How To Clean Painted Walls Without Ruining The Finish

Jeremy Holderness

Spic & Span Ad How To Clean Painted WallsIt's incredibly frustrating to spend several days painting your walls, or painting your doors and trim, only to have them quickly look like they haven't been freshened-up in years.  Dirt, cobwebs, grease, fingerprints, scuff marks, etc, etc.  Any of these culprits can have you throwing up your hands in exasperation.

In addition to your standard weekly and monthly cleaning, homes require a periodic cleansing routine to look their best -- from washing your siding to pressure-washing your driveway/sidewalks to scrubbing your deck or patio.  And if you want your walls to continue to look great without having to re-paint every couple of years, you need to add this chore to your list of home maintenance tasks as well.

But there's a common dilemma that homeowners face:  How to clean painted walls without ruining the finish?


It Starts With Using The Right Paint

Cheap paints may leave your wallet feeling a little heavier at the checkout, but at the end of the day you are only getting cheap paint in return for your savings.  And they will most certainly end up costing you more in the long run.  

Not only do inexpensive coatings cover poorly, require more coats to perform color transformations, and have a shorter lifespan; they aren't resistant to stains, don't provide any reasonable degree of durability to normal wear-and-tear, nor do they offer any protection against burnishing during regular cleanings.

It used to be "common knowledge" that, even if you used good paint, if you wanted a durable finish that you could wash then you had to go with a higher-sheen, as flat paint was a bad choice -- especially in areas like kids' rooms, hallways, kitchens, bathrooms, etc.

A lot has changed in latex paint technology over the years, resulting in coatings that perform better than could have been imagined just 15 years ago.  Paints such as Sherwin-Williams' Duration Home® Interior Acrylic Latex not only offer outstanding scrub-resistance, but it repels stains before they can become a problem...and it's even offered in a flat finish.

I'm not suggesting that you have to use that particular product if you want to ever successfully wash you walls.  What I am suggesting is that you research paints before you go to the paint store -- or at a minimum read the labels on the cans -- to make sure they offer good durability, scrub-resistance, and preferably are stain-blocking as well.  There are many of them that are available but some definitely perform better than others.


How To Ruin A Good Finish

Before we get into the best practices for cleaning your painted surfaces, lets look at what homeowners commonly do that you should never do...even if you buy good paint.

Using Harsh Cleaners - Using cleaners with strong chemicals can soften the paint film and actually remove it from the surface, and abrasive cleaners can scar or scuff the film, causing permanent damage.  A mild detergent is usually all you'll ever need.

Using Abrasive Implements - Cleaning with Scotch-Brite pads or other abrasive tools will obviously have the same effect as abrasive cleaners.  A soft sponge is normally sufficient.

Using A Heavy Hand - Gentle pressure with the right kind of cleaner is the key, not excessive elbow grease.

Cleaning Before The Paint Is Sufficiently Cured - Latex paint should be allowed to dry for 2-4 weeks after it's been applied prior to any cleaning being done.

Placing Furnishings Too Close To The Walls - When furnishings are allowed to rub against walls it will often leave a permanent shiny spot, or burnish mark on the finish.  So leave a little bit of space between that couch or end table and the wall.

Being Careless With Your Baseboards & Door Frames - Dinging-up your trimwork is easy to do.  One of the most common accidents we see are baseboards getting abused by the vacuum cleaner.  Prevention is the best medicine here.  Be sure to use a very durable enamel finish when painting woodwork.  And be cautious with that vacuum.


Giving Your Walls The Proper TLC

Dust - The easiest thing to do to keep your walls looking good is to dust them.  Removing household dust with a feather duster, or better yet, by gently wiping them down with cheesecloth or tackcloth periodically is a great place to start.

Cleaning Run-Of-The-Mill Dirt - When it comes to everyday dirt and grime, you can remove it using a soft sponge that has been dampened (but not excessively wet) by a solution of mild cleaner and warm water.  Use gentle pressure to clean the surface, followed by a pass with a lightly clean-water-dampened, soft, cotton cloth to remove any detergent from the surface.

Cleaning Stubborn Stains - For stains that are difficult to remove, like kitchen grease, use a stronger dishwashing detergent, such as Dawn, with warm water to cut the grease spot.  Apply it to the surface as before and use your sponge to clean the area.  Again, remove the residue with a clean, damp cloth.

It's always a good idea to test a sample spot of your cleaning solution in an inconspicuous area before really going at it.


When It Can't Be Cleaned

When stains persist, or damage to the walls and trim are irreparable you'll have to lay down the sponge and pick up the brush.  Touch-up painting your walls and trim is an art, and you want it to look good.

We've written a good how-to article that details this subject which can be found here:

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photo by: Internet Archive Book Images [No restrictions], via Wikimedia Commons

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