How to Clean Flat Paint

White flat paint on wall being cleaned up by gray towel in hand

The Spruce / Ana Cadena

Project Overview
  • Working Time: 1 hr
  • Total Time: 1 hr
  • Skill Level: Beginner

In many homes, especially newly-constructed starter homes, the walls in bedrooms and living areas are painted with flat or matte latex paint. A flat paint finish is used because it rolls or sprays on easily and helps mask surface imperfections because it does not reflect light. If you cannot see any light bouncing off the finish of your painted wall, you have flat paint.

Unfortunately, flat paint is much quicker to show scuffs, smudges, and fingerprints than other types of paint finishes. It does not hold up well to moisture and which is why it is seldom used in kitchens and bathrooms. Excessive scrubbing and harsh chemicals can leave the paint looking discolored, uneven, and even remove it from the drywall. Fortunately, most interior doors and trim are painted with a semi-gloss finish that holds up well to moisture, cleaning, and all but the harshest chemicals.

Even though they are vertical, walls can still accumulate dust, smoke stains, and stains from insect droppings as well as scuffs and soil from hands, feet, and furniture.

Just as we regularly clean our floors, flat painted walls also need attention. With just a few basic products and tools, you can help your walls look cleaner and brighter.

How Often to Clean Flat Painted Walls

As part of your regularly scheduled chores, flat painted walls should be dusted and cobwebs removed at least monthly— twice monthly is even better. Smudges and dirt around doorknobs and light switches should be cleaned away as soon as possible. Since flat-paint does not hold up well to deep cleaning with wet solutions, it should be done only once or twice per year and before repainting the room.

Before You Begin

While every flat paint can be safely dusted, it is a good idea to test the cleaning solutions in an inconspicuous area before you tackle a large space. There are a few other tips to keep in mind, too:

  • When cleaning walls with any product, always begin at the top of the wall and work your way down. This will help you catch drips and eliminate the need to re-clean areas.
  • It's a good idea to protect floors with a plastic tarp when you are using any type of wet cleaning solution.
  • Protect electrical outlets by covering them with painter's tape or cut off the power to the room you are cleaning.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Step stool or ladder
  • Buckets
  • Sponge
  • Microfiber cloths
  • Vacuum or duster
  • Spray bottle
  • Small paintbrush
  • Plastic tarps

Materials

  • Dishwashing liquid
  • Distilled white vinegar
  • Warm water
  • Melamine eraser
  • Baking soda
  • Matching touch-up paint
  • Painter's tape

Instructions

Materials and tools to clean flat paint on wooden surface

The Spruce / Ana Cadena

  1. Remove Wall Art and Move Furniture

    To make cleaning easier and more effective, remove all of the items hanging on the walls and move furniture away from the walls so that you have room to move a step stool around freely.

    White chair with gray throw pillow being moved before applying flat paint

    The Spruce / Ana Cadena

  2. Get Rid of Dust

    Sometimes just getting rid of the dust will make a huge difference in the look of flat paint. Starting at the top of the wall, use a vacuum with a dusting or upholstery brush on an extendable wand or a microfiber duster to remove dust and cobwebs. Work slowly down the wall in small sections. If you are using a disposable duster, change to a clean duster as it becomes heavily soiled. Always use a sturdy step stool or ladder when reaching high spots.

    Dust being removed from wall with white and blue duster

    The Spruce / Ana Cadena

  3. Begin With Basic Water

    Fill a bucket with warm water. Dip in a soft sponge or microfiber cloth and wring until it is not dripping. Working in small sections, work your way around the room from the top to bottom. If you are not pleased with the results and there are still stains, move on to progressively stronger cleaning methods.

    Blue bucket being filled with water under black faucet

    The Spruce / Ana Cadena

  4. Create Cleaning Solution

    In a bucket, add one teaspoon dishwashing liquid and one-half cup distilled white vinegar per quart of warm water. Fill a second bucket with clean water.

    Distilled white vinegar poured into blue bucket with water for cleaning solution

    The Spruce / Ana Cadena

  5. Wipe Down the Walls

    Dip a sponge or microfiber cloth in the cleaning solution and wring until it is not dripping. Start at the top of the wall and working in a small section, move down the wall. Rinse out the sponge frequently. Pay particular attention to more heavily soiled areas.

    Use a second sponge or cloth, dip it in the clean water, and wring until nearly dry. Rinse away any soapy residue as you move down the wall.

    Gray microfiber cloth wiping down walls with flat paint

    The Spruce / Ana Cadena

  6. Tackle Problem Areas

    If scuffs and smudges do not come off easily, dip your a dampened sponge in some baking soda and lightly rub the area. The gentle abrasive action of the baking soda may remove the problem.

    As a last resort, dampen a melamine sponge with water and, using a gentle touch, rub the stained area. Check the sponge frequently because you may see the paint color transferred to the sponge. Rubbing too hard can leave a shiny spot on the wall or remove the paint entirely.

    Melamine sponge with water passing over wall with flat paint

    The Spruce / Ana Cadena

  7. Use Touch-up Paint to Cover Stains

    In some instances, it is easier to cover scuff marks and stains with fresh paint than to clean them away. If cleaning has left shiny spots or removed paint, use some leftover paint to touch-up the walls. Try to feather the edges so that the new paint blends with the older flat paint. Crayon and oily splatters are almost impossible to remove from flat paint. Clean them away as best you can and then repaint the area.

    Touch-up flat paint in bucket held up with brush covering stains on wall

    The Spruce / Ana Cadena