How to Clean Your Walls (Without Ruining the Paint)

how to clean walls cat

You deep clean your home every so often (fine, once a year, before Great Aunt Agnes comes over). You scour and scrub every surface in sight, from the TV to the oven and even the fireplace. But you’ve been neglecting the most important surface of all: the walls. With the amount of leaning, touching and run-ins with crayons, coffee, and wine, it’s worth knowing how to treat them the right way without creating any additional damage. So, before you plan a trip to Sherwin-Williams because your toddler has found their inner Basquiat, find out how to clean walls below. 

What you need to know before you get started.

Because the frequency of cleaning is going to vary from home to home, the most important thing to keep in mind when you’re cleaning your walls is the type of paint you have. That’ll clue you into the type of cleaner you should use. Matte, flat, eggshell, or stain finishes tend to be a bit more delicate, so a mild dishwashing soap like Seventh Generation Dish Liquid is the best option. Glossy, semi-glossy and oil-based finishes, on the other hand, can take stronger cleaners. Generally speaking, it’s always better to do a spot test before you apply a cleaning solution to the entire wall.

How to Clean Your Walls

What you need:

  • Microfiber cloth
  • Drop cloth (an old sheet or newspaper will also do)
  • Dishwashing soap
  • Bucket of water
  • Long mop (ideally with microfiber mop pads like this one)
  • Vinegar

Step 1: Prep the area. This probably goes without saying, but before you start cleaning, remove any picture frames, mirrors or vases that might get in your way. Next, place a drop cloth at the base of the intended wall to absorb any drips and droplets of water.

Step 2: Wipe the wall. Give your wall a good once over with a dry microfiber cloth to get rid of the top layer of dust and dirt.

Step 3: Create a cleaning solution. Here’s how our friends at Clean My Space do it: Mix a gallon of water, 1 tablespoon dishwashing soap and a cup of white vinegar. Mix the ingredients in a bucket that you can easily carry around the house. Keep another bucket of clean water handy so you can quickly rinse afterwards.

Step 4: Begin cleaning. Dip your mop pad into the cleaning solution and begin wiping the wall in a “W” pattern, working from left to right. Wring out the mop pad before you place it on the wall, because too much moisture can damage the paint.

Step 5: Rinse the area. Dip the mop in clean water and give the wall a rinse, using the same “W” technique. (Again, make sure the mop pad is damp, not sopping wet.)

Step 6: Wipe dry. Wipe the wall with a microfiber cloth or microfiber pad. Let it air dry. 

How to Spot Treat Your Wall

If you’re battling a particularly stubborn stain—say, the aforementioned crayons, or an ink stain—you might need to scrub more aggressively. Swap out the mop for a sponge if you need something a bit easier to maneuver. 

What you need:

  • Baking soda/cornstarch
  • Water
  • Soft sponge (or Magic Eraser)
  • Microfiber cloth

 Step 1: Try wiping. Before you apply any cleaning product to the wall, try gently wiping with a damp, non-abrasive sponge. Also remember: The sooner you get to the stain, the better. Substances like red wine, juice or coffee can often come out before staining the wall if you act quickly.

Step 2. Use baking powder. If wiping doesn’t work, bring out the big guns. Sprinkle baking powder on a damp sponge and scrub the area as needed. (Don’t scrub too harshly, since the goal is to remove the stain without ruining your paint.) Repeat as needed.

Step 3. Apply cornstarch. If you’re fighting a grease stain, apply some cornstarch to the area and let it sit for about five to 10 minutes. It’ll absorb the grease so you don’t have to do any scrubbing. Simply scrape the cornstarch off afterward.

Step 3. Rinse the area and wipe dry. Dip the sponge in clean water, wring it out and gently clean the part of wall you just scrubbed. Wipe the area dry. 

How to Keep Walls Clean

While smudges, fingerprints and stains are inevitable, giving your walls a routine wipe down with a damp microfiber cloth will create less work in the long run. Pay special attention to high-traffic areas like hallways and bedrooms, and keep an eye out for grease stains in the kitchen and dining room. And remember: The sooner you get to the scene of the crime, the better your chances of keeping your paint looking brand spanking new.

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Resident Hufflepuff, Beyonce historian, self-proclaimed tea sommelier

Steph is a native of Zimbabwe who is both enamored and genuinely baffled by the concept of silent letters. From 2020 to 2022, she served as Associate Editor at PureWow covering...