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How to Clean White Walls in 6 Easy Steps

White minimal living room

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If you're hoping for a modern-yet-timeless feel in any room of your home, consider painting your walls white. For one thing, white walls immediately make a space feel bigger and brighter. Plus, with a blank canvas to build on, you can incorporate just about any style (or color) of furniture and decor into your space. As Instagram-worthy as fresh white walls may be, take warning—they require their fair share of maintenance.

As with anything light-colored, over time, your white walls will put dirt and signs of wear and tear. But with the right strategies, you can keep your white walls clean using a few simple things like dish soap, a duster, and a non-abrasive sponge. Here's how to clean white walls effectively, step by step, according to experts.

Meet the Expert

  • Paige NeJame is the owner of the Boston-based interior painting company CertaPro.
  • Alex Varela is the general manager of Dallas Maids, a professional home-cleaning service in Texas.

How Often Should You Clean White Walls?

According to NeJame, white walls typically require a thorough cleaning about every six months or so—that's when they typically start accumulating noticeable dirt and debris. If you have kids or animals who sully your space, you may want to clean your white walls more frequently. Still, NeJame says, most homeowners may not clean their walls as often as you would think.

"Wall cleaning used to be something that every good homeowner or cleaning service tackled twice a year, and now it’s something that is not done nearly as often as it should be," she says, adding that if you use a cleaning service, they will likely charge you a surcharge to clean the walls. 

Common signs of white walls in need of cleaning include:

  • Visible dust on walls
  • Scuffs on walls
  • Dirt on walls
  • Spiderwebs in the corners where the walls meet the ceiling

Of course, you don't have to wait for a bi-annual clean or for any of these signs to pop up. NeJame recommends using your judgment on when it's time to freshen up your walls.

Things You'll Need

To effectively clean your white walls, you'll need a few tools:

  • A duster or your vacuum's dust-brush attachment
  • Dry mop (optional)
  • Microfiber cloth (optional)
  • Magic Eraser (optional)
  • Non-abrasive sponge
  • Mild liquid dish soap
  • Bucket
  • Warm water

How to Clean White Walls

White bedroom

Klaus Vedfelt / Getty Images

It likely took some time for your white walls to get dirty, so it'll take a bit of time to amply clean them. Fortunately, you won't need any fancy tools or cleaners to get the job done. Here's how to clean white walls, one step at a time, according to the pros.

Step 1: Start With a Blank Slate

Before you actually start cleaning, ensure you're starting with a blank slate. Remove anything that might be hanging on the wall and set it aside. (Now's a great time to dust those off, if you want to go the extra mile.)

Step 2: Dust From Top to Bottom

Dirt isn't the only enemy when you're restoring your white walls to their once-bright state. Prior to washing, thoroughly dust your walls from the ceiling downward. You can use any type of duster, even a microfiber cloth—but NeJame suggests using your vacuum's dust-brush attachment for a deeper clean. If you don't have a duster attachment, try a dry-mop head wrapped with a soft, clean cloth.

With your chosen tool, dust from top to bottom, being careful not to scratch the wall with the rigid parts of the mop or vacuum.

Liquids and flat wall finishes aren't a good match, according to Varela. If you have flat painted walls, Varela recommends sticking with dry cleaning methods.

Step 3: Create Your Cleaning Solution

Now, for the fun part: Grab a bucket and fill it with a gallon of warm (not hot) water. Then, NeJame recommends adding a squirt of gentle dish soap. You won't need as much as you think." "Less soap is actually better because it'll help you rinse the soap thoroughly after you finish," she says. "Soapy residue left on a wall ends up attracting dirt later on."

Step 4: Spot Test

So you don't accidentally damage your walls or paint job, test an inconspicuous and small area of your wall with your soap solution. Try washing a section of walls that’s normally hidden behind your couch or a painting; NeJame says you want to make sure your soap and water solution won’t do damage to the pigment or sheen of the paint.

Varela recommends waiting a few hours after testing so you can tell if the paint has been damaged. Flat and eggshell paint are particularly prone to staining and discoloration, he says.

Step 5: Clean The Walls

Soak a cloth or sponge in the liquid, and wring it out well so it's damp but not soaking, which will prevent watermarks and paint bubbling. Then, wash your walls gently in sections, using circular motions. Because water will drip as you clean, it's best to start at the top of the wall and clean your way down.

Step 6: Do Detail Work

After you thoroughly clean your actual walls, you can also use your sponge to clean your baseboards and trim, too. If you can still see marks or dirt on any area of your wall, this is where melamine foam (also known as a Magic Eraser) come in handy. Simply wet the foam, squeeze out excess water, and gently rub on affected areas. Don't go overboard, since the foam's abrasiveness could damage your wall's finish.

When Should I Paint Over The Walls?

It's not necessarily the most convenient route, but if you desperately need a refresh, you can always paint over them. Here are a few telltale signs it may be time for a new paint job, according to NeJame:

  • Scuffs aren't coming out
  • The paint sheen is damaged
  • The walls have water or smoke stains

Keep in mind that it's tough to paint over "just the dirty spots" on a wall because fresh paint will appear a different color than older, faded paint jobs. But you may be able to get away with it. "Usually if the paint is newly painted in the past 2 years and you get a scuff on it, you can likely touch up with the paint you have left over," NeJame says.

When Should I Hire Professional Cleaners?

One sign that you may need professional cleaners' assistance is brown drippings on your wall that won't disappear no matter how much or thoroughly you clean. Varela says these stains are often due to nicotine residue, which may have occurred in your home due to the previous owners. "If this is the case, you should contact professionals to remove that," he says.