this stairwell for decades, a true testimony to the durability of contact paper!

1970s contact paper example

Example of a colorful geometric pattern contact paper from mid-1970s.

Use of contact paper in the kitchen and pantry

Contact paper will adhere to almost any surface. I've seen it transform the shelves of a 3-tier kitchen cart, recover the vinyl covering of a retro chair stepstool, and in the example above, provide an interesting wallpaper treatment. Let's not forget the ever-popular pantry shelf solution.

The crafty possibilities of contact paper are limited only by the ingenuity of the user. However, contact paper is not meant to last forever (although it is amazingly durable). Inevitably, there comes a time for it to be removed - I found myself in such a situation.

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How to remove contact paper

Every shelf in my vintage 1970s pantry was wrapped in faux wood contact paper. It was time for that era to go. Some faint of heart people might have given up on the project and place shelf liners on top. Not me! I would figure out how to remove contact paper from wood shelves.

The answer came quickly: aim a hot blow dryer at a plied up corner of the contact paper while pulling and removing the paper from the wood with the other hand.

I reached for my hair dryer, flipped it to high heat, and aimed it at a curled up corner.  The contact paper peeled off quickly and easily from the old plywood (yes, contact paper does come off easily!).  There was no sticky residue to remove, but I am sure goo-removing products would have made short order of it.

Removing old 1970s contact paper from plywood pantry shelves with a hair dryer,

Removing old 1970s contact paper from plywood pantry shelves with a hair dryer,

Other advantages of using contact paper

To my dismay, I discovered the real reason why the contact paper was used on the pantry shelves.  It was covering up a long ago, spilled liquid wood stain!  I let out a groan.  Any seasoned do-it-yourselfer like me knows this cannot be painted over.  Not even my trusty KILZ could "kill" that brown stain from coming through my paint.

If you want to see how that little problem turned out, visit the link. In hindsight, I see where contact paper was the perfect solution for blocking stains. I could slap the contact paper over the wood, put a layer of primer on it, and then coat with my latex paint color of choice (I wish I had done this had I known the damage lurking below). The next time you have a stain that keeps bleeding through paint, especially a shelf, consider covering it first with contact paper. Most people would probably just start with new materials if shelves are in that bad of condition, it's up to you.

Painting over contact paper

My pantry painting project was a perfect opportunity to test painting over contact paper. Although my goal was to paint directly over the wood shelves, I left one section of the original contact paper to demonstrate painting over paper. My gut was telling me that painting over contact paper was not a good idea. I thought that maybe the contact paper would react to the paint and bubble up from the surface, ruining it.  I honestly thought that I could find no good reason for painting over contact paper (except the exceptionally good reason stated above to block a refinishing stain).

The contact paper I painted over was in pretty good condition, except for a bit of a bubble on one side.  If you choose to paint over contact paper, I recommend gluing all loose pieces of the contact paper down and piercing any "bubbles" with a needle so you can inject school glue to adhere it back to the surface.

Priming contact paper to prepare for painting.

Priming contact paper to prepare for painting.

Contact paper is slippery to paint

It felt very "slippery" to paint the contact-covered shelf, like I was pushing the paint around. The foam roller didn't help with the first application. I took care to lightly sand the contact paper before priming, but it didn't improve things. That is the nature of contact paper, it's designed to be washable and slippery.

I did take proper precautions and applied two coats of primer, sanding with 120 grit paper after each coat (I first washed the contact paper with KRUD CLEANER and lightly sanded before applying primer).  

Since I was trying to stretch my latex paint, I chose to paint over the contact paper with a Rust-olium protective enamel oil-based paint I had. It might not be a fair test if the goal was to view latex paint performance over contact paper.  It does looks great, though! 

I thought the surface would dry sloppy, since there was little control over the paint. In the end, the roller did it's job and applied a perfect, lightly textured surface to the contact paper. All-in-all, the results turned out much better than I thought they would. I should mention that this is a top shelf that doesn't get much use. I don't know if a painted contact paper shelf engaged in daily use would hold up well. Shelf liners placed on top would protect the painted surface if it was a concern.

Other decorative pantry uses for contact paper

I must mention how one blogger creatively used contact paper in the pantry. Danielle at Amber Lane Living modge podged fabric to contact paper and then removed the peelable back and applied it to the back of her pantry shelves.  Effectively, she made her own wallpaper. Danielle's thinking was that if she ever wanted to remove the fabric, it would be easier if it was attached to contact paper first. As we saw from my demonstration, it's pretty easy to remove contact paper. Danielle is one smart gal! FYI, Modge Podge is a glue-type craft product, an all-in-one glue, sealer and finish used to attach paper and fabric to various surfaces. I've never used it, but have to admit I am now intrigued with the possibilities.

Eleven Magnolia Lane proved that updating your pantry doesn't have to cost lots of money. Christy used chalkboard paint, polka dot scrapbook paper, and ribbon to help this organized pantry go from blah to ooh-la-la. Bravo to Christy for making her pantry space functional and cute! 

Contact paper questions

If you're thinking of using contact paper in a kitchen or pantry project, you will run into these list of common questions. For your convenience, I've added the answers here.

Is peel-and-stick wallpaper the same as contact paper?

Contact paper and peel and stick wallpaper are similar – both are decorative paper or vinyl products with adhesive backing and easily removeable. Both have multiple designs and patterns to choose from, but peel-and-stick wallpaper offers more extensive design options. Peel and stick wallpaper is thinner than contact paper (just like regular wallpaper is). Contact paper tends to be installed on horizontal surfaces and surfaces expected to get tough use, like furniture and shelves. Peel-and-stick wallpaper is reserved for vertical surface installs and restricted to decorative use only.

Is contact paper the same as shelf paper?

Contact paper and shelf paper or liners can both be used to cover shelves. Contact paper is thinner than shelf paper, while select shelf liners are thicker and made with vinyl, fabric, or plastic. Some shelf liner are made of thin foam to cushion glassware; contact paper offers no padding. Shelf paper can have an adhesive backing or non-skid back and cut to fit the space you need it in.

Can I substitute contact paper for wall paper?

You can substitute contact paper for wallpaper, but the application is different for each. Traditional wallpaper is applied wet and is "slidable" to allow to position the paper and match up seams; air bubbles are worked out with a wallpaper smoother/straight edge. Contact paper is sticky and will stick to surfaces you didn't intend. To reposition contact paper, you must peel off and reapply. This is also the best strategy to remove air bubbles behind the contact paper.

Do I need to cover my shelves with contact paper or shelf liners?

Both contact paper and shelf liners offer protection from spills, stains, and moisture issues. It is a personal choice to use them, but liners or contact paper can protect and extend the life of pantry shelves and interior cabinet shelves.

In conclusion...

It was so much fun to find innovative ways that other pantry enthusiasts are using contact paper. If you have a success story (or maybe not so successful) drop a line in the comments below!

About the author 

Renee Matt

Renee is a former kitchen designer, home remodeling enthusiast (having lived through several DIY projects), and an Iowa farmwife. Renee is passionate about preparedness, garden skills, and knowing where her food comes from. Years of being a stay-at-home mom and supporting the family farm with hearty meals has been key to Renee's pantry readiness. She uses her professional IT background and expertise to bring the Everything Pantry website to life.

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