How To Clean Walls With Flat Paint

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The walls inside of our houses tend to attract dirt over time, whether from dust in the air, fingerprints, or spills. When those walls are coated with flat paint, there is the chance that over-cleaning can remove some of the paint, leaving them looking even worse. Because of this, it is important to learn how to clean walls with flat paint.

How To Clean Walls With Flat Paint

Flat paint, even though it sounds like it, has nothing to do with the shape of the surface after painting. Instead, it refers to the type of sheen and amount of reflection from the surface. Flat paint has a matte surface, which means it reflects very little light.

Other types of paint sheen are:

  • High gloss
  • Satin
  • Low-lustre
  • Eggshell

The main issue with a flat sheen paint is that it is often porous, much more so than other paints with a higher reflective surface. This makes it easier for dirt to get trapped in it, and also can create streaks or other marks when scrubbed roughly.

Woman cleaning her walls that has flat paint

Cleaning Walls With Flat Paint

The main thing to keep in mind during this whole cleaning process is to avoid using too much pressure and scrubbing through the paint on the wall. Flat paint can be very sensitive to high heat and friction, so only use a gentle cleaning action.

If you feel the need to only clean one area of the wall, perhaps because of consistent use around a light switch or some spilled food, there is something to consider. You may end up leaving only that one part of the wall looking clean, while the rest of the wall is still dirty. Sometimes it is worth it to clean the entire surface instead of just spot cleaning.

A good tip is to test any (or all) cleaning methods in an out of the way part of the wall, maybe somewhere behind a piece of furniture. This is recommended so that the first time you try to clean flat paint does not end up in an obvious disaster in the middle of your wall.

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Tools and Other Items Used to Clean Walls With Flat Paint

Always have your necessary items ready before you get ready to start a project like this. Depending on how dirty your walls are, you may not need all of the items, but it is handy to have them ready just in case.

  • Vacuum cleaner with a soft bristled brush attachment
  • Two buckets or large bowls
  • Towels
  • Soft sponge or cloth without dye
  • White vinegar
  • Magic Eraser or other similar cleaning sponge
  • A gentle foam cleanser
  • Dish washing soap

Preparing a Flat Paint Wall for Cleaning

Before you start the main cleaning process, it is a good idea to get the wall prepared to make cleaning easier.

Start by removing any loose dust or spiderwebs from the wall. This can be done by vacuuming the wall from the top down, using a soft-bristled vacuum attachment. Other options would be a dusting wand, or even a soft, dry towel. Use a step stool or ladder if necessary, but remember to use safety precautions and do not lean over too far when trying to clean hard to reach parts of the wall.

Woman cleaning her walls

You may want to lay down some towels at the base of the wall. The processes we use recommend using as little water as possible, but drips still occasionally happen. The towels will keep any liquid from soaking into baseboards, possibly causing damage.

Instructions For Cleaning Flat Paint Walls

The instructions given here start with a very mild cleaning, and increase to more thorough, but possibly more harmful, ways to clean walls with flat paint. Start at the beginning, and if you see that you need more cleaning power, move on to the next option.

  1. Start from the top down. Drips may occur, and if those drips take dirty water with them, they will spread underneath the area you are cleaning. If you start from the top and move down, you will have the chance to clean up those areas.
  2. Fill one of the buckets with clean, warm water.
  3. Soak a soft sponge, or a white cloth, in the water. Start cleaning with just water. Many times, especially if the dirt on the wall is fresh, water is all you need.
  4. Wring out the sponge. We only want to use a damp sponge or cloth. Excess water leads to a lot of drips which can leave new marks and multiply the cleaning time needed.
  5. Gently wash the wall in a circular motion. Be gentle! Scrubbing can take off the paint.
  6. Rinse and wring the sponge often. Keeping the sponge clean will make a big difference, especially on white or off-white walls.
  7. Use vinegar. If water by itself isn’t working, fill the other bucket with warm water plus about white vinegar, about ½ cup per gallon. This will help cut through grime.
  8. Use a Magic Eraser. These pieces of foam can work great on hard to clean flat paint walls, but be extremely gentle with them. Add a bit of water and use the wide, flat surface to clean. Avoid scrubbing, and do not use the corners or edges.
  9. Use a mild foam cleanser. As long as there are not any harsh chemicals like bleach in a foam cleanser, it can be used sparingly on surfaces with flat paint. Spray on a sponge or clean rag, do not spray directly on the wall.
  10. Use diluted dish soap. About a teaspoon of clear or white dish soap diluted with a gallon of warm water helps with cleaning, but do not use too much. Soap can help break down flat paint fairly quickly.
  11. Rinse the wall with clean water. If you used anything other than just water, you should rinse the wall. Again, keep the sponge damp and clean with constant wringing and rinsing. Continue using a gentle touch.
  12. Dry the wall. Use a clean towel or two and dry the wall. Use a patting motion instead of a circular one. You can set up a fan to increase airflow as well if needed.

Additional Tips For Cleaning Flat Paint Walls

Scuffs and stains may be removed by using a dry Magic Eraser, or even a dry cleaning sponge. Also known as a soot sponge, when used gently they may be able to remove simple marks without damaging the paint underneath.

For really bad spots, consider touching up small areas of the painted wall if you have extra of the original paint in the house. This can be much easier than cleaning, but may also not match if the rest of the wall is dirty as well.

Since flat paint can be hard to clean, you may also consider repainting the wall with a higher-gloss finish. Something like eggshell can be much easier to clean, while still not giving a super glossy look to the wall.


While cleaning flat paint sounds like a hassle, it is not that difficult as long as you follow the proper precautions. Begin with simply using water, and move up the scale to more powerful cleaners if you feel the need. Gentle circular motions, except when drying, will give you the best results. Always remember to test in an inconspicuous area first!

Allen Michael is the Founder and Editor of Home Viable, a website that he started to provide readers with tips on home efficiency and automation. He draws on his engineering background combined with his family-of-four experiences for his articles.