5 Tips for Cleaning Your Painted Walls

clean painted walls

Whether you just want to freshen up the walls or they have stains, dirt, or grime that needs to come off, finding the best way to clean walls can be challenging. In most homes, the walls make up the largest area of hard surfaces. Even though walls are vertical, they can still become coated with dust, grease splatters, smoke, insect droppings, and spider webs.

Areas near doors, light switches, and furniture take the most abuse. They gather soil and scuffs from hands, feet, and sharp corners. Just as we regularly clean our floors, painted walls also need attention. With just a few basic products and tools, you can easily maintain walls painted with different types of paint and finishes.

Maintaining Your Walls

When it comes to household chores, we= often neglect our walls. Cleaning your walls should be a regular part of your home-care rotation.  Just because they're not horizontal doesn't mean dust and grime won't accumulate there.

Whether your walls need a top-to-bottom washing or a quick spot cleaning of high-contact areas, clean the walls in your home safely with these cleaning tips. You’ll need some of the following tools and materials:

  • Bucket
  • Sponges or microfiber cloths
  • Spray bottle
  • Vacuum or duster
  • Melamine sponge
  • Step stool or ladder
  • Step stool or ladder
  • All-purpose cleaner
  • Dishwashing liquid
  • Distilled white vinegar
  • Baking soda
  • Laundry borax

Cleaning painted walls can cause streaking for several reasons, including the dirt and grime that's already there. When you mix water with those deposits, they can stick to the wall even more and leave behind streaks. Using too much water or using a harsh cleaner can also cause streaks, especially if you let the liquid drip down the wall. Scrubbing too hard, especially on flat finishes, can wipe away some of the paint and cause a streaky look.

To get the best results, you’ll need to follow some guidelines on proper cleaning.

1. Consider the Paint Type

Water-based or latex paint is the most common type of interior wall paint.  It does not handle regular cleaning well. Oil-based paints are often used in high-moisture areas.  They tend to hold up better than latex paint while cleaning because they are more durable. You should always test a hidden area of the wall if they are painted with latex paint.

While every type of paint finish can be dusted easily, the type of paint and the finish will determine the best way to clean the wall. Not all paint types respond well to cleaning as others. In general, higher-gloss finishes can handle cleaning better without showing streaks or coming off the wall.

If you have walls with flat, satin, or eggshell finishes, you may have a harder time cleaning them. Rubbing too hard on these finishes can wipe away the paint.

  • Flat or Matte: Chalky in appearance and no shine to the surface. It does not hold up well to cleaning. Harsh chemicals or excessive pressure should not be used when cleaning.
  • Satin or Eggshell: Reflects light with a light sheen. It is more durable for cleaning and suitable for high traffic areas; however, the use of abrasive cleaners is not recommended. 
  • Semi-gloss: Reflects light with a noticeable shine. It is an excellent choice for kitchens, bathrooms, doors, and trim. It holds up well to moisture and washing.
  • High gloss: Leaves the wall with a strong, shiny surface. It is the most durable of finishes and cleans easily with detergent.  This type of paint is good for furniture, cabinets, and trim.

2. Prepping the Walls

Start cleaning your walls by removing dust, cobwebs, and loose dirt from your walls. This will prevent this debris from being spread while you clean. You can dust using a lamb's wool duster, a long-handled soft-bristle brush, or an electrostatic duster.  For areas you can reach, lint-free cloths will also do.  

You can also remove dust with your vacuum cleaner using the bristle-brush attachment. The brush part of the vacuum won’t leave any scuff marks behind. 

The best way to remove the dust is to start at the ceiling and work your way down so you don't redeposit the dust on other parts of the wall. It’s best to go top to bottom, left to right. Always use a sturdy step stool or ladder when reaching high spots.

3. Wall-Cleaning Solutions

If you're doing a general cleaning without any stains to tackle, plain water may be enough to do the job. If you need a little extra, you can create a mild cleaning solution is a bucket of warm, soapy water. A little dish detergent mixed with warm water is a gentle option.

You can also use vinegar mixed with water. If that's not enough, start with a gallon of warm water and add 1/2 cup of vinegar, 1 cup of ammonia, and 1/4 cup of baking soda. Make sure to always have a second bucket of plain water for rinsing.

Some suggestions for cleaning solutions for particular finishes include:

  • Oil-Based Painted Walls: In a bucket, add one teaspoon dishwashing liquid and ½ teaspoon distilled white vinegar per quart of warm water.
  • Latex Flat-Finish: Start with regular vacuuming to keep the walls clean. If that does not work, Rub the walls with a dry sponge. Flat-finished walls do not mix well with water, so tread lightly with a very mild cleaning solution.
  • Eggshell, Semi-gloss, or High gloss: A diluted solution of liquid dishwashing soap and warm water will work fine. Don’t make the cleaning solution too soapy or you can leave residue on them.

No matter which option you choose, always test the wall-cleaning solution in a hidden area before you start washing. This lets you see if the cleaner will affect the look of the paint or leave behind any marks. Once you know it's safe to use, you can move on to the rest of the walls.

4. Washing the Walls

Use your softest sponge without dyes in it to apply the solution to your walls. Don’t over soak the sponge. Wring it out before cleaning, as dripping can potentially leave water stains on your walls. Flat, satin, and eggshell finishes, in particular, do best with as little water as possible.

Starting at the top of the wall and working toward the floor helps you catch drips if they happen. If you start at the bottom, a stray drip from above can cause streaks on the already-cleaned sections. It's a good idea to put some towels at the base of the wall where you're cleaning in case any of the solution drips. The towels catch the water to prevent it from damaging the baseboards or the floor.

Rinse the sponge regularly so you don't move grime around onto other parts of the wall and cause more streaks. Use a gentle, circular motion to protect the painted surface.  For flat-finished walls, be sure to use a light touch. Do not scrub the wall. 

Use your bucket of clean water to rinse off the soapy solution about 5 to 10 minutes after applying it to the wall. Dry your wall with a clean and soft lint-free cloth. This simple process should be enough to clean painted walls.

5. Removing Tough Stains 

If you have a stubborn stain that doesn't come off with the wall-cleaning solution, you can make a paste using baking soda and water. Use a sponge to gently work the paste into the stain using a circular motion. Follow up with a fresh sponge that's just dampened with water to wipe away the paste.  After cleaning, dry the areas with a clean towel to prevent watermarks that can make the wall look streaky.

A vinegar-and-water cleaning solution also works well for really stubborn areas. If the walls are particularly dirty, add two tablespoons of laundry borax to the cleaning solution. If your walls need a deeper cleaning, high-gloss and oil-based paints can stand up to stronger de-greasers.

Painted kitchen walls can get a little greasy. On top of the washing techniques above, an additional wipe down with a gentle degreaser should do the trick. Just follow the product instructions to avoid any streak marks, and don't forget that harsh chemicals should be avoided. To remove scuff marks, a melamine sponge works well on semi-gloss or glossy oil paint finishes. Using a light touch, the abrasive action will remove almost all scuffs.

Again, test all cleaning solutions on an inconspicuous spot and let it dry to make sure it doesn't leave any watermarks or other damage. If the test comes out fine, you can move on to other areas of the wall.

Keep Your Walls Looking New

Keeping your walls clean is just as important as other surfaces of your home. If, however, the cleaning solutions and tips do not work, it may be time to consider a fresh coat of paint. 

The Painting Pros can keep your home updated.  We are experienced and skilled painters who take great pride in providing high-quality painting services. If cleaning doesn’t work anymore, contact us today for a free consultation.

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