How to Clean Walls to Remove Scuffs and Stains

Keep painted walls looking fresh with preventive maintenance and these simple cleaning methods.

You frequently mop your floors and vacuum your rugs, but when was the last time you cleaned the walls? Considering how much we lean against and touch them on a daily basis, keeping your walls clean is just as important as cleaning other household surfaces. Plus, over time, painted walls can accumulate stains, marks, shoe scuffs, and dust that give the surface a dull, dirty appearance. To preserve that freshly painted look, plan to wipe down your walls regularly. However, walls with different paint types and finishes require special care when scrubbing. Before you add this chore to your whole-house cleaning schedule, read our tips to learn how to clean walls without removing paint.

cleaning wall with blue cloth
Jason Donnelly

How to Clean Painted Walls

The first thing you should consider when washing painted walls is the finish. If needed, reference our handy guide to paint finishes. Whether the finish is glossy or flat will determine how scrubbing will affect the look of the wall.

How to Clean Walls with Flat Paint

Duller paint finishes, including flat, satin, and eggshell finishes, are less durable when it comes to cleaning. Do not use harsh chemicals or degreasers when cleaning flat painted walls. When washing with a sponge, be sure not to scrub too hard. The sponge should be wrung out almost completely before putting it on the walls.

How to Clean Glossy or Semigloss Painted Walls

Because these paints are highly durable, they're most commonly used in high-traffic areas like the kitchen and bathroom. It's OK to use a mild degreaser on glossy kitchen backsplashes or vanity doors. Although glossy and semigloss paint is durable, it will still scratch, so always use a soft sponge when cleaning walls.

How to Clean Walls with Latex Paint

The best way to clean walls painted with latex paint is to use warm water and a non-abrasive all-purpose cleaner. Dip a clean sponge in the water, then wring it dry. Gently rub the wall. Pay special attention to areas that get touched often, such as around doorknobs and light switches. Rinse with a second sponge and clear water. Take care not to wet areas around outlets, light switches, telephone jacks, and other electrical connections. If scrubbing those spots is necessary, turn off electricity at the circuit breaker box.

For stubborn spots, such as fingerprints, newspaper smudges, or scuffs, make a paste of baking soda and water and rub the area with a nonabrasive pad. If cleaner (or white vinegar and water) doesn't remove the grime or stain on painted woodwork, wipe the woodwork with a rag dampened with rubbing alcohol.

How to Clean Walls with Oil-Based Paint

Wash walls painted with oil-based paint in the same manner, substituting a detergent solution (see recipe below) for the cleaner or white vinegar mixture. Wring the sponge or cloth until only slightly damp. Texture-painted walls, such as those with a troweled finish, can be dust catchers and might require deeper cleaning. Add 1 ounce of borax to each pint of water to clean the wall.

How to Clean Stains from Painted Walls

To clean wall stains, you'll want to act promptly. The sooner you can wash the stain, the better chance you have of removing it. Luckily, you likely have the best product to clean walls already in your pantry. Mix a few tablespoons of baking soda with warm water until a paste forms. Gently work the formula into the wall stain. Wipe away any residue with a clean, damp cloth. The gentle abrasive works especially well on grease wall stains.

mixing cleaning solution with blue bucket

How to Make All-Purpose Cleaner for Wall Stains

Not all wall stains come out easily. You might need more than a little water to remedy the situation. This all-purpose detergent can be used for oil-based painted walls. Adjust the recipe as needed for the size of your wall or stain.

  1. Stir 1 tsp. of liquid dish detergent into a quart of warm water.
  2. Add 1/4 tsp. of white vinegar.
  3. Let the solution sit on the stain for 10 minutes before blotting.

To prevent color from transferring from your towel to your walls, use a white lint-free rag or microfiber cloth.

neutral gray and white living room striped floor rug

How to Prevent Dirty Walls

Maintain a freshly painted look on your walls by keeping them free of dust and spots. Practicing preventive maintenance means less time spent scrubbing walls later.

To help keep walls clean, vacuum painted walls with a soft brush attachment. Then wipe them down with a cloth-covered broom or mop (spray with a dusting agent for best results), or use an electrostatic dusting wipe. Wipe away fingerprints and other marks like sticker residue soon after they appear. Avoid using an excessive amount of water when cleaning painted walls to prevent drips.

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