How to Clean Walls

Ten Methods:Basic Tips for Good Wall CleaningPainted WallsWallpaper WallsWashable wallpaperNon-washable wallpaperRemoving grease from either type of wallpaperCork WallsWooden WallsBuild Up Around Light SwitchesRemoving Mildew or Mold from Walls

Over time, walls gather all manner of marks, dust and grime. It can be surprising how much brighter an area of the house or garden can seem after the walls are given a thorough clean. If you're ready to clean walls, you'll find the various suggestions here of help.

Method 1
Basic Tips for Good Wall Cleaning

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    Always start by dusting the wall. Use either a broom, dusting brush or a vacuum cleaner to do this.
    • If the broom or brush has strong bristles, tie an old t-shirt or other cleaning rag over it to stop the sharpness of the bristles from scratching against the wall.
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    Dust walls regularly, even when you're not cleaning them in any other way. This is especially important for areas around the stove, sinks, shower and anywhere else that steam, drips and other splashes occur. In addition, spot clean regularly, especially around areas like light switches, where grime tends to build up.
    • Loose build-ups of dirt can be removed with a dry sponge.
    • To make your own painted wall spot cleaner, try this: Simply add a teaspoon of lavender oil to a 1 liter (0.3 US gal) spray bottle filled with water. Spray onto bunched up pantyhose and wipe over stains, especially sticky spots. The fragrance left behind will delight you.
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    Cover carpet and furniture in the area. Anything that might be damaged by splashing water or cleaning solution should be protected. Old sheets are an excellent choice, and if you don't have any, thrift stores will usually carry lots for a small price. Other covers include newspaper, towels and painter's groundsheets.
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    Start at the base of the wall when washing a wall. Then move up gradually, drying as you go. This will avoid the creation of streaks or drip marks.
    • To dry the wall, use a soft, clean towel.
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    Wear toweling wrist bands when washing walls. This will prevent the water from running down your arms when you're washing higher up.
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    Have two buckets when wall cleaning. One is for the cleaning solution, the other is for rinsing the wall after the solution has been applied. Change the rinse water when it is looking dirty. (Obviously, this isn't applicable for non-washable walls, see below.)

Method 2
Painted Walls

Painted walls are fairly simple but you do need to be careful not to spread stains or lift the paintwork. It helps to know your paint type too––more modern paint, such as gloss, is usually fine to wash. On the other hand, older paint, especially whitewash styles, can be easily scrubbed off and greater care needs to be taken when cleaning.

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    Dust the wall. Use a soft brush, broom or vacuum with brush attachment to dust the wall completely before attempting cleaning. This will remove anything that might add to staining when cleaning pressure is applied.
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    Remove marks or stains first. Identify the stain and treat it appropriately. It is recommended that you always test an inconspicuous area of the wall before cleaning the stain off, to check that the product you're using won't lift the paintwork.
    • One of the simplest and most effective wall cleaners is a paste made from baking soda and water. This will remove stains such as crayon, pencil, marker, marks from items that have rubbed against the wall, ink and other such marks. Place the paste on the cleaning cloth and rub on the stain until it lifts.
    • Crayon marks can be lifted with a cloth dampened in turpentine or with the application of a little toothpaste (leave for a few minutes, then wash off).
    • Black marks caused by objects rubbing against the wall can be lifted by toothpaste. Simply rub toothpaste gently over the black marks, leave for a few minutes, then wash off with a soft, damp cloth.
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    Wash the walls. For most painted walls, it will be sufficient to use warm, soapy water. Or, use a cup of distilled white vinegar to one bucket of warm water if you want something with slightly more strength. Vinegar won't leave any residue, so there's no need to rinse.
    • Avoid the use of proprietary products that contain alcohol for wall cleaning. Such products risk breaking down the paint surface and this will leave a bright and shiny mark in its place.
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    Make a stronger wall cleaning solution if needed. If you find that warm, soapy water isn't doing the job for you, it might require a stronger wall cleaning solution. This can be made at home as follows;
    • Mix together 100g/3.5 oz of washing soda with 4 liters/8.5 US pints (4,000 ml) of water.
    • Wipe the dirty wall area with this mix, rinse off, towel dry, then check to see if it's clean enough for your liking.
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    Rinse clean. Use a cloth dampened in warm water to gently and lightly rinse off the cleaning solution. Dab dry using a soft towel.
    • There's no need to rinse if you used the vinegar solution.

Method 3
Wallpaper Walls

Wallpaper comes in a variety of materials, some washable and some not. If you know what your wallpaper variety is, that will help enormously. If not, test an inconspicuous area first.

Method 4
Washable wallpaper

Washable wallpaper has a thin vinyl coating over the paper that can handle minor damp cloth washing.

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    Dust the wallpaper. Use a broom covered with an old t-shirt, a soft brush or a vacuum with a brush attachment.
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    Remove stains from washable wallpaper. Stains should be dealt with after dusting and before cleaning the wallpaper. Some of the most common stains include:
    • For ink, crayon and marker stains: Use a liquid solvent cleaner to lift stains off, such as WD-40 or dry-cleaning fluid.
    • For grease stains: Use warm, soapy water.
    • Other stains: Follow the manufacturer's instructions, if available.
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    Clean washable wallpaper. In general, after dusting the wallpaper, you can wash it with either warm soapy water or warm water to which a little cloudy ammonia has been added.
    • Vinyl-coated wallpaper can also be washed with a white vinegar soaked cloth (but don't apply vinegar directly).
    • If you have any recommendations from the manufacturer, follow these.
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    Rinse clean. Use a cloth dampened in warm water to gently and lightly rinse off the cleaning solution. Dab dry using a soft towel.

