How to Clean Walls Without Damaging Your Paint

White wall being cleaned with green microfiber cloth and gloved behind white bucket and sponges

The Spruce / Leticia Almeida

Project Overview
  • Working Time: 1 hr
  • Total Time: 1 hr
  • Skill Level: Beginner
  • Estimated Cost: $0-12

In most homes, the walls make up the largest area of hard surfaces. Even though walls are vertical, they can still become coated with dust, grease splatters, smoke, insect droppings, and spider webs. Areas near doors, light switches, and furniture take the most abuse and gather soil and scuffs from hands, feet, and sharp corners.

Just as you regularly clean floors, walls—whether painted, stone, brick, or wallpapered—also need attention. Dust mites are tiny organisms found in dust particles and can cause asthma attacks, a runny nose, watery eyes, and sneezing. A dusty home and dust mites can trigger allergies or respiratory issues, and so can the accumulation of dust on walls.

With just a few basic products and tools, you can easily maintain walls painted with different paint and finishes.

1:04

Get Those Scuff Marks off Your Walls Once and for All

How Often to Clean Walls

As part of your regularly scheduled chores, painted walls should be dusted and cobwebs removed at least monthly—twice a month is even better. You should clean smudges and dirt around doorknobs and light switches weekly. Large splatters and scribblings with crayons should be cleaned immediately for the best results.

Before You Begin

You can dust every type of paint finish. However, the paint type and the finish determine how best to clean it. Determine your kind of paint and check the lists below for pre-cleaning tips.

Types of Interior Wall Paint

  • Oil-based paint: Often used in high-moisture areas; more durable than latex paint and withstands frequent cleaning well
  • Water-based or latex paint: Most common interior wall paint; more resistant to cracking and chipping than oil-based but not as receptive to water-based cleaning

Types of Interior Paint Finishes

  • Flat or Matte: Almost chalky in appearance, with no shine to the surface; do not hold up well to cleaning; do not use harsh chemicals or excessive pressure when cleaning
  • Satin or Eggshell: Reflects light with a light sheen; more durable for cleaning and suitable for high traffic areas; do not use abrasive cleaners; limit the amount of moisture when cleaning
  • Semi-gloss: Reflects light with a noticeable shine; an excellent choice for kitchens, bathrooms, doors, and trim; holds up well to moisture and all but the harshest chemicals
  • High gloss: Leaves a robust and shiny surface; most durable finish; a good choice for furniture, cabinets, and trim; cleans easily with detergent or a degreaser

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Bucket
  • Sponges or microfiber cloths
  • Vacuum or duster
  • Melamine sponge
  • Step stool or ladder

Materials

  • All-purpose cleaner
  • Dishwashing liquid
  • Distilled white vinegar
  • Baking soda
  • Isopropyl rubbing alcohol
  • Laundry borax

Instructions

Materials and tools to clean walls

The Spruce / Leticia Almeida

How to Clean Latex-Painted Walls

  1. Remove Dust

    Starting at the top of the wall, use a vacuum with an extendable wand, dusting brush, or microfiber duster to remove dust and cobwebs. Always use a sturdy step stool or ladder when reaching high spots.

    Vacuum with dusting brush removing dust from wall

    The Spruce / Leticia Almeida

  2. Mix a Cleaning Solution

    Add one teaspoon of all-purpose cleaner per quart of warm water in a bucket. Fill a second bucket with clean water.

    All purpose cleaner poured into spoon over white bucket for solution to clean walls

    The Spruce / Leticia Almeida

  3. Wipe Down Walls

    Dip a sponge or microfiber cloth in the cleaning solution and wring until no water is dripping. Start at the top of the wall and, working in a small section, move down the wall. Starting at the top prevents drips from falling on areas already cleaned. Rinse out the sponge frequently.

    Microfiber dripping cleaning solution over white bucket to clean walls

    The Spruce / Leticia Almeida

  4. Rinse the Walls

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

    Walls rinsed with clean water and blue microfiber cloth

    The Spruce / Leticia Almeida

  5. Tackle Heavily Soiled Areas

    Ensure that the electricity is turned off and clean carefully around light switches and outlet plates. Do not allow these areas to become excessively wet.

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

    A bit of rubbing alcohol on a sponge works well to remove soil from painted areas around doorknobs and trim work.

