What Is the Best Way to Clean Painted Walls?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
Supplies for cleaning painted walls.
Supplies for cleaning painted walls.

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.

Some disinfecting wipes are safe to use on painted walls.
Some disinfecting wipes are safe to use on painted walls.

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.

A mild detergent can assist in cleaning painted walls.
A mild detergent can assist in cleaning painted walls.

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.

There are a number of household cleaning products available designed specifically to be used on painted surfaces.
There are a number of household cleaning products available designed specifically to be used on painted surfaces.

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.

Best Cleaner for Painted Walls

Cleaning your painted walls is great for keeping your rooms looking, feeling and smelling as fresh as possible, and the end result is well worth the effort it takes. This does not have to be a monthly task, either, if you tend not to touch your walls. Doing the job about once annually will generally do the trick and ward off any significant buildup of dirt or stains.

While you will need something more substantial than water alone to achieve a good cleaning, it is important not to use just any product to clean your walls. The wrong product might be too abrasive and can harm the appearance of your home.

Before you get to actually cleaning your walls, you will need to dust them first. There is nothing worse than trying to use a liquid cleaner of some kind on a dusty surface and using up way more cleaning cloths or paper towels than you need to. Dust (or even vacuum) first.

Once you have cleared loose dust and dirt, it is time to really clean. The best cleaner to use for painted walls is a mixture of water and dish soap. Just be sure to use a little bit of your dish soap mixture on an area that is not particularly visible first to be confident that the chemicals are not too harsh for the paint. The last thing you want is to start scrubbing the most visible patch of the wall and see a massive stain forming.

You can also use a paste made of baking soda and water. The ratio should be close to two parts baking soda to one part water. This paste is especially appropriate for stains or areas of the wall that are particularly dirty. Whatever you do, do not try to chip away at those problem spots with anything sharp or abrasive that might harm the paint.

How To Remove Water Drip Marks from Painted Walls 

When water (or other liquid) is spilled on walls, or when leaks occur, it can leave long-lasting drip marks that mar the appearance of the paint and the room itself. But never fear—those problem areas are removable and do not have to be a permanent part of your decor.

The best way to remove water drip marks successfully (and without damaging the wall) is to use a melamine sponge, like Mr. Clean's Magic Eraser. Dampen it with water and gently wash the area in a circular motion, being careful not to scuff the wall or damage the paint. Another option is to use a mixture of ammonia, baking soda, vinegar and warm water. Using a sponge or gentle cloth, rinse the area where the drip marks are. When you are done, let it dry to determine whether you need to go over it a second time.

For particularly stubborn water drip marks (or other stains that you just can't seem to clean off the wall), you can apply some paint to cover it. Just be sure to fix any leaks or other recurring causes of the marks so that the damage does not keep happening.

How To Properly Clean Baseboards 

While you are cleaning your walls, it is a good idea to take advantage of the opportunity to clean your baseboards as well. Dirt-free baseboards can help enhance the overall appearance of your rooms. It can also give your home a crisper look by creating a clean definition where the lines meet the floor.

Similar to how you cleaned your walls, you should start this process with a quick vacuum to remove any dust or other loose dirt on or around the baseboards. This will prepare you better to clean stains, gunk and any other problem areas on the baseboards.

Once you are ready to clean baseboards more thoroughly, make a cleaning mixture by combining vinegar and dish soap with some lukewarm water. Using a gentle rag, cleaning sponge or paper towel dipped in the cleaning solution, carefully and smoothly wipe the baseboards. If you encounter any particularly stubborn areas, melamine sponges are a great tool to use. Just be careful not to scrub too roughly or with anything sharp, as doing so can damage your baseboards or even the walls directly above them.

To help keep your baseboards from collecting dust, you can finish the cleaning process by going over them with a dryer sheet. Dryer sheets can help cancel out static that makes dust stick to the baseboards more easily.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent HomeQuestionsAnswered contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent HomeQuestionsAnswered contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

Discussion Comments

anon940883

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

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

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

@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

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

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

anon137410

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

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

ValleyFiah

@ 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

@ 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

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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