How to Vacuum Dust From Walls and Ceilings

Tools of the Trade: Vacuum cleaner hose and dust mop
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Vacuuming walls and ceilings doesn't mean they have to be covered with shag carpet, as groovy as that may sound. You might want to vacuum standard painted walls and ceilings to remove dust from moldings, picture frames, door and window trim, and air vents. Wall and ceiling textures can also harbor dust and cobwebs, and vacuuming is often the easiest way to clean them. The trick to getting these surfaces clean without scuffing the paint or hurting your back is to use a vacuum brush attachment and an extension wand or hose to reach up high without having to lift the vacuum.

Preparing to Vacuum Ceilings and Walls

Before you begin vacuuming the ceiling and walls, you may want to remove hanging photographs, artwork, and other decorative items. Chances are, these items are dusty, too, and it's safer to dust them on the floor than when they're hanging on the wall. Once they're off the wall, you can dust them by hand (with a dusting cloth) or with a vacuum and a soft brush attachment.

If you have furniture you'd like to protect from falling dust as you vacuum the ceiling and walls, you can drape items with large sheets or blankets. When you're finished dusting, simply roll up the sheets or blankets and shake them outside or throw them in the wash. If you suffer from allergies or asthma, you may also want to put on a mask before dusting the ceiling and walls.

Tools to Use

Most vacuums come with one or two brush attachments. Use the widest brush you have, but make sure there are no hard plastic parts that will contact the wall or ceiling surface. Hard plastic or metal parts can easily scratch or scuff painted surfaces and can permanently damage fragile wall coverings. If your walls have textured or natural wallpaper, you may need to use a round vacuum brush, which usually has the softest bristles of all the attachments.

Add all the extension wands that you have, or attach a long extension hose to reach the ceiling or reach high on the wall. Upright vacuums often have detachable hoses to provide extra reach when the hose is detached from the vacuum body. If you can't reach high enough with your attachments, raise the vacuum by setting it on a step ladder or a tall chair.

Work From the Top Down

If you're vacuuming both the ceiling and the walls, start with the ceiling, then do the walls from the top down. Dust brush attachments on vacuums do a pretty good job of containing the dust as you vacuum, but some dust will inevitably become airborne and will land on the walls or on furniture or the floor below. Working from the top down ensures that you pick up any fallen dust as you go.

Vacuuming Vents 

Use the dust brush tool and/or a crevice tool to clean dust that accumulates on any supply or return air vents. Supply vent s are usually low on walls or on the floor; return vents usually are high on the wall. The brush bristles get in between the louvers or slats on vents and wipe them clean while picking up the dust. Accumulated dust in vents reduces airflow, making your heating and cooling system less efficient.

Dusting Ceiling Fans

Vacuuming is one of the best ways to clean ceiling fans. Fan blades, or paddles, collect a lot of dust on their backsides and disperse the dust when the fan is running. Gently clean the blades with a soft brush attachment. You can also buy a special ceiling fan attachment for your vacuum. Clean the fan's motor housing, particularly any air vents in the housing, using a brush attachment.

How Often to Vacuum Ceilings and Walls

Ceiling and wall surfaces need to be vacuumed only about three to four times a year in most homes. If you have wallpaper that is heavily textured or flocked, it may need to be vacuumed monthly. Air vents should be vacuumed monthly, especially during the heating and cooling seasons.

Warning About Popcorn Ceilings

If your home has popcorn ceilings and was built before 1980, the ceiling texture may contain asbestos. It's best to play it safe and not vacuum the ceiling. Asbestos is dangerous when its fibers are airborne, and standard vacuum bags may not contain the fibers, allowing them to be dispersed around the room. As an alternative to vacuuming, you can spray a popcorn ceiling with an aerosol cleaner designed for heavy or fragile textures or suspended ceiling tiles.