How to clean walls to remove stains and marks without damaging them

Learning how to clean walls properly will save you time spent repainting the walls, and money

A hand cleaning a wall with a cloth
(Image credit: Getty Images)

While thoughts about how to clean walls might not utmost in your mind, it's almost certainly something that you've had to contend with at some point. 

An accidental splatter of sauce with the shake of a bottle, a rogue spot of paint, children's crayon scribbles... the frustration of seeing your clean white paintwork looking less than pristine, and then, in trying to clean it, spreading the mess further. You're not alone. 

Thankfully, there are tried-and-tested ways to avoid making walls look worse when cleaning marks and stains off the paintwork. And, if you learn how to clean walls the right way, you won't even have to repaint!

A guide for how to clean walls without damaging them

1. Consider what type of paint you have on the walls

When considering how to clean walls, there is one thing you always need to consider before getting stuck in: what kind of paint do you have? This will impact the way you treat surface dirt on your walls. Enamel and semi-gloss paints, which you may experience when faced with kitchen cleaning, are pretty durable and easy to clean. Flat, satin, and eggshell paints are, however, a little more delicate. If you're not entirely certain what finish features on the walls of your home, there are resources to help determine what type of paint you have. If you still can't figure it out, approach cleaning with the most light-handed method/ the lightest cleaning solution first to make sure you don't cause damage. 

2. Cover the floor

When thinking about how to clean walls, it also helps to consider other surfaces in the space. If your focus is on the vertical surface in front of you, it's likely not on the rest of the space around you—meaning it's easy to spill things on the floor. If you don't want to get chemicals or liquid on your floors during cleaning, use old towels, drop cloths or even dust sheets to cover the floors right up to the wall. Not only will these soak up any spillages or liquid splatters, it will save you spending any extra time cleaning up when you're done with those walls.

3. Prepare by dusting or vacuuming the walls  

As a general rule in the how-to of cleaning your walls, it's wise to do some prep work before you get into the paint cleaning proper. Essentially, you don't want to start washing your walls with liquid only to find you've spread dirt over the surface. 

Instead, start the process by removing any (near-invisible) dust using a duster or a long vacuum hose—work from the top of the walls down to encourage excess to fall downwards (rather than resettle on a cleaner section of paintwork). Once you've cleaned off all the excess dirt, you can start getting into the details.

A hand wearing a marigold cleans a skirting board with a blue cloth

(Image credit: Getty Images)

4. Try a dry method to clean walls

If the mark on the paint surface is something light and easy to remove, you might be able to remove it without deep cleaning. Some simple tools can come in handy—for instance, a pencil eraser might not be the first thing that comes to mind when considering how to clean walls, but it can work in certain cases! Do note though that you'll want to be particularly careful with matte paint finishes as erasers could leave shiny spots where you rub away at the surface. Another neat (and unexpected) trick is to rub a tennis ball over a scuff mark and see if it removes it. If neither of these simple hacks work (or are appropriate for the marks on your paint), get ready to dig into the cleaning cabinet.

5. Do a spot test first 

Think smart and slowly about how to clean walls to achieve the best results in your home—more specifically, don't jump into cleaning to just get the job done, then ruin your whole wall because you went too quickly. 

Before you get stuck in, it's important to try cleaning just a small spot on the wall, or a corner of a larger mark, to make sure that whatever product you're using to clean (from the cleaning options detailed below) is going to lift, rather than spread the spot.

6. Simply clean the walls with soapy water 

Now we're really getting down to the business of full-wall cleaning. Fill two buckets with water. Add dish soap to one of the buckets, leaving the water in the second bucket clean and product-free. Then take a soft, non-abrasive sponge and dip it in the soapy water. Run it lightly down your wall, starting from the top, stopping to gently scrub stains or marks. Once you've done that, wet the second sponge with clean water from the second (soap-free) bucket, and run it down the same path to clean away any soap or remaining dirt.

7. Use baking soda for stubborn marks and dirt

Baking soda has been proven to help with all kinds of cleaning tasks, and walls are no exception. First, try applying baking soda and water using a damp cloth. If that doesn't do the trick, mix baking soda, ammonia, water, and vinegar, and apply the mixture to the stained or marked surface of the walls. Let it sit for ten minutes or so before wiping it off. Baking soda is also a great ingredient to use when learning how to clean your oven, how to clean a stainless steel sink, and how to clean copper.

Alternative methods to try to clean your walls

Sometimes, all the typical cleaning methods just don't solve the problem. If this is the case for you, here are a few more cleaning solutions you can try.

  • Toothpaste Use an old, clean toothbrush and rub some toothpaste on to the marked surface of the wall. The cleaning properties that work on your teeth may work just as well for your white walls. 
  • Sticky remover This specialist product is obviously a great choice if you have a sticky residue on your wall (from stickers, for example). Even if it's a scuff mark or other stain, this remover might still work. 
  • Hair dryer If you don't have sticky remover, you may want to try a hair dryer to remove adhesives. The heat can help loosen the sticky chemicals and make it easier for you to scrape off the residue.
  • White vinegar This option is especially useful for crayon stains. Just dip a toothbrush or sponge in vinegar and move it lightly over the spot in a slow, circular motion. 
  • Surface cleaner If your walls seem to be holding up well to attempts to clean it, but the stain isn't lifting, try a gentle surface cleaner to take off the dirt. 

Try these steps and tricks any time you need to clean a mark off your wall. If you're careful to spot test first, and work gently, you can avoid causing further damage. 

You can also avoid more difficult wall-cleaning procedures by making sure you keep your walls clean all the time. Bacteria can grow quickly on your walls, especially in the bathroom and kitchen. Try washing them every month, maybe even once a fortnight. Regular dusting and vacuuming also won't go amiss. 

When the hard work is done and your wall is looking beautiful again, sit back, relax and enjoy your freshly cleaned home. No paint job needed!