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Never underestimate the power of a fresh coat of paint. Whether you choose a pretty pastel or a dark, moody hue, the color on your walls sets the tone for your space. But while we spend a lot of time thinking about choosing the right shade, we rarely think about keeping the walls looking as fresh as they did when they first dried.
Regardless of how well you maintain your home, scuffs, oil splashes, and even soot from your candles can leave marks. Unless you clean them on a regular basis, your once-beautiful walls can start to look unkempt. Since using the wrong cleaning supplies can leave your walls looking streaky—or, even worse, faded—we asked cleaning and paint experts Rob Green, Abe Navas, and Kait Schulhof to share their tips and tricks.
Below, read on to learn the best ways to clean painted walls to keep your space looking brand-new every day.
Meet the Expert
How Often Should You Clean Painted Walls?
To preserve your paint and ensure it stays vibrant, put this task on your cleaning schedule about once per year. If you notice scuffs, dirt, or stains have developed in certain areas on your walls, spot-treat those places as needed to ensure stains don't set in deeper over time.
Things You'll Need:
- Clean bucket
- Warm, soapy water
- Baking soda
- Magic eraser
- Sponge or cleaning cloth
- Can of your paint color (for latex-based paint)
How to Clean Painted Walls (Based on Paint Formula)
An important consideration when cleaning your walls is how your paint was formulated in the first place.
"There are two types of paint: One is oil-based and the other one is not," says Abe Navas, general manager of a Dallas-based cleaning service called Emily's Maids. "Oil-based paints are a little bit easier to clean, but a pain to maintain. Water paints [can be] cleaned but at the cost of the paint itself."
Fortunately, it's easy to figure out your paint's formula. A quick search—or chat with your favorite paint company's customer service team—will give you all the answers you need. Then it's time to start cleaning.
Step 1: Dust Your Walls
Before you begin coating the walls in a cleaning solution and scrubbing any dirt, stains, or marks, you should dust the surface. Removing dust ensures that a liquid mixture won't wet down debris on the walls and create new marks of dirt.
Step 2: Determine the Best Method
Oil-based paint is durable, but Navas says you should never use a solvent like alcohol or acetone. "It will ruin your wall and you will need to give it a new coat," he explains. "Oil paint hates to be given new coats."
If your paint isn't oil-based, it's likely considered a water-based (a.k.a. latex-based) option. While you can gently apply warm water to these walls with a sponge, it can wreak havoc on the paint itself.
Step 3: Mix Your Cleaning Solution
For latex-based walls, move on to step four. For painted walls with an oil-based formula, Navas recommends filling a bucket with water and adding a small amount of soap or detergent. Mix the cleaning solution together thoroughly, then begin gently scrubbing with a sponge.
Be careful not to scrub too hard—you can always bring out the Magic Eraser to spot-treat any areas that don't come clean after washing with dish soap and water.
Step 4: Paint a Fresh Coat for Latex-Based Walls
If your wall paint is latex-based, it's better to skip step three and opt for a fresh coat of paint instead. "The best thing you can do is to give [them] a new coat," Navas recommends. "The next time you are purchasing paint, buy an extra bucket; use it to give new coats when necessary."
For walls that haven't been painted in several years, you might notice that factors like age and sunlight from the windows have changed the color over time. Test the paint first in an unsuspecting area to ensure it blends evenly with the rest of the wall when dry; if it's slightly off, paint the rest of the wall for an even coat.
How to Clean Painted Walls (Based on Paint Finish)
Your paint's finish—eggshell, velvet, semi-gloss, or glossy—can play a major role in how it should be cleaned. First and foremost, it's important to consider the quality of your paint. Unlike cheaper options, which can have their coating rubbed off if you scrub too hard, COAT Paints co-founder Rob Green says higher-quality paints are more durable.
"Paints should achieve ISO Class 1 for scrub testing, which allows you to be much more thorough in your cleaning without the worry of taking paint off," he shares. Green adds that finishes with a subtle sheen are typically more durable and moisture-resistant than their matte counterparts. If you're thinking about giving your room a fresh, easy-to-clean coat, opt for a glossy finish.
Step 1: Dust Your Walls
Similar to cleaning walls based on paint formula, clear any dust and residue from the walls before scrubbing them with liquid mixtures or adding a fresh coat of paint.
Step 2: Create a Dish Soap and Water Mixture
"In 90 percent of cases, you can clean wall scuffs and marks with a little soap, water, and a cleaning towel," explains Kait Schulhof, who runs cleaning-centric website A Clean Bee. "Dilute a teaspoon of dish soap with one to two cups of water in a spray bottle. Spray it on your cleaning cloth and scrub away whatever marks you're trying to remove."
Step 3: Bring Out the Baking Soda
Are your walls overdue for a deep cleaning? Schulhof recommends adding baking soda to the mix for extra oomph. Start with a teaspoon, then slowly increase the amount until any stains on your walls wipe away easily.
Step 4: Try a Magic Eraser for Stubborn Marks
Since matte paint is more difficult to clean, you might need to call in some reinforcements. "A Magic Eraser is a popular, effective tool for erasing scuffs from walls painted in a matte finish," Schulhof says. "Use it very gently and with caution, as these can also wear away the paint if you're too rough!"
How to Keep Painted Walls Clean Longer
The best way to prevent major stains, scuffs, or marks on your walls that are difficult to remove is to clean as they happen. If you notice spots beginning to appear from regular wear and tear, gently scrub them with soap and water. For more stubborn spots, it's still recommended to use a Magic Eraser on scuffs and stains for oil-based paint between yearly deep cleans. Keep a small paintbrush handy to touch up spots on latex-based walls as needed.