How to Clean Painted Walls
Scuffs, marks, and stains on your walls can make even the cleanest room look shabby. The good news is that you don’t have to go out and buy a special cleaner or any tools for this job. Here’s how to clean painted walls easily.
Reviews by This Old House Reviews Team 07/22/2022 12:00 am
Your home’s floors obviously need regular cleaning, but what about your walls? Although painted walls don’t accumulate dirt the same way that floors do, they will start to gather dust, grime, and stains over time, particularly in high-traffic areas. Plan to clean your painted walls about once a year, doing so gently so as not to damage the finish of the paint.
Wall cleaning is just one part of keeping your home tidy, and it’s a big job. If you need help, consider calling a professional service like The Cleaning Authority. This nationwide company knows the best way to clean walls and other surfaces, and you can easily get a free estimate on its website.
However, if you’d prefer to do it yourself, here’s how to clean painted walls.
Prepare to Clean
Before you start soaping up sponges, make sure to get your home ready for this process. For starters, dust the walls you’ll be cleaning to remove any surface-level dirt. You can do this with a dusting cloth, a vacuum cleaner with a dust brush attachment, or a rag around a clean mop head. To get into corners or around baseboards and molding, a foam craft brush is great for detail work. Also, put down a drop cloth or tarp against the walls you plan to clean. Although you don’t want to use enough water that it actually runs down the walls, there are always drips and spills with any cleaning project, so protect your floors.
Pick Your Cleaning Solution
Which cleaner you use will depend on the type of paint on your walls. Matte, flat, eggshell, or stain finishes are slightly more delicate and need a very mild cleaning solution. Use a small amount of dye-free hand soap or dishwashing detergent dissolved in warm water. Glossy and semi-glossy finishes are a bit hardier, and you can use cleaners with a degreasing agent, including stronger types of dish soap. You can also use most non-abrasive multipurpose cleaners on this type of paint or make your own by mixing one teaspoon of liquid dish soap and ¼ teaspoon of white vinegar into one quart of water. This cleaner should work on most latex paints. Finally, oil-based paints can take a slightly stronger cleanser. Use the same mixture from above or substitute a small amount of ammonia for the vinegar. You can consider adding an ounce of borax for every pint of water, as well. If you have any doubts about how well your wall’s paint will stand up to these cleansers, test a small, inconspicuous area first.
It’s a good idea to have two buckets and two sponges on hand: one for the cleaning solution and one for plain water to rinse. Use non-abrasive sponges (that is, the smooth side—not the scrubby side) and wring out the sponge so that it’s only mildly damp before touching it to the wall. Too much water can create bubbling or watermarks. Start at the top of the wall and work downward in small sections, rinsing each area after you’ve cleaned it. Scrub gently, applying very little pressure and working in circular motions. Glossy and semi-glossy finishes are prone to scratching, so be particularly careful on those surfaces. Give extra care to areas around light switches or door frames. Also, be careful not to let any water drip into electrical outlets, wall jacks, or light switches.
Spot Treat for Stains
Walls can accumulate stains over time, so if you encounter any streaks or marks that a mild cleaning solution can’t seem to remove, don’t panic. You can make a paste out of baking soda and water and apply it to the stain. Give it a few minutes to set, and then wipe it away. Be careful not to scrub the mixture too hard, though, because baking soda can be abrasive. A little bit of hydrogen peroxide can take care of red wine stains, and rubbing alcohol is worth a try. Always try gentler methods before working your way up to harsher cleansers. Cleaning products like stain removal pens and magic erasers can also help out. No matter what cleaner you use, make sure to wipe any residue away with a damp sponge afterward.
Dry the Walls
Since your sponge should be merely damp, there shouldn’t be much water left on the walls after rinsing, but you may want to hand-dry your wall with a towel anyway. If you removed any hanging pictures or other items from the wall, make sure it has thoroughly dried before replacing them. You might want to wait to clean your walls until the weather is warm and dry so you can open your windows to speed the process up. For help or advice on how to clean walls, The Cleaning Authority offers its services in 45 states across the country, including all but Alaska, Hawaii, Montana, West Virginia, and Wyoming. Get a free estimate from the company today.
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Are you preparing for your next painting project? Before you start, you need to go through a mental checklist and ensure you have everything you need. Paintbrush? Check. Drop cloths? Check. Painter’s tape? Got it. But what about clean walls?
All sorts of things can build up on your walls, including:
- Smoke residue
- Food stains
Cleaning is an essential part of surface preparation; if you skip this step, your walls will end up looking uneven, and the paint won’t adhere to them properly.
We know it’s tempting to go ahead and start painting. After all, cleaning isn’t most people’s favorite thing to do, and you’ve already got a lot of work ahead of you. But cleaning the walls will make a big difference in the quality of your paint job. Here’s the best way to do it:
Assembling Your Supplies & Setting Up
What should you use to clean your walls? Before you get started, make sure you have the following:
Cleaning tools. To wash the walls, you can use a soft, large sponge. Or, use the head of a mop. You can also use a basic washcloth. To reach the highest sections of your wall, you might also need a step stool or ladder.
