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What is the Best Way to Clean Painted Walls?

Supplies for cleaning painted walls.
Some disinfecting wipes are safe to use on painted walls.
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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 04 July 2014
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Dirty painted walls pose a housecleaning challenge. Not all paints stand up to rigorous cleaning, and if people are too hard on paints with certain types of finishes, they may end scrubbing off paint. On the other hand, not cleaning regularly can mean walls stay dirty or look dingy even after they’ve been cleaned.

The first tip on cleaning painted walls is to clean often. Don’t let fingerprints, smudges, or marks amass for long periods of time. Too much accumulating dirt may eventually be impossible to take off, and people may end up having to repaint instead of clean.

Second, look to the paint finish on the wall. If the paint is an oil-based enamel, as might be present in bathrooms and kitchens, use a soft sponge and a mild detergent cleaner. Follow the same guidelines for latex enamels, but be sure to only keep walls wet for about a minute at most. The order of easiest to clean finishes is glosses, semi-glosses and satins.

Most people will be fairly successful removing dirt from enamel paints, but flat paints create significant problems. It can be very easy to destroy the paint with even light cleaning. Observe the one-minute rule and don’t scrub hard. Use soft sponges, or old nylons, and a mild cleaning solution. Avoid harsh chemicals and stick to things like simple dish detergent.

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Depending on the type of paint, it can be difficult to get painted walls fully clean, and some marks like crayon or black marks don’t come off easily. One thing many people have found useful is products like the Mr. Clean® Magic Eraser. This does tend to do an excellent job taking off marks, and it may also be more successful in cleaning painted walls with flat finish paints. It tends not to remove paint and only requires light scrubbing. Furthermore, it keeps walls from getting too wet while cleaning them.

If painted walls have not been cleaned in a long time, it may be very hard to get them fully clean. A few alternatives at this point are trying with more abrasive scrubbers. If the wall already looks bad and needs a paint job, there isn’t much to “ruin” in its appearance. Avoid this method if the paint is very old and might contain lead.

Alternately, a quick whitewash or repaint can help refresh the wall and make everything look clean and fresh. When there is a lot of traffic through your home, such as many little hands creating fingerprints, choose to repaint with easier to clean paints. Also vow to perform wall cleanings once every few months so that painted walls remain clean.

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Discuss this Article

anon940883
Post 11

Our bathroom walls have never been cleaned before. You can see the "drip" marks from the steam where the dust and grime settled in. The walls have a semi-gloss paint on them. How can I clean the grime off without "smudging" or ruining the paint?

feasting
Post 10

I have a friend who used spray paint on her walls. Instead of washing dirty spots off, she simply sprays the area with more paint. I think that's extreme laziness, but she claims it's being creative!

shell4life
Post 9

I have never bothered to learn how to wash painted walls on a grand scale, because I wipe off any spots or smudges as I see them. Usually, when the spots are fresh, all it takes is a rag moistened with water and a swipe of the wrist to remove them.

I'm a little bit obsessed with keeping the house clean, I'll admit. However, this obsession has kept me from ever having to do a major wall washing.

orangey03
Post 8

@DylanB – Yes, you can. You mix it with a few other ingredients, and you need to have plenty of ventilation in the room while using it, though.

I mix a quarter cup of baking soda, a cup of ammonia, and half a cup of vinegar into a gallon of water. It helps if the water is warm, too.

I just apply it to the wall with a sponge. If you have textured painted walls, you can use pantyhose or socks instead of a sponge, because they are more gentle on the surface.

DylanB
Post 7

Can you wash painted walls with vinegar? My friend is always making her own cleaning supplies at home, and it seems that she uses vinegar to clean just about everything.

anon166208
Post 6

I also tried using s clean sponge mop. Worked great in stair well and on not too dirty walls

anon137410
Post 5

Thank you Amphibious54! My walls after living in my apartment for almost six years look almost like they did when I first moved in. I'm definitely getting back all my security deposit! Thank you!

anon113520
Post 4

foaming bathroom cleaner works great too. just lightly spray on walls and wipe. Leaves a clean fresh scent too.

ValleyFiah
Post 3

@ Fiorite- Goo gone works on the walls in my wood shop. I have a few white doors, and like yours, the doors become covered in smudges. I squeeze some on a fruit and vegetable brush, swirl on the walls, and rinse. The stuff gets most everything off my doors with little effort.

Fiorite
Post 2

@ Amphibious54- I have textured white walls in my condo that attract grime in certain places. The doors in my house also attract grime around the handles and locks. Most of the grime is grease from working on my truck, but now I am getting mystery grime that appears two and a half feet up my walls (My kid loves dirt!).

Soap and water did not work, nor did the magic eraser. I had just about given up, when I decided to spray some Lysol on the walls while cleaning. The Lysol worked 100%, even on set in months old grime. The smell can be nauseating though, so make sure you ventilate.

I just spray it on the walls, let it sit for a minute, and wipe with a thick wet towel. It may bleach colored walls, but it works like magic on my textured walls.

Amphibious54
Post 1

You would be surprised at the wonders of toothpaste. Toothpaste cleans nearly everything, including stains on most walls. I have a toddler and she is very artistic, for lack of a better word. I often find her "signature" on the edge of my banister, and the corners of walls (she thinks she is being sneaky by drawing in inconspicuous places).

When she decides it is art time, I break out the little utility brushes and toothpaste. She helps me wipe the toothpaste on the wall and brush it off with warm water. It works every time.

I find it's easier the more bristles are on the brush, and the firmer the brush is. It works so well, I even use toothpaste and an old toothbrush to clean my white sneakers.

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