How to Clean Wallpaper

Bedroom with wallpaper

House Method / Unsplash

While wallpaper styles come and go in home decor trends, one thing remains constant. Wallpaper needs to be cleaned regularly because every type of wallpaper collects dust, air-borne grease particles, grime, and fingerprints around light switches. But with just a few tools and supplies, you can keep wallpaper looking bright and clean.

How Often to Clean Wallpaper

Wallpaper should be dusted at least every two months—monthly if you live in a high-dust area. Smudges and grease splatters should be cleaned away immediately and mildew treated as soon as it is evident.

Before You Begin

Before you move beyond dusting, it is essential to know what type of wallpaper you have in your home so you can avoid damage from cleaning methods and products.

Warning

If you are unsure about the type of wallpaper you have, test it to make sure it can be cleaned. Mix a drop or two of dishwashing liquid in one cup of warm water. Apply a small amount of the solution to a hidden area of the wallpaper. If the water soaks in or the color bleeds, do not attempt to do an overall cleaning or use water-based solutions on stains.

Vinyl

Vinyl wallpaper and vinyl-coated fabric and papers are some of the most durable and easiest to clean. Resistant to water damage and most cleaning products, these are often found in bathrooms and kitchens.

Fiberglass

Ultra-durable, flame-resistant, and fade-resistant, fiberglass wallpaper is often found in commercial settings. It will hold up well to scrubbing and repeated exposure to moisture.

Nonwoven

Part of the latest trend in wallpapers, nonwoven papers are a blend of synthetic and natural fibers similar in production to coffee filters. While they are tear-resistant and allow walls to breathe, they are non-washable and stains are extremely difficult to remove.

Traditional, Foil, and Flocked Paper

Made of cellulose fibers, traditional wallpaper can be single or double-layered. It is affordable and readily available but it tears easily and will not stand up well to moisture or most cleaning products. Foil and flocked papers have cellulose foundations with a thin layer of metallic foil or a velvet-like fiber applied to the paper.

Natural Grasses and Bamboo

Made from natural components like jute, sisal, hemp or reeds, grasscloth is woven and highly textured. Bamboo wallpaper is handcrafted from natural bamboo that is glued to a paper backing. Neither will stand up to water or traditional cleaning products.

What You Need

Supplies

  • Dishwashing liquid
  • Water
  • Cornstarch (optional)
  • Plastic wrap (optional)
  • Distilled white vinegar (optional)
  • Paper towels (optional)
  • Chlorine bleach (optional)
  • Cotton swabs (optional)

Tools

  • Long-handled microfiber duster or vacuum with an upholstery attachment
  • Bucket
  • Sponge
  • Microfiber cloth
  • Gum eraser (optional)
  • Dull-edged knife
  • Iron (optional)

Instructions

  1. Remove Surface Dust

    Every type of wallpaper should be dusted monthly with a microfiber duster or vacuumed with the upholstery brush attachment to remove cobwebs, dust, and loose soil. Begin at the top of the wall and move down in long, smooth strokes.

    Tip

    Even if you plan to clean vinyl and fiberglass wallpapers with soap and water, always begin by dusting. This will remove surface soil and keep you from spreading it around as you clean.

  2. Mix the Cleaning Solution

    To clean washable vinyl and fiberglass wallpaper, mix two tablespoons of dishwashing liquid with one gallon of warm water in a bucket. Stir well to disperse the soap.

  3. Wipe Down the Walls

    Dip a soft sponge into the cleaning solution and wring it out until it is only slightly damp. Begin at the top of the wall and work down in even sections. This will catch any dirty drips that may occur. Try not to over-saturate the wallpaper or scrub too vigorously.

  4. Dry the Wallpaper

    Allow the wallpaper to air-dry or use a microfiber cloth to hand dry the walls.

  5. Inspect for Stains

    After the walls are dry, inspect the wallpaper for specific stains and heavily soiled areas. The most susceptible areas are around light switch plates, behind sinks, and areas that a child can reach with a crayon.

  6. Remove Scuffs, Dirt, and Fingerprints

    Use an art gum eraser to gently rub away the scuffs, soil, and fingerprints. This method can be used on all types of wallpaper. On vinyl and fiberglass papers, use a dot of dishwashing liquid on a wet sponge to wipe away the smudges. Rinse the area with a clean sponge dipped in plain water and wrung until just slightly damp.

  7. Remove Grease Spots

    Apply a liberal amount of cornstarch to a square of plastic food wrap. Attach the wrap to the wallpaper over the grease stain and allow the cornstarch to absorb the oil for at least 24 hours. Remove and brush away the cornstarch with a soft cloth. Repeat if needed.

    For grease stains on vinyl or fiberglass wallpaper, mix one-half cup of distilled white vinegar with one cup of warm water. Dip a sponge in this solution and apply it to the stained area. Towel dry and repeat if needed.

  8. Remove Crayon Marks

    Use a dull-edged knife or the edge of a credit card to gently scrape away excess crayon wax. Place several layers of white paper towels over the marks and press with an iron (no steam) on the lowest setting. The wax will transfer to the paper towels. Repeat with clean towels for each mark.

  9. Remove Mildew Stains

For mildew stains on vinyl or fiberglass papers, mix a solution of one-fourth cup chlorine bleach and one cup of water. Using a sponge or cotton swabs, dab the solution on the mildew stains. Let work for five minutes and then wipe away with a sponge dipped in plain water. Repeat as needed.