    Sponge dipped in baking soda passing over light switch to clean heavy soiled areas

    The Spruce / Leticia Almeida

How to Clean Oil-Based Painted Walls

  1. Dust the Walls

    Begin by dusting the walls. Dusting will prevent loose dirt from being moved around while you clean.

    Oil-based paint wall being dusted of loose dirt

    The Spruce / Danielle Moore

  2. Mix a Cleaning Solution

    Add one teaspoon dishwashing liquid and 1/2 teaspoon distilled white vinegar per quart of warm water in a bucket. Fill a second bucket with plain water for rinsing.

    White buckets with cleaning solution of dishwashing liquid and vinegar

    The Spruce / Danielle Moore

  3. Wipe and Rinse

    Dip a sponge or microfiber cloth in the cleaning solution, wring out well, and wipe down the walls starting at the top. Follow up with a sponge dipped in plain water and wrung well for a final rinse.

    Microfiber cloth ringed with cleaning solution

    The Spruce / Danielle Moore

  4. Tackle Tough Stains

    If the walls are filthy, add two tablespoons of laundry borax to the cleaning solution.

    A melamine sponge (Mr. Clean Eraser) works well to remove soil on semi-gloss or glossy oil paint finishes. Using a light touch, the abrasive action will remove almost all scuffs.

    Stain on oil-based painted wall cleaned with melamine sponge

    The Spruce / Danielle Moore

Tips to Keep Walls Clean Longer

To stretch the time between wall cleanings, you can do a few things to lessen your workload. Avoid smoke in the house, from tobacco and cooking to burning candles or incense; the soot from combustion coats walls, getting them dirty quicker.

Also, immediately spot clean walls when you notice smudges or hand prints between the big jobs. It will extend the appearance of clean walls longer.

Tips

Teach young children to keep their hands off the walls; they are usually the biggest culprits for dirty handprints on the walls.

Removing Writing From Walls

If you have little kids, your young Picassos might have gotten inspired and marked up your walls. Or—and this can happen to anyone—you are walking out of a room with items in your hand, and your pen drops, ricochets, or happens to glide along a wall. How do you remove crayon, permanent marker, or ink markings from a wall?

  • Crayons: To remove crayon markings, first try baby wipes. Sometimes, a little mark only needs a little solution. But, if your child went full Rembrandt, try rubbing it out with some non-gel toothpaste, an art eraser, or baking soda on a damp sponge.
  • Permanent marker: Dab at the stain with a cotton ball doused in rubbing alcohol, but be mindful that rubbing alcohol could damage the paint. If rubbing doesn't work, try spraying hairspray on the spot and wiping it clean with a water-dampened cloth.
  • Ballpoint ink: If you have some foaming shaving cream, try dabbing this popular home remedy on the stain. You can also use nail polish remover instead.

Removing Mildew and Water Stains From Walls

Mold and mildew are pesky stains that will return if you do not remediate the problem. Unfortunately, you will likely need to repaint water-stained walls. First, make sure that if there is a leak behind the wall, you handle the cause of the water stain. If the situation has been remedied, you want to clean the stain with a solution of 50% bleach and 50% water to prevent mildew growth. Apply it to the entire area. Use a hair dryer or fan to dry the area. Once dry, repaint the area using mold and mildew-resistant paint.

If you have a little mildew growth but no water stain, you can try cleaning it off with a vinegar solution (1 tablespoon of vinegar and 1 quart of water) or blot on an enzyme-based laundry cleaner and clean it off with a moistened towel.

When to Call a Professional

If you have vast sections of walls that have been blackened by mold, then it's time to call a mold remediation service to handle the mold situation. They will likely remove the entire portion of the wall, clean out the mold in the wall's interior, and replace the wall panel. The costs vary drastically on the size of the job and how difficult the mold situation is. It can cost between $15 and $30 per square foot, plus all the charges for evaluation, new materials, and more.

If routine wall cleaning is not something you like to do or plan on ever doing, then it's time to call in a house cleaning service to do it periodically for you. You want to keep the air quality in your home as clean as you can to prevent triggering allergies or any respiratory conditions from occurring. You can expect to pay at least $40 to $65 per person per hour to clean your house; if you only want your walls cleaned, they should be able to tackle it in an hour, depending on the size of your home.

Article Sources
The Spruce uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Dust and dust mites. American Lung Association.

  2. Dust Allergies. American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology.