How to Clean Walls With Flat Paint and Get Rid of Stubborn Marks

By Hannah Twietmeyer

Color aside, choosing interior paint for the walls in your house can feel overwhelming. Durability is another characteristic to consider when it’s time to paint your walls, and with that comes the detailed talk of paint finishes.

Generally speaking, flat paint is a popular choice for coating interior walls due to its matte nature, high pigment, and ability to absorb light, which means no reflections. However, flat paint isn’t the most durable of paint finishes; it’s more prone to scuffs or scratches than high-gloss paints.

High-gloss paints are also easier to clean when it’s time to scrub down the walls and rid them of the unavoidable marks and scrapes (via Glidden). Flat paint needs a little more special treatment; scrubbing too hard can wear down the paint faster, making for a splotchy finish.

If you have flat paint coating the interior of your house, don’t panic. There are still ways you can clean them without ruining the color on your walls. This guide will help you identify flat paint and then walk you through the gentle approach to cleaning flat paint walls.

pink rubber-gloved hand using blue towel to clean green-painted wall

What Is Flat Paint?

The Home Depot describes flat paints as ones that “absorb more light than they reflect, so they have no sheen”. This is in comparison to paints with gloss or semi-gloss finishes, which have a high sheen that reflects light, giving them a shiny look. Flat paints, or matte ones, instead have a velvety finish, and also tend to have higher levels of pigment in their mix compared to levels of resin (the additive that makes glossy paints shine).

How to Identify Flat Paint

Before you start cleaning, you’ll first need to confirm that your walls are indeed coated with flat paint. To do this, all you need to do is shine some light on the wall using a flashlight. Carefully observe how the light reacts to the coating on your walls; if it bounces off and leaves a shiny reflection, you’re probably dealing with some sort of gloss or satin paint. If the walls don’t reflect any light, even with the light tilted at a severe angle, you can confirm that you’re dealing with flat paint.

How to Clean Walls with Flat Paint

You should always approach cleaning your walls with care, and this is especially true for walls colored with flat paint. Here's how to give your flat paint walls a gentle, all-over cleaning. Remember to always start with the least abrasive tactic, and go from there.

Tools and Materials Needed:

  • Vacuum
  • Sponges
  • Bucket
  • Liquid dish soap
  • Water

Step 1: Surface Clean Your Walls

Before you get out the sponge, grab your vacuum. Over time (especially if you haven’t cleaned your walls in a while), cobwebs and dust can build up on the surface of your walls. Removing them first will give you better access to the wall's surface, so hook the brush up to the extendable hose and get to work. Start at the top, and try your best to move the brush down your wall in long strokes. If you don’t have a long enough brush or vacuum hose, you can even use a dust mop.

Step 2: Create a Cleaning Solution

For flat-painted walls, less is more; stay away from harsh products and instead opt for simple dish soap. All you’ll need to do is fill a gallon bucket with some warm water, and add in just a tablespoon of mild liquid dish soap.

Step 3: Scrub

Dunk your sponge into the cleaning solution to saturate it, and then thoroughly wring it out. Seriously—squeeze out as much water as you can, because too much water can destroy a paint’s finish. Then, use the damp sponge to lightly scrub the wall in long strokes from top-to-bottom, just like you did with the vacuum. This will help to avoid any streaking.

Step 4: Rinse

Swap your soapy sponge for a new one and soak it in some warm water, detergent-less water. Squeeze out as much water as you can, and then rinse your entire wall in the same gentle scrubbing motion to clean up any lingering soap.

Step 5: Dry

Once you’ve carefully cleaned the entire wall, use a clean, dry towel or two to soak up any moisture on the surface of your walls.

yellow rubber-gloved hand using blue rag wiping crayon off white wall

Photo via Shutterstock

How to Spot Clean Walls with Flat Paint

Stubborn spots and marks might not be able to be wiped clean with some simple soap and water. Instead of reaching for a Magic Eraser (which might be too abrasive for flat paint), try out this vinegar hack.

Tools and Materials Needed:

  • Bucket
  • Water
  • Sponge
  • Vinegar
  • Towel

Step 1: Create a Cleaning Solution

Fill a bucket with about one gallon of clean, warm water. Take your go-to distilled white vinegar and add a tablespoon or two. Vinegar is a powerful cleaning agent and should work well on the stains scattered across your wall—just make sure to dilute it.

Step 2: Soak Your Sponge and Scrub

Like in the previous section, you’ll want to soak your sponge in the cleaning solution and then wring it out as best as you can. Treat stains and spots by wiping strokes in a vertical motion to avoid any streaking. When the stain is removed, rinse the area with a clean sponge and warm water.

Step 3: Dry

Use a dry, clean towel to blot the area and remove any moisture lingering on the surface of the wall.

More Tips and Tricks for Cleaning Walls with Flat Paint

Most dirtied walls with flat paint can be sufficiently cleaned with some warm, soapy water. Not all cases are that simple, though. Here are a few tips and tricks you can try for the best results when it comes to cleaning flat paint walls in your home:

  • Use a soft sponge. Remember, scrubbing needs to be done gently on painted walls to avoid any damage. It’s important to keep that in mind, especially with flat-painted walls, and to use the right tools accordingly. Don’t use a rough, hard-surfaced sponge; opt for a soft one instead.
  • Try a soft-bristled toothbrush. For smaller, concentrated marks, try using a soft toothbrush. Dip it into the vinegar cleaning solution we outlined above and gently scrub away dirt and grime before rinsing.
  • The less force, the better. We’ve emphasized this with scrubbing, but the same goes for drying. Try your best not to wipe down your wall with a lot of force when it’s time to dry things with a towel. Blot instead and use a microfiber towel if you can.
  • Act promptly. Don’t wait for a stain to set! It will be much easier to clean up from the wall when it’s fresh—less scrubbing, and generally less of an ordeal.
  • Stay away from harsh chemical cleaning products. Like we mentioned above, flat paint isn’t as durable as its glossier-finish counterparts. Cleaning products and degreasers with a strong chemical makeup will likely destroy your paint, so try to just start with water and a little bit of soap.

Do you have any tips for cleaning walls with flat paint? Let us know in the comments below!

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