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How to Clean Your Walls

Woman cleaning walls with a microfiber rag

Whether your walls are looking visibly grungy or you’re just thinking about the topic because it’s that spring-cleaning time of year, there’s a good chance your walls are due for a deep clean. Here’s how to get started, what to clean with, and how to tackle tricky stains.

How Often Should You Clean Your Walls?

The frequency with which you clean your walls is contingent on a wide variety of factors. If you don’t have pets or kids, hardly ever cook at home, and barely ever open your windows then you might not have the same kind of buildup on your walls as people who do those things. Pets rubbing themselves on doorframes, kids smearing their hands on walls, and the accumulation of cooking oils and dust or pollen all take their toll on your walls. You need to adjust your cleaning routine based on the kind of household you have.

Typically, however, if you dust the walls regularly and do a little spot cleaning here and there, you can get away with a deep clean once a year. Or pick one room to tackle at a time, spreading out the cleaning all year long. Practically speaking, places like the kitchen (where cooking oil spatters, and smoke make the walls dirtier faster) and the bathroom (where the constant use and cycling of humidity can make the walls grimy fast) should always be on your short list. Letting the infrequently used guestroom go for a while probably won’t make a difference, but skipping regular cleaning of your bathroom walls will.

Either way, having clean walls will make your home feel cozy and tidy. So it’s worth taking the time to tend to them, just as you would the rest of your house.

Always Consider the Type of Paint Finish

Paying attention to the type of paint finish is important. Some finishes are less durable, and you’ll need to avoid certain cleaners.

Gloss, Semi-Gloss, and Enamel Finish

These are very durable finishes, usually seen in high-use areas such as bathrooms and kitchens. They can handle a full washing, as well as most cleaners and solutions. Avoid using any abrasive cleaning tools, however, (even very fine abrasives like a Magic Eraser) on glossy finishes, however, as the abrasion will ruin the finish. You should avoid abrasives on all walls because of finish considerations, of course, but it’s especially noticeable when you “flatten” the finish on gloss paint.

Flat, Stain, or Eggshell Finish

These types of finishes are a bit more sensitive. Make sure you don’t scrub too vigorously; otherwise, the paint could flake off. Stick to the more gentle cleaners, such as warm water and dish soap. Avoid harsh chemicals, abrasive cleaners, or commercial degreasers.

When in doubt, pick an out of the way spot (somewhere hidden behind a big piece of furniture is ideal) and test things out first before committing to use a particular cleaning solution or tool on the more visible parts of the wall.

Cleaning Solutions: Be as Gentle as Possible

So what should you wash your walls with? We’ll dive into some cleaning tips and tricks in a moment, but let’s start with the basics of selecting a cleaning solution first.

The first thing you should try is plain old warm water. This is the safest option and will often do the trick. If the walls still look grubby, move on to the basic solution we list below. And if the dirt and grime has really built up, then try one of the stronger solutions.

Here are some options you can make at home.

  • Basic Solution: Add four drops of Castile or dish soap to one gallon of warm water.
  • Deep Clean Solution #1: Mix one cup ammonia, ½ cup vinegar, and ¼ cup baking soda to one gallon of warm water.
  • Deep Clean Solution #2: Add 2-3 tablespoons white vinegar to one gallon of warm water.

Always rinse with plain cold water, drying immediately to avoid streaks or water damage.

Tips and Tricks for Easy Cleaning

At the most basic, a bucket with some warm water and a rag will do but here are some handy tips to help make cleaning your walls as painless as possible.

  • Dust first: Remove all dust, dirt, spider webs, and lint before starting your cleaning project. You can attach a brush to your vacuum cleaner, running it over the walls to do a pre-clean. Or you can buy an extendable wall duster for those hard to reach spots. Just make sure whatever you brush you use is soft enough to avoid scraping the walls.
  • Protect your floors: Lay down towels where you’ll be working. Make sure to cover the baseboards. This will protect your floors against any water drips.
  • Use a white sponge: This will help avoid color transfer. Always ring it out thoroughly before applying the solution to the wall. It should be slightly damp, but never soaking wet.
  • Use two buckets: We suggest having two buckets while you work—one for the cleaning solution, and the other for water to rinse. You can also use two sponges, one for each bucket.
  • Dry as you go: Have plenty of towels handy to dry the walls as you work. Don’t wait to finish an entire wall; work in sections, drying each part before moving on. This will avoid water build-up and streaks.
  • Target dirty areas: The areas around light switches and doorknobs tend to build up the most grime as our hands touch the finish frequently. Spend some extra time on these areas.
  • Work from top to bottom: Some experts believe you should clean from top to bottom, others say bottom to top. We believe starting at the top is the way to go—that way if the solution drips it’ll have longer to go, and won’t pool up on the floor.
  • Start with mild solutions: As we emphasized in the previous section, always go with the mildest solution first. If it does the trick, great! If not, move up to stronger solutions, always doing a small test patch to make sure it doesn’t damage your paint.

Make sure you exercise caution around outlets and electrical sources. Don’t let water drip into these areas. If possible, switch off the electricity to these areas while you do your cleaning.

Dealing with Stubborn Stains

If you’re left with a few remaining stains, try mixing baking soda and water until it creates a paste. Rub thoroughly over the stain, leave it on for a minute before wiping with a clean sponge. You can also use a bit of white vinegar or rubbing alcohol directly on the stain.

For crayon marks, use one of the solutions above. After you’ve rinsed and dried the area, rub the stain with an eraser or dab the area with mineral spirits. Wipe clean with warm water.

Consider using a commercial degreaser to clean those annoying grease splatters in the kitchen (make sure to read the instructions as you may need to dilute the product). White vinegar also works for getting rid of grease stains—we recommend filling up a spray bottle diluted with water.

Once you’ve tackled cleaning your walls once, not only will you know how to do it but you’ll be in a better position next time around. Put a reminder on your calendar now, and when you dive into the project again months from now, you’ll likely find the walls are in better shape than they were this time around thanks to your previous hard work.

Jill A. Chafin Jill A. Chafin
Jill A. Chafin is a freelance writer, aerialist, dancer, food enthusiast, outdoor adventurer, and mama, based in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Read Full Bio »
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