Cleaning products. For removing most stains, mild soap and hot water will do the trick. If you use harsh chemicals, it may damage the walls. Depending on what type of stain you’re removing, different cleaning solutions will work best, but we’ll get into that later.
Prepare the area. Next, you need to clear the space around your walls. If you’re painting a room with a lot of furniture, try to move the items away from your walls; this makes it easier to clean them. It also prevents any cleaning solution from dripping onto the furniture.
Is the room too cluttered to clean? Use a guide to junk removal to help cut back on clutter. This step will take additional time, but it will make the cleaning and painting processes much easier.
Get Rid of Mold & Mildew
Mold thrives in humid places. You might find it in your kitchen, or the bathroom near the shower. In rooms with higher humidity levels, you’ll need to get rid of mold before you start painting.
First, gather some protective equipment. If you are exposed to mold spores, it may cause respiratory congestion, itchy eyes, and skin irritation. Wear a protective mask, goggles, and gloves whenever you’re cleaning mold.
To remove mold completely, you’ll need to use a specific cleaning solution—one that’s designed to tackle bacteria and mildew. You can mix a bleach solution but be sure to do so in a well-ventilated area. Do not mix bleach with other cleaning products, such as vinegar or baking soda.
Wipe Away Dust
We know that dust builds up on our furniture, tables, and electronics. But what about our walls?
We recommend using a dry microfiber cloth to do the job. But if you don’t have one, you can use a vacuum with a brush extension.
Make sure to get into the farthest corners of the walls and ceiling, which may have cobwebs. Once you’ve removed all the dust, you can wash the walls using a wet cloth and soap.
Are you planning to sand your walls? By using sandpaper, you can ensure that the surface will be smooth and seamless. You can expect to create a lot of drywall dust during this process. Once you’re finished sanding the walls, make sure to dust them.
Indoor smoke creates a stale, musky odor. It can build up from smoking indoors or from fire damage. To get rid of it, you’ll need to use something stronger than soap and water.
If you apply paint over smoke residue, the odor will still come through. You need to target the residue directly to get rid of the smell. For that, you’ll need to mix a solution of hot water and vinegar.
Vinegar is acidic, which means it can break down nicotine stains. Create a cleaning solution with one part vinegar and one part hot water. You can adjust the ratio depending on how strong the smoke smell is. Make sure to wear gloves while you’re cleaning to protect your hands.
Don’t like the smell of vinegar? Try mixing in some essential oils to dilute it. Or, once you’ve finished washing with vinegar, go over the walls again with plain water and soap.
Washing Food Stains
Take a closer look at your walls, and you’ll see oil smears, crumbs, and food stains. To clean kitchen walls, you’ll need something that can tackle grease.
The owner of Pinnacle Painting writes, “Oil and water don’t mix. If you try to apply a water-based paint over an oily wall, the paint will have trouble adhering to the surface.”
Use a soap that’s designed to remove oil (like dish soap). Then, lather up your sponge in a bucket of soap and hot water. Wring it out gently and begin to scrub the walls. Be sure to apply more pressure to spots with grease.
Once you’re done, you may want to go over the walls with water, just to remove any remaining soap residue.
Let Them Dry
Now that your walls are spotless, you’re eager to start painting. But first, it’s important to let the walls dry completely—otherwise, all that cleaning will have been for nothing. Any remaining moisture on the walls will make the paint look bumpy. It can also cause mold growth.
If you want the walls to dry quickly, you can go over them with a dry towel. Open any windows in the room to improve ventilation.
Even if you choose to work with a professional painter, they might not wash the walls before painting them. After all, they showed up to paint, not to clean! Be prepared to do the work yourself (or hire a house cleaner to do it for you).
House cleaning can be an overwhelming task. It’s hard to find the time to clean when you’re balancing all your other responsibilities. With Anita’s Housekeeping, it’s easy to find a qualified cleaner to help you out. Make your painting preparation a breeze, and request an online booking today.
How to Clean White Walls in 6 Easy Steps
Ashley Abramson is a home décor and cleaning expert for MyDomaine with more than ten years of experience creating lifestyle content. She is based in Milwaukee, WI.
Updated on Sep 19, 2022
If you’re hoping for a modern-yet-timeless feel in any room of your home, consider painting your walls white. For one thing, white walls immediately make a space feel bigger and brighter. Plus, with a blank canvas to build on, you can incorporate just about any style (or color) of furniture and decor into your space. As Instagram-worthy as fresh white walls may be, take warning—they require their fair share of maintenance.
As with anything light-colored, over time, your white walls will put dirt and signs of wear and tear. But with the right strategies, you can keep your white walls clean using a few simple things like dish soap, a duster, and a non-abrasive sponge. Here’s how to clean white walls effectively, step by step, according to experts.
Meet the Expert
- Paige NeJame is the owner of the Boston-based interior painting company CertaPro.
- Alex Varela is the general manager of Dallas Maids, a professional home-cleaning service in Texas.
How Often Should You Clean White Walls?
According to NeJame, white walls typically require a thorough cleaning about every six months or so—that’s when they typically start accumulating noticeable dirt and debris. If you have kids or animals who sully your space, you may want to clean your white walls more frequently. Still, NeJame says, most homeowners may not clean their walls as often as you would think.
«Wall cleaning used to be something that every good homeowner or cleaning service tackled twice a year, and now it’s something that is not done nearly as often as it should be,» she says, adding that if you use a cleaning service, they will likely charge you a surcharge to clean the walls.
Common signs of white walls in need of cleaning include:
- Visible dust on walls
- Scuffs on walls
- Dirt on walls
- Spiderwebs in the corners where the walls meet the ceiling
Of course, you don’t have to wait for a bi-annual clean or for any of these signs to pop up. NeJame recommends using your judgment on when it’s time to freshen up your walls.
Things You’ll Need
To effectively clean your white walls, you’ll need a few tools:
- A duster or your vacuum’s dust-brush attachment
- Dry mop (optional)
- Microfiber cloth (optional)
- Magic Eraser (optional)
- Non-abrasive sponge
- Mild liquid dish soap
- Warm water
How to Clean White Walls
It likely took some time for your white walls to get dirty, so it’ll take a bit of time to amply clean them. Fortunately, you won’t need any fancy tools or cleaners to get the job done. Here’s how to clean white walls, one step at a time, according to the pros.
Step 1: Start With a Blank Slate
Before you actually start cleaning, ensure you’re starting with a blank slate. Remove anything that might be hanging on the wall and set it aside. (Now’s a great time to dust those off, if you want to go the extra mile.)
Step 2: Dust From Top to Bottom
Dirt isn’t the only enemy when you’re restoring your white walls to their once-bright state. Prior to washing, thoroughly dust your walls from the ceiling downward. You can use any type of duster, even a microfiber cloth—but NeJame suggests using your vacuum’s dust-brush attachment for a deeper clean. If you don’t have a duster attachment, try a dry-mop head wrapped with a soft, clean cloth.
With your chosen tool, dust from top to bottom, being careful not to scratch the wall with the rigid parts of the mop or vacuum.
Liquids and flat wall finishes aren’t a good match, according to Varela. If you have flat painted walls, Varela recommends sticking with dry cleaning methods.
Step 3: Create Your Cleaning Solution
Now, for the fun part: Grab a bucket and fill it with a gallon of warm (not hot) water. Then, NeJame recommends adding a squirt of gentle dish soap. You won’t need as much as you think.» «Less soap is actually better because it’ll help you rinse the soap thoroughly after you finish,» she says. «Soapy residue left on a wall ends up attracting dirt later on.»
Step 4: Spot Test
So you don’t accidentally damage your walls or paint job, test an inconspicuous and small area of your wall with your soap solution. Try washing a section of walls that’s normally hidden behind your couch or a painting; NeJame says you want to make sure your soap and water solution won’t do damage to the pigment or sheen of the paint.
Varela recommends waiting a few hours after testing so you can tell if the paint has been damaged. Flat and eggshell paint are particularly prone to staining and discoloration, he says.
Step 5: Clean The Walls
Soak a cloth or sponge in the liquid, and wring it out well so it’s damp but not soaking, which will prevent watermarks and paint bubbling. Then, wash your walls gently in sections, using circular motions. Because water will drip as you clean, it’s best to start at the top of the wall and clean your way down.
Step 6: Do Detail Work
After you thoroughly clean your actual walls, you can also use your sponge to clean your baseboards and trim, too. If you can still see marks or dirt on any area of your wall, this is where melamine foam (also known as a Magic Eraser) come in handy. Simply wet the foam, squeeze out excess water, and gently rub on affected areas. Don’t go overboard, since the foam’s abrasiveness could damage your wall’s finish.
When Should I Paint Over The Walls?
It’s not necessarily the most convenient route, but if you desperately need a refresh, you can always paint over them. Here are a few telltale signs it may be time for a new paint job, according to NeJame:
- Scuffs aren’t coming out
- The paint sheen is damaged
- The walls have water or smoke stains
Keep in mind that it’s tough to paint over «just the dirty spots» on a wall because fresh paint will appear a different color than older, faded paint jobs. But you may be able to get away with it. «Usually if the paint is newly painted in the past 2 years and you get a scuff on it, you can likely touch up with the paint you have left over,» NeJame says.
When Should I Hire Professional Cleaners?
One sign that you may need professional cleaners’ assistance is brown drippings on your wall that won’t disappear no matter how much or thoroughly you clean. Varela says these stains are often due to nicotine residue, which may have occurred in your home due to the previous owners. «If this is the case, you should contact professionals to remove that,» he says.