House Cleaning Tips > Living Area > Cleaning Dirty Grimy Painted Walls

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How to Clean Painted Walls

Some people have walls that hardly ever need to be cleaned- maybe just dusted from time to time.

The rest of us are not so lucky. Whether from people, children, pets or even poor air quality in our home, our painted walls need some TLC.

Dirt, dust, smoke generated from cooking, wood heaters, smokers, natural gas stoves, little sticky fingers will eventually make even the nicest wall look dirty.

Even clean hands that we have used to steady ourselves going up or down the stairs have natural oils on them that will end up showing as dirty spots on our walls.

The cause of dirty walls is never ending. But do not fret. I am happy to tell you that I am the queen of cleaning dirty walls, and I have just the remedy to clean up all your dirt and grime fast. Wall washing is easy and should go much more smoothly than you might expect

Cleaning Supplies:

To get ready for washing a painted wall, you’re going to need:

  • Duster
  • 2 Buckets (1 will work, but 2 makes it easier)
  • 4 Clean Cloths
  • 2 Dry Towels
  • 2 Rubber Bands
  • Cleaning Solution (test on inconspicuous part of wall first.)
  • Step Stool (if necessary)

Prepare Your Walls:

You might not see the dust, and hey, maybe you think you don't care.. You're going to be washing them right? But the dust is there and trust me, not removing dust and any excess debris clinging to the wall will make your job 10x harder.

Dust mixed with water turns into dirty streaks or drips on your walls. We want to avoid this. We want clean walls, so dusting first will really help.

Are you on board with me then? :) I don't want to push it, but while you’re up there, you might as well dust your ceiling. Maybe not? At least start where the walls meet the ceiling and work your way down with a dust mop, static duster, feather duster, a Swiffer or even a towel will do it..

When you get back down to the floor, use a damp clean rag to wipe up any dust that settled there id you have hard floors, or grab the vacuum if you have carpet. It’s important to clean up the dirt and dust now before you might get the floor wet. It will make cleanup much easier.

While you are dusting, look for marks on your walls. If you see crayon, add WD40 or Mr Clean Magic Eraser (they really are magic and work great) to your supplies list.

Stop Yucky Arm Drips:

One of the most annoying things about cleaning your painted walls is that water drips down your arms as you clean. (It makes me shiver to think about it- I hate that feeling!)

While you are preparing your cleaning solution in one bucket, make your “wall-washing arm protectors” by wrapping a cloth around each wrist.

Keep each wrist-wrap secure with a rubber band. Voila. No more drippy arms. You can also use sweatbands if you have them.

Organizing Your Work Area:

One of your buckets will hold a cleaning solution (a Borax and water solution or a general purpose cleaner with water solution will work well). The other bucket should contain clean water to rinse the walls after you wash them.

  • Toss a cloth in each bucket then move to your cleaning area.
  • Put one dry towel on the floor right up against the baseboard. This will protect your floors (especially carpet) from getting wet as you clean.
  • As your towel becomes too damp or wet, replace it with a dry one OR toss it in the dryer and take a 15-minute break.
  • Put the other dry towel over your shoulder or on your step stool.

Basic Wall Cleaning Tips:

The most important things to remember when you’re cleaning your walls are:

  1. Remove the dust and any clinging dirt from the walls first.
  2. Dust thoroughly from the top down.
  3. Wash your way back up your walls to stop streaks and drips.

Always start by dusting your walls from the top down. Then, when you’re actually cleaning your walls, start from the bottom and work your way up. I know this sounds counter-intuitive. But if the dust falls from the top first, it won't be settling on an area you have wiped down. Washing from the bottom up, stops the streaking and little rivers of cleaning solution being pushed down as you wipe. Water streaking on dirty walls is harder to clean than water streaking on clean walls.

Start Washing:

Now you’re ready to start. Remember that you’re starting at the bottom, so get prepared to work on your knees.Start at the baseboards and cover an area about 1/4 or 1/3 of the way up the wall. Don’t do the whole length of your wall at once.

  1. Do one small width area (about 3 feet or so at most) at a time all the way up, and then move down the wall.
  2. In circular motions, clean the area with solution from the cleaning mix bucket.
  3. Then take the cloth from the clean water bucket, wring it out, and rinse the area you've just washed.
  4. Finally, take a towel and dry the area you've washed and rinsed.
  5. Move up to the next 1/4 or 1/3 of the wall and repeat.
  6. Check the wall for streaks when you get to the top.
  7. Wet streaks can be wiped away with the towel.
  8. Dry streaks can be corrected with the damp cloth from the clean water bucket.

How To Keep Your Painted Walls Clean, Or Cleaner For Longer Anyway!

  • Regularly dust your walls with a duster or Swiffer. Keeping dust off of the walls will keep stains from forming as the dust is smeared into the walls with oily fingertips.
  • Clean up marks as soon as you see them, even if they are just dirty fingerprints. If you get the marks early, you can usually wipe them off using just a damp cloth.
  • Keep a white, vinyl eraser (or magic eraser) on hand to remove marks, and every time you paint, save a bit of the paint to be used later when small touch-ups are needed.
  • If you have a smoker in your home, wash your walls regularly to prevent heavy smoke stains from forming. (Or better yet, have them go outside to smoke.)
  • When painting your walls in the future, consider using a semi-gloss paint. Satin paint can be easily stained or even removed from just water, which makes washing satin-painted walls nearly impossible.

Now that you know how to properly prepare and clean your walls, it won't seem like such an overwhelming task. With a little elbow grease your old walls can have that fresh painted look.

Image courtesy of Lynn-Anne Bruns, CC BY Flickr.


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Born and raised in Seattle, Washington, Mrs Clean (Corina Wilson) is not only the owner of the company, but a very busy mother of 3 children.

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Mrs Clean realized long ago, that a clean home is a necessity, not a luxury when we are struggling to find the time in our day to cover the very basic levels of work and/or family obligations. The battle seems to never end... (but that's why we're here to help!)

When Mrs Clean is not busy managing her house cleaning company or running her kids back and forth to their events, she enjoys experimenting with natural and non-toxic cleaners and learning new techniques to remove stains.

She thoroughly enjoys sharing her valuable information with the readers of her blogs and various social media sites.

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