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How To Clean Stained, Dingy Walls (Without Causing Damage)

Improve your health and create a more pleasant living environment. 

A bright, clean wall is like an interior design blank canvas; it has the potential to be transformed into something beautiful. In addition to aesthetics, there are also several practical reasons to keep your walls clean — and not just as part of your spring cleaning routine, but year round. For one thing, dirt and grime build up on top of wall paint, making it harder to remove the more tie passes. Dust can also accumulate on surfaces, causing allergies and respiratory problems. Furthermore, grease and other stains attract pests, which can lead to infestations. By regularly cleaning your walls, you help to improve your health and create a more pleasant living environment. 

That said, cleaning walls isn’t as easy as it seems. If you’re not careful, you can cause damage to your paint’s topcoat. But don’t worry — there are ways to clean walls that make them look freshly painted without too much elbow grease. 

DIY Cleaning Tips: Spot Test First

You’re walking through your home, and you spot it: A giant stain on the wall that’s impossible not to notice. How to clean it without causing damage? Do a spot test first. Choose an inconspicuous area of the wall and apply a small amount of the cleaner you plan to use. If the wall shows no visible damage after 24 hours, proceed with cleaning the stain. If, however, you notice discoloration or other damage, call a professional. Spot testing is an efficient means of ensuring that your walls will be safe from damage during the cleaning process.

How To Wash Walls: Start at the Top

An effective cleaning method for your walls is to start at the top and work your way down in circular motions. This will help you avoid streaks, scuff marks, and smears. It will also help you avoid getting your furniture and floors dirty. To start:

  • Dust your ceiling with a soft, dry cloth or a feather duster.
  • Move on to the top of the wall.
  • Grab a clean sponge and wet it with some soapy water. Use the damp sponge to wipe away smudges and stubborn stains, working in small sections.
  • Once you’re finished with the walls, move on to the baseboards and moldings.
  • Use a vacuum cleaner or sweep the floor to finish up.

By following these simple steps, you’ll be able to clean your walls quickly and easily — without making a mess.

Dusting Down Walls

One of life’s little pleasures is waking up in the morning to the sun shining through your window and casting a warm glow on your room. Less pleasurable is when you notice that your “clean walls” are actually covered in dust. (The sun highlights those particles like a spotlight.) There’s an easy fix for this problem. Just grab a cleaning cloth and give your walls a good dusting. Start with long, gentle strokes on the walls then move on to the tricky nooks and crannies where dust tends to accumulate. Your newly clean walls will make your entire space feel new.

Vacuuming Walls

When you open your windows to let in the fresh air — not likely something you do in the dead of winter but certainly an option in the warmer months — you also let in a lot of dust and dirt. Give your walls a deep clean with your vacuum. You’ll be surprised how easy it is and how much dirt comes off. Using your brush attachment, go over each section of the wall several times. When you’re finished, you’ll have clean walls that look brighter and fresher.

Choosing the Right Cleaning Solution

Walls need to be cleaned regularly, but it’s important to use a cleaning solution that won’t damage them. Here are a few things to consider when picking your cleaning solution:

  • What type of wall are you cleaning? Painted walls can be delicate, and using a harsh cleaning solution can damage most types of paint.
  • How much (and what type of) dirt and grime need to be removed? A heavy-duty cleaner may be necessary for tough stains, but a gentler solution is sufficient for light dirt.
  • Where will you be cleaning? Many cleaners release harmful fumes, so it’s important to be mindful of the size of the space you’re cleaning and ventilate the area well before starting the process.

Taking these things into account will help you choose the right cleaning solution for your walls.

Using a Spray Bottle

When it comes to cleaning walls, the safest way to do it is with a spray bottle. This prevents damage to the wall that results from splashing or dripping. Also, use a soft cloth or sponge, as rough scrubbing can damage the paint or finish on your wall and cause streaking. 

Applying Wall Cleaner

Applying wall cleaner in order to clean walls is a task that should be on your “business as usual” tidying list. It’s not as difficult or time-consuming as you might think. All that’s needed is a bucket of warm water, some washing-up liquid, and a sponge. Just make sure you don’t scrub too hard, or you’ll damage the paintwork. Once you’re done, rinse the walls with clean water — then stand back and admire the result of your handiwork. Your walls will look good as new.

Avoiding Harsh Chemicals or Abrasives on Wood Paneling

Harsh chemicals and abrasives are not your friends when it comes to cleaning wood paneling on walls. These can damage the finish and leave your paneling looking dull and lifeless. Instead, opt for a mild baking soda-based cleaner or dish soap and water solution, or a gentle all-purpose cleaner. Simply wipe the surface of the paneling with a soft cloth or sponge, taking care not to scrub too hard. For tougher stains, lightly sand the area with a fine-grit sandpaper. Once you’re finished cleaning, apply a fresh coat of furniture polish or wax to protect the wood and keep it looking its best.

Drying the Walls With a Towel or Chalkboard Eraser

After you’ve used a wall cleaner, be sure to dry the walls with a towel or a chalkboard eraser — a dry magic eraser will suffice here as well. This prevents streaks and smears on different paint finishes, and also helps to remove any residue that the cleaner didn’t catch. Additionally, drying the walls after cleaning will help to prolong the life of both latex paint and oil-based paint. 

Letting Your Walls Finish Drying Overnight

Recently, I cleaned my walls with a microfiber cloth and white vinegar-based wall cleaner. The latter recommended that I let the walls dry overnight. This may seem odd — that it might yield drips or damage the walls — but it turns out that air drying is the most effective means of getting your walls clean. The cleaner has time to work its way into the pores of the wall, which allows it to break up embedded dirt or grime. In addition, if you don’t let the walls dry properly, you run the risk of streaking or re-soiling them. 

Spot-Cleaning the Trim and Baseboards

One of the most crucial and often overlooked aspects of housekeeping is cleaning the trim and baseboards of the walls. This simple task can make a big difference in the appearance of your home — creating a brighter, fresher backdrop for your home design and decor. The best way to clean the trim and baseboards is to use a vacuum with a soft brush attachment. You’ll be amazed at the difference it makes. 

Cleaning Light Switch Covers and Receptacles

Have you ever thought about how often you touch the light switch covers on your walls? These surfaces can be breeding grounds for icky bacteria. That’s why it’s important to clean light switch covers on a regular basis. It’s easy to do. All you need is a little cleaner — soap and water works just fine — and you’re good to go.

Do remember, though, to unplug appliances and electrical devices before you start cleaning. Once done with your light switch covers, you can plug everything back in.

A Final Thought On Freshening Up Your Walls

Now that you know how to clean walls without causing damage, put these tips into practice. In the long run, they’ll save you time and energy. Spring cleaning is a nice idea, but it’s much easier if you give your lovely home — including your walls — regular TLC. 

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