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How to Clean Walls Without Damaging the Paint or Wallpaper, According to an Expert

Of all the surfaces in your home that need cleaning, walls are probably way down on your list, if they are even on the list at all. But like floors, countertops, furniture and other horizontal surfaces, vertical surfaces collect dust, fingerprints and scuffs and scrapes, too. With an occasional cleaning, the walls in your home — whether painted or papered — can stay looking their best. All walls can be dry dusted, but only some are safe for wet cleaning. In the Good Housekeeping Institute Cleaning Lab, one of the tests we do when we evaluate multi-purpose cleaners is to see how well and how safely they clean painted walls.


Here are the steps, techniques and products we recommend for how to clean walls without damaging them.

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How to clean a painted wall (without removing the paint!)

Before you get started, note that eggshell, flat and satin paint finishes are the most delicate and require the lightest touch. Gloss and semi-gloss paint finishes are more durable and can withstand a bit more pressure and stronger cleaners.

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Step 1: Remove dust.

It may be hard to see, but fine dust clinging to walls can make even the brightest paint colors look dingy, not to mention pesky cobwebs that seem to appear out of nowhere. The easiest way to dust a painted wall is with a long-handled dry floor mop that uses either a microfiber pad or disposable cloth, like Good Housekeeping Seal star Swiffer. If you can, remove any artwork, photos and small mirrors before you start. Attach a clean pad or cloth to the mop, and with vertical strokes go up and down the wall, overlapping passes and wiping along the baseboard and crown moldings as you move along. Check the pad or cloth regularly to see when it needs to be shaken out or replaced to keep from depositing dust back onto the wall. You can also use your vacuum’s soft dusting brush attachment. This dusting method is also safe for wallpaper-covered walls.

Step 2: Wash grime and fingerprints.

Areas around light switches and door jambs and walls exposed to greasy dirt, like in the kitchen and dining areas, need more than dry dusting. After removing surface dust and webs …


  • Mix a solution of mild dish soap and warm water. Keep a separate container of clear water to rinse.
  • Dip a clean sponge or cloth into the sudsy mixture, wring it well and starting at the bottom, clean a two- or three-foot square section of the wall or whatever size area is comfortable for you to cover.
  • Rinse your sponge or cloth in the clear water, wring it well and go over the same area to rinse. Blot or let air dry.
  • Be careful not to over-wet the wall or scrub too harshly and work your way up and across the wall in sections. Working from bottom to top may sound counterintuitive, but doing so keeps any water from causing streaks or dirty puddles should drips run down the wall.

Step 3: Erase scuffs and stains.

If you come to a surface smudge or stain that just doesn’t wash away, try lightly buffing it out with an eraser-type sponge, like GH Seal star Mr. Clean Magic Eraser. Test it — and any stain remover — first on a hidden spot for safety and rub lightly. You can also try removing stains, like crayon, from paint with a baking soda paste or hydrogen peroxide. Rubbing alcohol and vinegar also remove stains, like candle soot, but proceed carefully. They can remove some paint along with it. Apply the stain remover with a cloth and rub lightly in a circular motion. Wipe with a clean damp cloth to rinse and repeat, if needed.


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