Walls can get dirty before you know it — from a splatter of spaghetti dinner to the crayon artistry of a roaming toddler to fingers simply reaching for a light switch.
It’s easy to pass by walls and woodwork every day without a second glance, but spring-cleaning season is a great time to give them the attention they deserve.
Like many housekeeping tasks, regular cleaning can help avoid bigger cleanup work later on.
“It doesn’t have to be as difficult of a job as it sounds,” says Amy Panos, senior editor at Better Homes and Gardens. “The easier you can make it on yourself, the more likely you are to do it.”
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Dirt and scuffs
Walls tend to get dirtiest around light switches and door knobs.
“Even if a hand looks clean, it still has a little dirt and oils that over time build up and eventually make that area of the wall dirty,” Panos says.
Walls also get marked up from accidental kicks or the brush of a bag near the baseboards. Parents know how toddlers’ hands often find their way to walls, either with filthy fingers or with crayons or markers.
These fingerprints and other blemishes are best tackled right away. “The sooner you can get to a mark that is noticeable, the easier it will be” to clean, says Sharon Grech, a color and design expert for Benjamin Moore.
People are wary of cleaning or washing painted surfaces because they fear the process will remove the paint. But Grech says the technology has improved over the past decade, and paints now are more stain-resistant and durable for cleaning.
Still, it’s important to use the right products.
To remove everyday marks, Grech suggests using a clean cellulose sponge and a little warm water.
“Just give it a good rub,” she says. “Wait for it to dry and see if it’s clean.”
If the dirt is still evident, repeat the process using a dab of dish detergent and wipe the area dry with a clean sponge, rag or paper towel.
“Warm water does miracles with a sponge,” Grech says. “You want to avoid using regular household cleaners that have ammonia and other products in them” because they can change the sheen of the paint.
Panos likes the ease of a foam eraser pad, such as Mr. Clean Magic Eraser, though be sure to test it first in an inconspicuous area to make sure it won’t remove the color or finish. Mr. Clean Magic Eraser is approved by the manufacturer for use on most paints, including flat and semi-gloss paint.
“They’re quite incredible,” Panos says. “They take care of a lot.”
Don’t forget doorways and trim, often coated in easy-to-wipe paints but in light colors like white and cream that make marks especially visible. Cleaning those areas can instantly make the room seem brighter.
“It really glistens,” Grech says. “It’s like putting on a nice lip gloss.”
Dust and cobwebs
While most people know to take care of an unsightly mark, many overlook cleaning the whole wall, Panos says. Once you have a fresh coat of paint, lightly dust the walls about every three months.
“You don’t need to get a bucket and soap and sponge and completely wash down the walls,” she says. “Make it easy on yourself by getting a tool with an extension pole so that you can stand on the ground and take care of the job in just a few minutes rather than having to drag out a ladder.”
Clean the ceiling first, with a dust-attracting microfiber mop on the extension pole for smooth ceilings, or a slightly damp paint roller on the pole for a popcorn ceiling, she says. The walls can be cleaned from top to bottom with the mop (dry or slightly damp), and the baseboards hand-cleaned with a microfiber cloth.
“Keeping the environment as dust-free as possible is helpful for a good interior air quality,” Panos says.
Grech recommends regular cleaning where dust collects, such as on baseboards, and on window ledges, where it can mix with moisture and turn into a mess.
While cleaning the walls won’t prolong the paint job, she says, it will help keep them looking their best.
“You want to clean the areas that are getting a little bit more abused to keep it fresh,” she says.