How To: Clean Painted Walls

By Emily Burns Morgan and Jennifer Noonan | Updated Dec 29, 2020 3:13 PM

How to Clean Walls


Cleaning painted walls may seem like a daunting task, but it’s actually quite simple, albeit somewhat time-consuming.

The first thing to know is that whether you’re doing yearly cleaning or hoping to say goodbye to a stain, the right approach depends on what type of paint you’re dealing with. 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 abrasive cleaning. In other words, the only tricky part of cleaning walls is doing so without damaging the paint job.

Regular Cleaning

  1. To preserve the quality of your paint job, start with the gentlest cleaning method possible—in this case, water on a cellulose sponge.
  2. Step it up a notch, if necessary, with a mixture of warm water and mild detergent soap.
  3. If you need even more firepower, create a solution containing 1 cup ammonia, 1/2 cup vinegar, 1/4 cup baking soda and one gallon of warm water. Add the solution to a spray bottle, spray the solution onto the wall, and lightly scrub with your sponge.

Stain Removal

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. Note that wringing out sponges as you work goes a long way to help prevent the sort of drips that compromise the final result.

  1. Run the dust brush attachment of your vacuum over the wall surface.
  2. Create a paste of baking soda. To do so, mix a half cup of baking soda with about an ounce of water.
  3. Test the solution on an unobtrusive part of the wall. 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 applying a fresh coat of paint or hiring professionals to clean walls for you.
  4. If no water marks remain after your test application of the solution has dried, it’s safe to proceed. Beginning at the top of wall and working your way down, use a sponge to apply the solution in a gentle. Again, scrub lightly, ideally in a circular motion, to minimize the risk of upsetting the paint.
  5. As you work, use a second, water-dampened sponge to clear away dirt and grime where it clings to the cleaning paste.
  6. 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 commercial cleaning product like Siege Premium Kitchen Degreaser, a solvent-free degreaser. Also be aware that the Mr. Clean Magic Eraser works well to clean walls of crayon and fingerprints, making it an especially useful product in homes with children.