Method 5
Non-washable wallpaper

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    Clean non-washable wallpaper. This is harder, as the application of liquid may disintegrate the paper or the glues holding it up.
    • Start by brushing the dirt off the wall as best you can. Use a soft small brush or a soft broom, such as those that come with a dustpan. If possible, use a vacuum brush to brush over the wallpaper. This will pick up spider cobwebs, dirt, food particles and the like.
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    If there are stains, treat these first.
    • Grease stains may lift with the application of heat. Simply hold absorbent paper on the stain, hold an iron over the paper briefly, then lift and hope that most of the stain has transferred to the paper.
    • Grease stains can also be attacked with talcum powder, cornstarch or borax powder. Make a paste of talcum powder, cornstarch or borax with just a touch of water. Apply to the stain and let it dry. Brush off with a soft cloth and the grease stain should lift.
    • Use putty cleaner or an art gum eraser to lift marks such as those created by furniture rubbing against the wall, pens and pencils.
    • For crayon, try scraping it off first, to see how much can be gently lifted. Then use a pencil eraser and finally, if it still hasn't worked, try a proprietary cleaner that states that it is suitable for this task. (See the "bread" method suggested below as well.)

Method 6
Removing grease from either type of wallpaper

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    Consider using bread on wallpaper. Bread can be a very absorbent grease stain cleaner on either washable or non-washable wallpaper walls. The color of the bread depends on the color of the wallpaper––use lighter bread for lighter colors and darker bread for darker colors.
    • Remove the dust from the wall using a soft brush or vacuum brush.
    • Hold the bread in your cleaning hand (or roll it into a ball if it's easier) and wipe back and forth across the stain until it lifts.
    • Brush again to remove and collect crumbs.

Method 7
Cork Walls

Although not as popular a wall covering as in former times, it can still be found in a fair few older kitchens.

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    Dust the wall first.
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    Wipe using simple hot water. Do not add detergent. Let air dry.
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    Remove stubborn stains as follows:
    • Add 1 part methylated spirits (white spirits) to 10 parts water to make a solution.
    • Dip a cleaning cloth into the mixture and wring.
    • Wipe over the stained area until the stain has lifted.
    • Rinse clean with a damp cloth.

Method 8
Wooden Walls

It is assumed the walls are varnished panel walls if internal. External wooden walls are also discussed briefly here but specific advice should be sought for big cleaning work on external walls.

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    Dust the walls. Use a broom, dustpan brush or a brush attachment on the end of a vacuum cleaner.
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    Use warm soapy water to wash down the walls. Use a mild detergent solution. Rather than washing the whole wall, simply spot clean areas that appear dirty.
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    Wash outdoor wooden walls.
    • Externally, any walls should be washed on a day they'll dry quickly, to avoid any possibility of wood rot. If possible, avoid using a pressured water sprayer on siding boards, as the water can go under the board and wet the plasterboard underneath, causing mold to grow.
    • You can use a hose on bad outdoor stains but only keep it focused on the stained area. Other areas should simply be wiped.
    • Lichen, algae and similar stains can often be removed using a cloth dampened in white vinegar. Wear gloves to prevent stinging of any cuts or wounds.

Method 9
Build Up Around Light Switches

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    Use vinegar. If you can use liquid on the wall, a weak wash made from vinegar and water can be applied sparingly to any grimy build-up around the light switch area.

Method 10
Removing Mildew or Mold from Walls

Mildew is shallow mold, while mold is those deep and dark spots that have lingered a very long time!

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    Use vinegar and water to scrub mold off walls. If the mold is really bad, a proprietary product suitable for the wall surface is usually your best bet––follow the instructions provided by the manufacturer.
    • Be careful when spraying mold or mildew remover on walls. Drips can permanently stain the surface. Spray slowly and carefully, taking care to wipe off drip runs immediately, before they have a chance to run down the wall.
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    Dry the walls after showering and cooking. Use a rubber broom or a mop head over which you've tied a towel to wipe down walls that are moist.
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    Find longer term solutions.
    • Check the surface. Mold grows where there is adequate moisture, so it tends to be the greatest problem in bathrooms, kitchens and wardrobes that back onto external walls. If that surface is not painted, change it as soon as you can because the easiest way to deal with mold is to use mold-resistant gloss or semi-gloss paint that can be washed regularly.
    • Get an extractor installed. Mold will keep growing unless you remove the source of moisture.


  • Cleaning walls is a job best shared. Have at least one other helper to speed things up and to share jobs, such as stain removal, dusting and washing.
  • If you have fabric on a wall, brush it regularly to keep dust off it. Stains need to be treated immediately to prevent setting. This is probably one of the most difficult kinds of wall to clean, hence the reason why few people attach fabric directly to their walls.


  • If in any doubt about the suitability of a solution, or even of using water, on a wall, test an inconspicuous small spot first. If it looks okay, you can probably assume it'll be okay for the rest of the wall too.

Sources and Citations

  • Shannon Lush and Trent Hayes, Stainless, (2010), ISBN 978-0-7333-2791-9 – research source
  • Alison Haynes, Clean Sweep, (2004), ISBN 978-1741962765 – research source
  • Ellen Sandbeck, Organic Housekeeping, (2006), ISBN 978-0-7432-5620-9 – research source

Article Info

Categories: Cleaning