We select and review products independently. When you purchase through our links we may earn a commission. Learn more.

Spring Cleaning Day 18: Clean Your Living Room Walls and Switches

A living room with a bright turquoise colored wall and stylish furnishings.

We’re continuing our tour of the living room today and as a busy well-lived in space, the walls and wall switches are sure to be a bit dirty.

Want the Spring Cleaning Challenge articles delivered right to your inbox? Sign up for our newsletter here to get cleaning tips and more every morning.

If you have kids, you’re probably more than familiar with how messy walls (and anything else their grubby little hands can touch) get over time. Even if you don’t have children flipping light switches with jelly-coated fingers, though, the walls, light switches (and other high contact areas in your living room) can get a buildup of grime.

Cats, for instance, are rather cleanly pets, but if you get down and look at the edge of your living room door frame, coffee table corner, or other places they like to rub their cheek to groom, you’ll see a little build-up of skin oils. So, let’s take care of all that now.

What You Need

When it comes to cleaning your walls, it’s best to use the least aggressive and least abrasive method you can. Outside of kitchens and bathrooms, wall paint is typically a flat finish (use of semi-gloss and full gloss paint in living spaces is unusual).

Flat paint finishes are much, much, more susceptible to wear if you scrub them aggressively or use a strong cleaner on them—and the change in the finish stands out quite strongly, especially if it happens to be in a spot where the light from your windows or fixtures hits it just right.

With that in mind, you’ll notice that our list of cleaning supplies doesn’t include anything abrasive—including a Magic Eraser (a melamine sponge). Melamine sponges are really handy cleaning tools but they’re micro-abrasives, and if you scrub your wall with them the paint finish will change as if you used very fine-grit sandpaper. The crayon marks might be gone, but so is the surface layer of the paint, too! Here’s what you need to tackle the project with a gentle touch.

A good step stool is invaluable when it comes to cleaning your walls. While you can buy tools, like sponge pads on extension handles, using such tools can be a real hassle and they often drip water everywhere. It’s a lot neater and less of a hassle to just step up the stool and wipe with a cloth.

Rubbermaid 3-Step Stool

It's tall enough to get you up to the ceiling in most rooms, no tip-toe stretching required.

In that same vein, you’ll note that we left a sponge off our list and opted for microfiber cleaning cloths. Again, it helps control drips and encourages you to frequently refresh the cloth (which puts more dirt in the bucket and less dirt smeared across the wall).

How to Clean Your Walls and Switches

Unlike other surfaces we’ve cleaned during the cleaning challenge (like kitchen counters), painted walls are a bit more sensitive to cleaner types and the harshness of the cleaning method. The line between “I’m taking off the dirt” and “I’m stripping the walls to prep for a new paint job” is a thin one, so always err on the side using a gentle touch.

Tip: Before trying a new cleaning solution or cleaning tool on your walls, always test it out on an out-of-the-way spot (or even on an area of the wall concealed by a piece of furniture) first.

Before we dive in, do note that you can always try using just warm water on your walls if you want to play it extra safe. The cleaning texture of the microfiber cloth plus the warm water is often sufficient to clean the surface—especially if you don’t have kids or pets making a mess of things. We’ll assume you’d like a little more cleaning oomph and include cleaners in the steps below, however.

  1. Fill your bucket with warm water. Add a few drops of dish soap and a quarter cup of white vinegar to each gallon.
  2. Choose a starting point, such as the upper-left corner farthest from the door, and work down the wall in sections moving clockwise around the room like you’re hanging wallpaper sheets.
  3. Wring out and rinse your cloth every few square feet to ensure you’re not just spreading dirt around and swap out your microfiber cloth with a new one as it gets dingy.
  4. Refresh the cleaning solution in the bucket if it gets cloudy.
  5. When you reach a dirty wall switch, wrap a well-wrung-out microfiber cloth over your gloved finger and use it to scrub at any grime or marks on the plate. You want the cloth just damp enough to soften the grime and remove it. If the light cleaning solution we mixed isn’t cutting it, lightly spray some degreaser such as Krud Kutter on your cloth and rub the area again. Never spray or directly apply cleaning fluid to your wall switches for obvious safety reasons and set the microfiber cloth with the degreaser aside to use on other switches but avoid using the degreaser on the walls.
  6. When cleaning specific messes on the walls (such as crayon marks or an accumulation of skin oil from a pet rubbing against a surface), frequently rinse your cleaning cloth and gently feather the cleaning motion out and away from the area where you are scrubbing more firmly to remove the marks. This will ensure, if there is any sort of unexpected change in the finish of the paint, that there isn’t a stark contrast between the small area you cleaned more intensely and the areas further out along the wall.
  7. If it is a warm breezy day out, open your windows to let natural air currents dry any surface moisture off the walls. If natural airflow isn’t an option, turn on a ceiling fan or place a fan in the room to create air movement.

That’s it! As long as you don’t soak your cleaning cloth and leave big watery streaks down your walls or scrub so hard you end up buffing the finish off the paint (or the paint right off the drywall!) it’s quite difficult to mess up cleaning your walls.

We’re halfway through the living room and almost done with our Spring Cleaning Challenge! As always, you can follow along on our Spring Cleaning Challenge landing page or get the lessons, along with all our other great content, delivered right to your inbox!

Jason Fitzpatrick Jason Fitzpatrick
Jason Fitzpatrick is the Editor in Chief of LifeSavvy. He has over a decade of experience in publishing and has authored thousands of articles at LifeSavvy, Review Geek, How-To Geek, and Lifehacker. Read Full Bio »
LifeSavvy is focused on a single goal: helping you make the most informed purchases possible. Want to know more?