We get this question often: “If one was to apply clay plaster or clay paint to drywall would it ever be reversible back to conventional paint?” The simple answer is, yes….usually. I say usually because there is one step in the plaster preparation stage that could be problematic in the reversal process if not planned for. But if you think this through, and follow our advice, going back to conventional paint is similar to removing wallpaper, only easier.
The first thing you need to know is that before applying clay plaster or paint to new drywall it must be prepared as though you were painting. You mud and tape and usually sand, then you go ahead and apply either a primer or at least one coat of paint. This seals the drywall and compound so it does not absorb the water in your clay plaster or paint mix, risking possible delamination. It also means that when the clay paint and plaster bonds to the surface, it is bonding to the impervious paint/primer and not right to the drywall paper/mud, which would create quite a mess if you were to try and reverse things.
But clay plasters cannot simply “hang on” to a smooth painted surface. They need additional adhesion or “tooth” to bond to a smooth painted surface. To get this tooth some people add sand to their primer to make a rough texture. This works very well but would be hard to reverse back to a smooth surface. If you think you might need to reverse because you live in a rental or are concerned about “resale” value of your home (though I’d argue plasters are far sexier than latex paint and should increase the resale value), then you might want to leave the sand out of the primer. American Clay sells a product called Up-&-Easy, which eliminates the need for a sanded primer (it doesn’t eliminate the need for a primer over new construction though). It goes right into the bucket with the plaster and creates a good bond with the smooth painted surface below. Clay paints can simply be applied over top of new or existing painted drywall; no additional surface preparation is needed. With this in mind, let’s now discuss how to remove the clay paint or plaster.
To do this you simply mist the wall using a wallpaper sprayer (or a clean sprayer designed for pesticide application – available at the hardware store), letting the water soak in for a few minutes. For clay plaster you’d use a putty knife to scrape the material off, going back over it with a damp sponge to really clean the surface. For clay paint it’s easiest to use a wet sponge to wipe the material off the wall. Removal is certainly not as fun as the application but it’s easy enough to do…if you have to.