How to clean walls without removing paint – 3 expert tips on keeping your paintwork bright and fresh

How do you clean your walls without damaging the paintwork? These painters and decorators share their tips

Living room with colourful L shaped sofa and cushions, walls in red and pink with glass doors either side and pink and gold occasional tables
(Image credit: Future)

Knowing how to safely clean your walls without removing your paintwork is a skill very few are clued up on. It might seem obvious - dampen a cloth, wipe the walls, and voila; no more grubby splatters or scuff marks. But alas, this common cleaning mishap is likely to rub away the beautiful paint job you worked so hard to achieve, too. 

As much as we all take great pride in our homes, mess is inevitable. High traffic areas or functional spaces like the kitchen often result in dirty scuffs, greasy splatters and unsightly spills. And then there's the constant upkeep that comes with sharing a home with kids. Cleaning your walls just has to be done. 

To save yourself the cost of an entire repaint, we've asked some experts in the painting and decorating business for their tips on how to safely clean walls without removing your beautiful paint idea. So buckle up and read this advice before simply grabbing the first cloth and cleaning spray you have to hand (and hint, these aren't what you should be using).

Lilith headshot for bio
Lilith Hudson

Lilith is an expert at following news and trends across the world of interior design. She's committed to helping readers make the best choices in their homes through sharing practical tips and innovative solutions for all their DIY and painting needs. For this piece she asked painters and decorators for their advice on how to clean your walls without removing your paintwork

1. Determine which paint type you have

A blue kitchen with turquoise cabinets, walls and a marble backsplash

(Image credit: Valspar)

Although your natural instinct to a spillage might be to instantly attack it with lots of water and soap, before you make any hasty decisions you should determine what kind of paint you have on your walls. 

Different paint finishes have different durability, and whether it's water, latex or oil-based will also play a part too. 'If you don’t remember which type of paint you used, you can always test a small section first before launching into the project,' advises Matt Kunz, President of  Five Star Painting.

'Types of paint that hold up the best during cleaning are semi-gloss and glossy enamel paints,' they explain. 'However, flat, satin, and eggshell latex paints may not do so well.' 

If you know that you have one of these latter paint types on your walls, the safest option might be to put on a fresh coat rather than attempt to clean. You could also consider hiring a professional wall cleaner.

2. Start by dusting your walls

Another vital step you should carry out before trying to clean straight away is dusting. A dreaded chore by some, dusting your walls regularly can actually minimize the need for cleaning and improve the life span of your painted walls. 

'A microfiber cloth or hand duster can reach into nooks and crannies and pick up dust without spreading it around,' explains Beatrice Flores, cleaning expert at Living Pristine. 'Once the dusting is done, you can move on to washing the walls.' 

Skipping out this step could result in a bigger mess than the one you started out with, as you'll be working more dust and grime into your walls leaving a patchy area in its wake. 

3. Use a mild formula and wash gently

A kitchen with white cabinets and countertop and a beige, light brown feature wall

(Image credit: Valspar)

Now for the serious business. Cleaning stubborn stains may be a challenge, but don't be tempted to reach for harsh chemical cleaners and apply them with lots of elbow grease. To properly clean your walls, 'gentle' is key. 

This applies to your method, and the formula you use. In most cases, you can get away with a mild dish soap and warm water. 'Add a little bit of dish soap to a bucket and use a sponge or washcloth to scrub any dirt or stains,' says Beatrice. 'Start at the top of the wall and work your way down, rinsing the sponge or washcloth often to avoid re-depositing dirt on the clean areas of the wall.' 

If you have tough stains, she advises using a diluted vinegar solution or a non-abrasive cleaner, testing it in an inconspicuous spot first to make sure it doesn't damage the paint color. It's a good idea to use a towel or sheet on the floor to prevent your flooring getting wet. 

A cellulose sponge is also a good option to clean with. For more stubborn marks, try using one in a formula of baking soda and water. 'This is because baking soda is mildly abrasive and may be all that's needed to remove scuffs,' says Matt. 'As you clean, rub in gentle circular motions to minimize the risk of stripping the paint.'

For less serious scuff marks, he recommends using a clean tennis ball to help remove scuffs as the outer layer of felt acts like a soft-bristled eraser. When you’re finished cleaning, it's a good idea to lightly clean the entire wall with a damp cloth to remove any soap residue.

Color & Trends Editor

Lilith Hudson is the Color & Trends Editor at Livingetc. Writing news, features, and explainers for our digital platform, she's the go-to person for all the latest micro-trends, interior hacks, and color inspiration you need in your home. Lilith discovered a love for lifestyle journalism during her BA in English and Philosophy at the University of Nottingham where she spent more time writing for her student magazine than she did studying. After graduating, she decided to take things a step further and now holds an MA in Magazine Journalism from City, University of London, with previous experience at the Saturday Times Magazine, Evening Standard, DJ Mag, and The Simple Things Magazine. At weekends you'll find her renovating a tiny one-up, one-down annex next to her Dad's holiday cottage in the Derbyshire dales where she applies all the latest design ideas she's picked up through the week.