How to Clean Dirty Walls Without Damaging Paint

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There’s nothing we love more than a clean house to go home to by the end of a busy, tiring day. And there’s nothing more relaxing than staying at home over the weekend in a house that’s neat and squeaky clean. That’s where the challenge lies: in keeping your place neat and clean so you can enjoy it. From the closet to the kitchen to the walls and floors, it’s important to give your space some love by cleaning it every now and then so that you can enjoy your time at home.

The task to maintain clean floors and walls is perhaps even more challenging if you have kids or a dog or two living with you. You can clean your floors and walls in the morning, but by lunch time or the end of the day, it’s like the cleaning never happened. If you want to maintain cleanliness in your house and keep it sparkling clean (no matter how challenging that sounds), you have to commit to cleaning your house regularly.

As you get started on your cleaning session, we’re going to look at some tips on how you can clean your walls without having to worry about damaging the paint.

Please note: If you’re unsure about this process, it’s always better to leave it to a professional. They are often equipped with tools and chemicals that aren’t available to the public, and are therefore able to safely clean your walls with little to no risk of damage.

1. Determine what kind of paint is on your wall

Knowing what kind of paint is on your wall helps a lot when you clean, as some chemicals, when applied to painted walls, can ruin them instead of help in removing the stain.

Soft yellow sponge
A soft sponge like this should be the #1 choice when cleaning your walls.

Semi-gloss or enamel paints stand up to washing more than other kinds of finishes. These kinds of paints are highly durable and are therefore more often used in rooms that have higher traffic, such as bathrooms and kitchens. If you want to ensure a squeaky clean wall, you may use a mild degreaser, but remember that these walls can still be prone to scratching, so it’s still best to use a soft sponge when cleaning them.

Flag, satin, and eggshell finishes or paints are known as some of the duller paint finishes. They are not as durable as other kinds and may rub off if you use an abrasive brush or even if you scrub too hard. Make sure not to use harsh chemicals and degreasers as they might also ruin the finish.

Tip #1: Always start out by using the mildest technique and cleaning solution possible, to avoid unnecessary use of force and chemicals.

Tip #2: If you’re unsure about what paint is on your walls and you want to carry on doing it yourself, try cleaning a small invisible spot inside a closet or wardrobe, to see if it works or not.

2. Dust your walls

Before you start to clean your walls, vacuum them to get rid of dust so that it cleans easier and you get rid of the possibilities of adding dirt stains as you wash them with water. A stick vacuum cleaner could be used for this, or any type of vacuum with a handheld telescopic wand.

After vacuuming, wipe them down with a cloth-covered broom or mop that has been sprayed with demineralized water (so it doesn’t leave marks), or opt for a dusting agent like Pledge Dust Multi Surface Cleaner Spray for maximum effect. You can also use electrostatic dusting wipes such as the ones included with the Swiffer Sweeper.

3. Lay towels on the floor

After vacuuming your walls and dusting them, get some old towels and lay them along the baseboards.

This will catch any water that happens to drip on the floor. Ideally, you’ll clean your floors after the walls, but with this measure you’ll avoid puddles of water on your floors as you proceed to clean your walls.

4. Clean with water and a cleaning solution

It’s recommended to have two buckets as you clean your walls.

One that has the solution to help clean your walls, and one filled with water to rinse them off.

Use soft sponges or cloths that are non-abrasive so you don’t damage the paint as you scrub away the dirt.

Take extra care also to wring out your cloth or sponge before applying it to your wall. You want a damp sponge/cloth at best, and not one that is dripping wet, as it may leave water running down your walls.

As you begin cleaning your walls, it’s also best to start at the top and then work your way to the bottom of the walls. This way, you won’t have to re-do your clean walls in case the dirty water drips down.

Safety tip: Make sure to avoid areas where electricity flows, such as electrical outlets, light switches, telephone jacks, and the like. It might be a good idea to turn off the electricity at the circuit breaker box first when you have to specifically clean those areas.

Below are instructions based on the paint type:

4a. Latex Paint

When you’re cleaning walls painted with latex paint, use a non-abrasive all-purpose cleaner (such as the Wow All Purpose Cleaner by Griff’s) and some warm water.

With a sponge that has been dipped into water and wrung dry, gently rub the wall, paying special attention to high traffic areas that get touched and rubbed often.

Rinse the wall with a second sponge and clear water. If a wall is more stained, let the mixture sit on the stain for at least 10 minutes before you wipe it off and rinse with clean water.

Tip: You can make your own all-purpose wall cleaner. All you need is the following:

  • 1 teaspoon liquid dish detergent
  • 1 quart of warm water
  • 1/4 teaspoon of white vinegar

Stir the liquid dish detergent into the warm water and then add the white vinegar. If you have a bigger wall, you’ll most likely have to create more batches of this homemade all-purpose wall cleaner.

4b. Oil-Based Paint

When it comes to cleaning walls that have an oil-based paint, use a detergent solution or white vinegar mixture instead of the all-purpose cleaner.

After dipping the sponge or cloth in the water mixed with the solution or vinegar mixture, make sure you wring it thoroughly until it is only slightly damp, and then proceed to clean your wall.

For some texture-painted walls, the finish can become a dust-catcher and might require more thorough cleaning.

You can opt to add 1 ounce of borax (sodium borate) to each pint of water as you clean the wall to ensure that each nook and cranny is properly washed and wiped.

6. Dry the wall thoroughly

Once you are done washing your wall with the solution and giving it a thorough rinsing with water, take a clean, dry cloth and wipe it up.

It’s better to divide the walls into sections, and then dry up each section as soon as you’re done cleaning and rinsing it.

Wiping the baseboards to get them clean
Don’t forget to wipe the baseboards as a last step, after wiping the walls.

You’d want to start from the top again and work your way towards the bottom of the walls, and finish it up by wiping the baseboards too. Water may have collected on top of your baseboards, so make sure you wipe them as well.

Wiping your wall dry will ensure that the wall stays clean, rather than having dust stick again to the partially wet walls while you are waiting for them to dry.

This way, you won’t have a hard time cleaning your walls regularly.

Tips for stubborn stains

In general, if your wall has some stubborn stains that are not easily removed by the tips mentioned above, you can try to create a paste of baking soda and water to rub over the stain.

You will need the following:

  • 1 cup of ammonia
  • 1/2 cup of vinegar
  • 1/4 cup of baking soda
  • 1 gallon of warm water

Mix them all together and place some of it over the stubborn stain for about 10 minutes, before washing and rinsing off completely.

Make sure to test it on a non-visible area first, to make sure it works as intended.

If the above solution fails, here are some other ways you can clean some stubborn stains:

Crayons and Permanent Markers

Kids can be very creative, and once they have a crayon in one hand and see a clean white wall, catastrophe is very likely to happen. It isn’t a big catastrophe though, because it can be removed easily.

When cleaning crayon stains from the wall, one of the most effective solutions is to get an old toothbrush and dip it into undiluted white vinegar and carefully scrub over the stain in circular movements.

Once the stain is removed, you can wipe the wall clean with a damp cloth. There is no need to worry about the smell of the vinegar, as it doesn’t leave any traces once it dries.

Other possible solutions for crayon stains are regular, non-gel toothpaste that you can scrub onto the wall with a toothbrush or an old rag and baking soda, which is a mild abrasive that is equally effective.

Toothpaste and baking soda work great to help you remove permanent marker stains from the wall. Simply apply the toothpaste/baking soda and let it sit for about 5-10 minutes, then scrub at the mark with a cloth in a circular motion. The stain should come off completely.

Other people use rubbing alcohol, hand sanitizer, and even hairspray, but as it is with any of these ideas, make sure you test it on a non-visible area of wall first, so you can be sure that it will not damage the paint.

Tip: You might want to test these methods on a small portion of your wall first, as not all paints and finishes will react favorably to it.

Grease

Once your wall gets a little grease on it, it’s important that you clean it as quickly as possible. The longer the grease is left on a surface, the more difficult it is to remove. Over time, it tends to dry out and stick to the surface.

Some household hacks for cleaning grease off the wall are the following:

  • A mixture of one part white vinegar and one part hot water. Spray the mixture onto the wall and let it sit for several minutes before wiping it up with a clean rag. Repeat until you get the wall clean.
  • A paste of 3 tablespoons of baking soda and 1 cup of warm water. Mix together and rub the stained area with a nylon scrubber until the stain disappears. Wipe it up with a clean, damp rag.
  • A solution of 2 cups of household ammonia and 1 gallon of hot water. Spray the solution onto the wall and use a nylon sponge or brush. Take care and wear gloves, and ensure that you have proper ventilation every time that you use ammonia.

Coffee

There’s nothing to be ashamed of when it comes to coffee stains!

Every family has someone who has accidentally knocked off a cup or mug of coffee.

The trick to remove these stains is to apply a gentle cleanser (such as dish soap or all-purpose cleaner) with a soft bristle brush.

Don’t scrub too hard, but apply pressure very gently, so as not to leave marks on the wall.

Rinse with a damp cloth and then wipe to dry.

Stickers

Just like crayons and permanent markers, stickers somehow find a way to your walls, especially if you have kids at home.

When this happens, there is no need to panic. Try peeling off the sticker gently from one corner and work your way around the sticker if it doesn’t easily come off.

If there is still some sticker residue on the wall, use a hair dryer in the low or medium setting to heat the glue, which will make it easier for the sticker to come off.

You can also remove the adhesive by wetting a paper towel with vinegar and holding it over the sticker for a couple of minutes.

Break it down

If the thought of cleaning your house almost every week puts you on edge, there’s no need to panic. Break down your cleaning into little bite-sized portions, so you don’t tire yourself out, especially if you have work almost every day.

For example, you can set a cleaning schedule for each room once a month, such as the living room every first week of the month, the kitchen every second week, the bathrooms every week, and the bedrooms can be spread out for the third and fourth week.

Or you can also opt to clean closets in the first week, doors and walls in the second week, floors in the third week, and so on. These are just suggestions, but of course, it is entirely up to you how you want to do it.

It doesn’t matter how you plan to clean it, as long as you find a schedule that suits you, your house, and your cleaning style, and as long as you stick to it regularly, of course!

As you start plotting your cleaning schedule, the important thing to remember is to outline and schedule, and to stick to it consistently.

It may seem pretty tedious at first, but once you start doing it regularly, you’ll fall into a habit of cleaning on the dates you set.

Cleaning your walls around once a month or every second month is ideal, because you don’t need to wait for all the dirt, dust, spatters, and stains to build up, which will make cleaning easier for you to do.

And when you’re done, you can enjoy your hard work and relax and do the things you want to do.

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