Interior Paints & Finishes

How to Clean Flat Paint Walls—the Trickiest of Finishes

Learn how to clean walls with flat paint by using the right tools and techniques to keep them looking fresh and spotless.
Savannah Sher Avatar
A person wearing a pink rubber glove wiping above the baseboard of a yellow wall with a flat paint texture.
Photo: istockphoto.com

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Cleaning flat-paint walls can seem daunting because of their tendency to mark easily and absorb stains. Compared with other paint textures and finishes like eggshell and satin, they’re trickier to keep clean. Courtney Walsh, a professional cleaner with Homeaglow in New York City, says, “Flat painted walls (also known as matte finish) require careful cleaning to avoid marking up the walls. The paint has a softer bond to the wall, so scrubbing with a cleaner could leave a shiny mark where the stain once was.”

Luckily, you shouldn’t have to deep-clean your walls very often. Walsh says, “Completely washing flat painted walls should only be done before repainting or once every few years.” Understanding how to wash walls painted with flat paint is crucial to protecting the delicate finish and extending the life of your paint. This guide includes easy-to-follow steps and expert tips for how to clean flat-paint walls. 

Tools & Materials

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Project Overview

Working Time: Roughly 1 hour, depending on the size of the room
Total Time: 1-2 hours, which includes time for drying
Skill Level: Beginner
Estimated Cost: $10-$20

Before You Begin

A sponge, labeled bottle of vinegar, and half-full green spray bottle sit on a wooden table in front of a green backdrop.
Photo: istockphoto.com

Preventive maintenance is important when caring for walls with flat paint. Walsh explains, “High-traffic areas like kitchens or mudrooms that require frequent cleaning shouldn’t have flat painted walls in the first place.” She recommends dusting flat-painted walls weekly to help avoid dusty buildup.

Before getting started, clear the area near the walls you’re planning to clean by moving furniture and decorations. Lay down a drop cloth to shield your flooring from drips or spills during the cleaning process. This little bit of prep work can save you a lot of cleanup later.

STEP 1: Dust walls with a dry microfiber cloth.

Before applying a wall-cleaning solution, remove surface dust and debris to avoid creating a grimy mess. Use a microfiber cloth to dust your walls, using long, sweeping strokes from the ceiling down to the baseboards without applying too much pressure, which might degrade the paint. This step leaves a dust-free surface, which is essential to effectively cleaning flat paint on walls.

STEP 2: Prepare a mild cleaning solution.

A light-blue bucket is half-filled with a soapy water solution.
Photo: istockphoto.com

Mix warm water with a few drops of mild dish soap in a bucket. If you’re dealing with slightly tougher stains, adding a small amount of white vinegar can enhance the cleaning power. It’s important to test this solution on an inconspicuous area of the wall first to ensure it doesn’t adversely affect the paint. Using the right solution helps break down grime without damaging the wall’s texture and flat finish.

STEP 3: Gently wash the walls in sections.

A person washes a flat-textured blue wall with a soapy microfiber cloth.
Photo: istockphoto.com

Dampen a soft sponge or microfiber cloth in the cleaning solution, wring it well, and then gently wipe the walls in a circular motion. When washing painted walls, especially those with flat paint, make sure the cloth is damp, but not wet, to avoid water damage. “Avoid soaking the paint to help preserve the velvety finish,” says Walsh.

Start at the top and work your way down to prevent drip marks on areas you’ve already cleaned. This method helps lift dirt effectively without saturating the wall.

STEP 4: Address tough stains with baking soda paste.

For persistent stains, create a wall stain-remover paste by mixing baking soda with a little water. Apply the paste gently with a cloth to the affected area, using a circular motion to lift the stain. Baking soda acts as a mild abrasive, which makes it effective at tackling tough stains without harsh chemicals that can strip the paint. For any stains that can’t be removed with this solution, try using a Mr. Clean Magic Eraser.

STEP 5: Rinse walls and dry thoroughly.

A person wipes a flat blue wall with a dry microfiber cloth.
Photo: istockphoto.com

After cleaning, it’s important to rinse the walls with a cloth dampened in clean water to remove any soap residue, then dry the walls thoroughly with a clean, soft cloth. This step ensures that no cleaning solution remains on the walls, where it could attract more dirt or degrade the paint over time. Taking steps to rinse and dry properly helps maintain the aesthetic of flat paint and prevents water stains.

Final Thoughts

Wall-washing can be a challenge, but with the right technique for how to clean a flat-painted wall, you can achieve sparkling clean results without damaging your walls. The cleaning steps outlined in this article offer a practical approach to maintaining walls painted with flat paint, ensuring they stay pristine without sustaining damage.

This methodical cleaning routine not only helps in removing everyday dirt and accidental stains but also preserves the paint’s flat look, buying you more time before eventual touch-ups to your walls are needed. Remember to always test cleaning solutions on a small, inconspicuous area first and to tackle stains gently.