Cleaning your painted walls may seem like a daunting task, but it’s actually quite simple (if somewhat time-consuming). Whether you’re doing yearly cleaning or hoping to say goodbye to a stain, how to clean walls will depend on what type of paint you’ve used to coat them. Semi-gloss and glossy enamel paints tend to stand up best to washing; flat, satin, and eggshell latex paints, on the other hand, may fade or rub off with overly abrasive cleaning.
Regardless of paint type, regular dusting is in order. Before you do any washing, run the dust brush attachment of your vacuum over ceilings and walls. Often, this is enough wall-cleaning for the year.
Stains and smudges require a bit more elbow grease. As mentioned, how to clean painted walls hinges on choosing a wall cleaner that best addresses discoloring without diminishing the paint. To preserve the quality of your paint job, always start with the gentlest materials possible—in this case, water on a cellulose sponge. Step it up a notch, if necessary, with a mixture of warm water and mild detergent soap. If that still doesn’t seem like enough firepower, try experimenting with other homemade solutions, such as 1 cup ammonia, 1/2 cup vinegar, and 1/4 cup baking soda to one gallon of warm water.
For spot-cleaning, try a paste of baking soda and water gently rubbed over the stain, then rinsed with clean water and dried with a soft cloth.
Before diving in, test a patch of wall in an unobtrusive area with your intended wall cleaner. If the paint still looks bright and there are no water marks left after drying, you’re good to go. Otherwise proceed with caution: A sloppy attempt could make things look worse than before you started. If you know from the outset that you have flat or eggshell latex paint and the patch test doesn’t go well, consider instead a fresh coat of paint or hiring professionals to clean walls for you.
If no water marks remain after drying and the paint holds up well, proceed. You may want to lay towels, newspaper, or another absorbent material on the floor under your workspace to catch drips as you clean walls. Also, wear rubber gloves to avoid dirty water dripping down your arms.
Begin at the top of the wall and work your way down, alternating between the wet, soapy sponge and a wet, clear sponge to rinse; each sponge should have its own bucket. Rinsing with clean water is essential to ensure that dirt and grime won’t cling to soapy residue; do not skip this step.
Rub in a gentle, circular motion to avoid damaging paint and make sure to wring out the sponges well to avoid drips. Work in sections, and once you’ve completed a section, dry the area with a clean, soft cloth.
For particularly hard-to-remove stains (e.g., grease splatters on kitchen walls), try a specialty product like Siege Premium Kitchen Degreaser, a solvent-free degreaser. The Mr. Clean Magic Eraser is a good bet to clean walls of crayon and fingerprints, making it an especially useful product for homes with children.
Have your fresh walls prompted a home-cleaning spree? Make sure you’re getting the job done right by checking out our video on eight cleaning mistakes everyone makes.
For more on house cleaning and maintenance, consider: