How to clean walls – the best ways to get rid of marks and scuffs

Discover how to clean walls so they’re pristine once more

How to clean walls – Open plan living room with different shades of paint
(Image credit: Paint and Paper)

Asking how to clean walls? Scuffs, marks and stains do occur over time – and even scribbles in a home with young kids. 

The good news is, though, that with clever cleaning tips, you can remove them so knowing how to paint a wall is necessary only when a new color is on the agenda.

Whatever the cause of the blemishes, our guide has the lowdown on how to clean walls plus the experts’ insights.

How to clean walls

Even with the best quality paint, and most careful home occupants, walls do become marked. Cleaning a fireplace might draw your attention to dirty walls, and then there are splatters on kitchen and bathroom walls, scuffs from furniture, and kids’ actions, which all make knowing how to clean walls essential so you can restore your home’s blemish-free looks. 

1. Prepare to clean walls

Before you start to clean walls, pay attention to which paint you are dealing with. ‘The best types of paint that do well with cleaning are semi-gloss and glossy enamel paints,’ explains Michael Nungesser, owner of Five Star Painting (opens in new tab) of Central Georgia a Neighborly (opens in new tab) company.

‘Depending on the general quality of the paint applied, flat, satin, and eggshell latex paints might not do as well,’ he says. ‘Additionally, be careful not to be overly abrasive when washing, as you could risk color fading or rubbing off. If you know you have a problem type of paint, considering hiring a professional wall cleaner, or put on a new coat of paint.’

Not sure what paint is on the wall that needs cleaning? ‘Try out cleaning on a small test section,’ advises Michael. ‘You can do this by using water on a cellulose sponge. If the test section results in any smudging or color fading, stop instantly. If the test section is clean, you can continue with the wet sponge technique across the entire wall.’

2. How to clean dirty marks and fingerprints off walls

If you’ve spotted dirty marks or fingerprints, these aren’t difficult to clean off walls. But before you start make sure to gently dust down the wall to avoid smearing anything else around. A microfiber cloth is perfect and can be attached to a mop or broom so you can reach the whole wall easily.

After that warm soapy water can be the answer. ‘Dirty marks and fingerprints can be removed with a mild detergent and a soft cloth,’ says professional painter Jan Walter of GoColorize (opens in new tab)

Don’t over-wet the wall as this can cause water marks, but leave the soap solution on the wall for five minutes or so, then rinse using clean water.

3. How to clean grease stains off walls

How to clean walls when they’ve accumulated grease stains? A little dish soap and warm water can also get rid of greasy marks. Rinse using clean water.

An alternative is a pantry ingredient that’s a favorite for all sorts of cleaning tasks: vinegar. Add one cup of white vinegar to warm water in a bucket, and apply the solution with a soft sponge. As with other marks, don’t get the wall too wet, and rinse with clean water.

4. How to clean walls kids have scribbled on

If the kids have drawn on the walls, a melamine sponge can come to the rescue – we like Mr Clean Magic Eraser (opens in new tab) from Amazon. ‘Melamine works on crayon and pencil marks from when your kids turned your walls into their canvas,’ says Melanie Musson, a home cleaning expert with Insurance Providers (opens in new tab).

Professional house cleaner Sara San Angelo of Confessions of a Cleaning Lady (opens in new tab) is a fan of these sponges for kids’ artwork and more. ‘My go-to for cleaning walls has always been Magic Erasers,’ she says. ‘They will get off practically any scuff mark, stain or even kid scribbles. Just wet the Magic Eraser and scrub the mark until gone.’ 

As ever, be aware of the type of paint on the wall when using this option. ‘While Magic Erasers work great on gloss and semi-gloss paints, be careful when scrubbing water-based paints such as latex or acrylic,’ Sarah says. ‘It will take off some of the paint on the walls. Just scrub gently.’

5. How to clean walls before painting

Walls should be cleaned before painting them with a fresh coat, or when changing their color. You can use the same method as when cleaning walls generally, says painting and property maintenance expert Ray Brosnan of Brosnan Facility Management (opens in new tab)

‘Wipe the surface down with a brush or just a dry cloth to get rid of any cobwebs and loose debris that's lingering on the wall itself,’ he explains. ‘Now you can get to applying your cleaning solution. You can actually mix together some dish soap and salt with some warm water to create a really effective surface cleaner. Try not to have your cloth/sponge soaking wet as this could actually leave water stains on the wall. Allow the cleaning solution to sit on the walls for around 10 minutes and then just rinse with clean water.’

What is the easiest way to clean dirty walls?

‘Water and dish soap is the simplest cleaning solution for walls,’ says interior design expert Andrei Vasilief of Radiant Home Designs (opens in new tab)

‘If the stain is very bad then mix three parts water with one part baking soda, mix until it becomes a paste and apply to a stained area. Use a fine cloth soaked in clean water to rinse and then use a dry cloth to dry. Don’'t use this method for wallpaper; call a professional cleaner for wallpapered walls.’

How do you clean walls without removing paint?

To clean walls without removing paint, resist the urge to scrub them. If the paint is gloss or semi-gloss you can work a bit harder but flat, satin, and eggshell require particular care.

If you’re painting walls in an area where marks are likely, you might want to opt for a scrubbable paint for them. These can also have stain-blocking features which avoids the need for as much cleaning in the first place.

Sarah Warwick
Contributing Editor

Sarah is a freelance journalist and editor. Previously executive editor of Ideal Home, she’s specialized in interiors, property and gardens for over 20 years, and covers interior design, house design, gardens, and cleaning and organizing a home for H&G. She’s written for websites, including Houzz, Channel 4’s flagship website, 4Homes, and Future’s T3; national newspapers, including The Guardian; and magazines including Future’s Country Homes & Interiors, Homebuilding & Renovating, Period Living, and Style at Home, as well as House Beautiful, Good Homes, Grand Designs, Homes & Antiques, LandLove and The English Home among others. It’s no big surprise that she likes to put what she writes about into practice, and is a serial house renovator.