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How to Clean Walls and Ceilings

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Your home’s walls and ceilings collect a surprising amount of dust. If you haven’t made a point of cleaning them as part of your weekly routine, it may take a bit of effort the first time you do.

Once you make cleaning walls and ceilings a regular part of your cleaning routine, it’ll take just minutes in each room. Right away, though, you’ll notice less dust in your house, which means it stays clean longer.

How to Clean Walls

The first step in cleaning walls is dusting them. Use a long-handled duster and slow, overlapping strokes from the top of the wall to the baseboard. You may also want to dust the baseboards once you’ve wiped the wall.

Washing Painted Walls

If you want to wash your walls after dusting them, pull furniture toward the center of the room or protect it with towels. Then prepare a cleaning solution. If you have mold on your walls, treat those areas before cleaning the entire wall.

Equipment and Materials

Two buckets
2 gallons of warm water
2 tablespoons liquid dish detergent
A natural sea sponge (dyed ones may leave marks on your wall)
Clean white cleaning rags and towels

Steps

  1. Fill one bucket with 1 gallon of warm water. Add the liquid dish detergent and gently swirl the water with your hand.
  2. Fill the second bucket with plain warm water.
  3. Start at an entrance and plan to work clockwise around the room.
  4. Lay a towel on the floor at the base of the wall where you’ll be cleaning.
  5. Dip the sponge in the soapy water and gently wring it until it’s not dripping wet. Wash 3-foot by 3-foot sections of the wall, starting at the top and working down. Wash in light, circular motions, and focus your efforts on frequently touched areas (corners, around light switches and doors, etc.)
  6. Dip a clean white cloth in the bucket containing plain water and wipe the area you just washed.
  7. Dry the spot with a towel before moving lower to the next 3×3′ section.
  8. Proceed clockwise around the room until you’ve washed every wall.
  9. Allow the walls to dry for a half-hour before treating any remaining stains.

Wallpapered Walls

Before cleaning wallpapered walls, test for colorfastness in an inconspicuous area by dabbing it with water. Let the spot air dry, then examine the area. If the spot turns dark or the colors run, use the method for non-washable wallpaper.

Washable wallpaper can be cleaned like painted walls. Be careful to keep your sponge from getting too wet so you don’t saturate the paper.

Nonwashable wallpaper requires vacuuming using a soft brush attachment. Remove greasy fingerprints by pressing a piece of bread on the area to absorb oil. You can also remove stubborn grime with a commercial dry-cleaning sponge.

Brick Walls

Start by sweeping or vacuuming the wall from top to bottom, then wash it with the soapy water method used for painted walls. To remove greasy marks or stubborn dirt from brick, combine table salt and enough liquid dish soap to make a paste and apply it to the spot. Scrub with an old toothbrush, then use a damp microfiber cloth to wipe away the soapy mixture after 5 minutes. Rinse the area with water until the soap is gone.

How to Get Stains off of Walls

Below are solutions for common stains found on walls. Always spot-test a solution in an inconspicuous area to ensure it does not change the color or sheen of your wall. Do not use it if you notice any changes after the solution has air-dried.

Crayons

Make a paste of baking soda and water. Lightly wipe the area with this mixture in a circular motion, then use a clean, damp rag to wipe away any residue. Use rubbing alcohol and a cotton swab to remove any lingering color.

Pencils

The easiest way to get pencil marks off walls is with a clean pencil eraser. If the eraser isn’t perfectly pink or white, rub it vigorously on a piece of paper to remove any graphite, then rub the eraser along the pencil mark on your wall.

Ink and Permanent Marker

Use rubbing (isopropyl) alcohol and a cotton swab to remove ink on your walls. Trace over the mark with a cotton swab dampened with alcohol, but do not rub or you may spread the stain. Repeat with fresh swabs as needed until the stain is gone.

Grease and Fingerprints

Lightly rub a piece of white chalk or a scoop of baby powder or cornstarch over the area. (You’ll want to put a towel on the floor and dust the wall when you’re done.) This powder will absorb and pull grease from the paint. Allow it to remain in place for 10 minutes before wiping the area with a 50-50 mix of white vinegar and warm water.

Soot or smoke damage

Soot and smoke damage requires a two-step approach. First, use a commercial dry cleaning sponge on the area, dragging it downwards in overlapping strips. The sponge will pick up soot in its pores as you work. Wash the area using soap and water once you’ve removed the soot with the sponge.

How to Clean Ceilings

You should always clean ceilings before walls since dust will fall from them as you work. Using a long-handled duster will allow you to reach most ceilings without a ladder. For vaulted or cathedral ceilings, you may still need the extra height.

Dust First

Begin by turning off your ceiling fan and any ceiling light, including recessed lighting. You may also want to cover intricate furniture or bookshelves with sheets to keep dust from falling on them. Then, go over the ceiling with a long-handled duster using slow, overlapping strokes. Remove stubborn dirt, like the kind around ceiling fans, with a long-handled paint roller wrapped with duct tape, sticky side out.

Washing Painted Ceilings

If you plan to wash your ceiling, dust it first to avoid leaving dirty streaks. To wash your painted ceiling, combine 1 cup of warm water, 4 drops of liquid dish detergent, and 2 tablespoons of white vinegar in a spray bottle. Lightly mist a 4-foot area, then go over it with a damp microfiber mop to remove any soapy residue. Rinse your mop often so you don’t cause streaks. Let it completely dry before turning on your ceiling fan again.

Textured or Popcorn Ceilings

Remove light dust on textured ceilings by slowly rolling over them with a clean, dry 3/8″ paint roller. Work in overlapping strokes, shaking out any dirt or loosened popcorn as needed. Change rollers if it begins to look dirty. Use the soft-bristled brush attachment on your vacuum cleaner to remove cobwebs from popcorn ceilings and grimy dirt around ceiling fans. Do not attempt to wash popcorn ceilings: water will cause the texture to come off.

How Often Should You Do This?

Treat smudges and spots on your wall as soon as you see them, so they don’t become permanent. Dust your walls monthly, then wash your ceilings and walls as part of your Spring Cleaning and Fall Cleaning routines.

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8 Comments

  1. I really like warm water and white vinegar in a spray bottle it doesnt have a strong smell and it cleans awesome. Cheaper than some cleaners.

    1. Katie Berry says:

      If it works for your walls, that’s great!

  2. Any suggestions on how to properly clean wood wall paneling? Please let me know. Thanks!

    1. Katie Berry says:

      I’d just use a lightly dampened microfiber cloth or even a microfiber mop if the walls are high. Treat scratches as you would on wood furniture (here’s how to do that).

  3. Jim Johnson says:

    I wonder if a dry Swiffer Sweeper could be used to dust the ceiling and a wet Swiffer used to clean it?

    1. Katie Berry says:

      You could certainly give that a try. I wouldn’t recommend it with a popcorn or knockdown-textured ceiling, though.

  4. Sammarie Durushia says:

    One way of removing marks on the walls is to use a wet rag and a small amount of sheetrock compound and rub it until the mark is gone.

  5. Becky Coleman says:

    Thank you for sharing these useful tips! I like when I find a way to spend less time for cleaning (especially if I can skip repainting the walls). It is very important when you have kids, they are really good at making stains! But it is also important to clean with natural ingredients!!! I am so lucky that I found your webpage! I will definitely try your tips! Greets!

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