Cleaning Walls Before You Paint

Get rid of dirt and debris on any wall with these quick, easy cleaning tips

Tired of thinking the walls in your house resemble giant dirty napkins? Whether you're trying to remove scuffs, finger prints or crayon marks, these simple steps to cleaning walls will get your house looking spotless in no time.  

Remove Wall Hangings and Decor

Take down framed artwork and other hangings from the wall. Move the furniture far enough away so there’s enough room to clean behind it. Place a plastic sheet on the floor to absorb any water spills that may occur from cleaning walls in your home.

Dust the Surface, Crown Molding, Corners and Baseboards

Swish a feather duster, micro-fiber sweeper or a broom with its head wrapped in an old T-shirt from side to side, starting at the top of the wall and moving downward. To eliminate as much dirt in those hard-to-reach spots, use a long-handled vacuum with a bristled nozzle.

Determine the Type of Paint Before Cleaning Walls

Before wiping down your wall, determine the type of paint, wallpaper or natural covering on it and follow the instructions below.

Paint: Semi-Gloss Finishes

When cleaning walls, start from the bottom and work upward to avoid drip marks, and scrub the semi-gloss finished walls with a sponge moistened in cool water. Dry with a clean towel.

Paint: Satin, Flat or Latex Finishes

Test a patch of paint in an inconspicuous area. If the paint holds up well, softly wipe the wall using circular motions otherwise it can damage the paint. (Beware: If the bucket water takes on the hue of the wall, immediately stop—the wall cannot be cleaned with water.) Gently pat the wall dry with a towel. Can’t get those stubborn marks off? Mix 1-cup ammonia, ½- cup vinegar, and ¼-cup baking soda to one gallon of cool water in a bucket for a mild cleaning solution. Dip in the sponge, wring it out, and gently wipe the soiled areas. 

Wallpaper: Vinyl- and Acrylic-Coated Fabric Panels

Create a mild cleaning solution of dishwashing soap and water in a bucket. Soak a sponge, squeeze out the excess water, and spot test the solution in a small, hidden area. (Beware: If the wallpaper absorbs the solution or looks discolored, then it cannot be washed.) Clean each panel in the direction of the seam. Drench another sponge with clean, warm water, wring it out, and wipe down. Pat the paper dry immediately.

Wallpaper: Uncoated Fabric Panels

Perform a spot test in an out-of-sight area, rubbing wallpaper-cleaning putty in a circular motion. Repeat across the entire wall if there’s no discoloration or damage.


Make a mild detergent of dishwashing soap and water. Soak the sponge, press out any remaining water, and begin washing each panel from the bottom working upward. Buff with a dry cloth immediately. For extra shine, use an oil soap like Murphy’s or Old English.

Christine Petrozzo is a freelance writer living in San Francisco, Ca.

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