How to Clean Painted Walls Without Damaging Paint

Hand with Rubber Glove Making Clean Walls

Between kids, pets, house guests, walls get dirty. It’s part of owning or renting a home. While you might think that your toughest cleaning spray is the answer to getting the bright red crayon streaks off your wall, those can actually do more harm than good. Here’s how to clean painted walls without damaging them.

 

What kind of paint?

Before you start it’s important to determine what kind of paint you have on the walls. Oil-based? Latex-based? Paints with flat, satin or eggshell finishes aren’t as durable as semi-gloss or enamel paints so it’s important to extra gentle when cleaning them.

 

The Spot Test

There’s nothing worse than spending time cleaning a wall just for it to look worse than it did before you started, so test a small portion of the wall you’re going to clean before tackling the whole thing. If the spot looks bright and clean after it’s dry then go ahead and do the whole wall. If the test doesn’t go well there are other options to consider: You could hire a team of professionals, apply a fresh coat of paint, or perhaps the least expensive and time consuming: try using a peel-and-stick PVC-based product like TemPaint. If you have small kids or animals that tend to mark up your walls TemPaint is a great cost and time-saving investment. It’s easy to install, looks identical to traditional paint, and comes off easily too if you ever need a touch up.

 

How to Clean Painted Walls – A Guide

After you identify what kind of paint is on the walls be sure you clear off the dust. Using the brush attachment on your vacuum cleaner makes this step super simple. Don’t forget to put towels or sheets down on the floor to protect them.

 

It’s always better to start with the mildest cleaner and work your way up. Start by wiping stains/smudges with a damp cloth. Be careful not to scrub too hard and remove the color. If water doesn’t work use a mix of warm water and a mild dishwashing soap. The next step up would be a mixture of one cup ammonia, a ½ cup vinegar and a ¼ cup baking soda in a gallon of warm water. Use a sponge — again don’t apply too much pressure — and be sure to dry the spot with a towel so there aren’t any water streaks/damage. This method is great to use to get things like stubborn fingerprints off the walls.

Child Drawing on Wall - How to Clean Painted Walls

 

Spot Cleaning Stubborn Stains

There are lots of products out there that you can use on stubborn stains. Zep makes a great citrus based cleaner for larger or more commercial paint cleaning applications. Simple green makes a completely non-toxic residential solution where kids or pets are present.

There are at-home remedies too. Mix baking soda and water into a paste and gently rub it over the stain. Use a clean cloth and water to wipe away the paste and dry the spot thoroughly. If you have tricky grease stains in you kitchen try using a dishwashing detergent that’s grease-cutting and mixing it with warm water. Remember that the key to successfully clean painted walls safely is testing your solution on a small non-visible area of your wall first, no matter what method you’re using.

 

Touch ups

If you only need to re-apply paint to a small area it’s best to use paint from the original can (if you still have it!). If the paint was originally applied with a roller, use a roller for the touch up. If it was originally applied with a brush, use a brush.

 

Extra tips

  • Start at the top of the wall and work your way down
  • Rinse with water after cleaning solution
  • Use a damp rag/sponge — too much water can ruin the paint finish
  • Use different buckets (one with cleaning solution, the other with clean water)
  • Use a clean cloth/towel to dry the walls
  • Dust your walls regularly to keep them looking fresh
  • Be extra careful around electrical outlets and light switches
  • Be careful when using colored towels/sponges on neutral walls — the color could transfer

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