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task master

How to remove stains and smudges from your walls - without repainting the whole room

Grainne O’Reilly offers a masterclass in spot-cleaning stubborn marks.

INTERIOR WALLS AREN’T often given the care they deserve. They’re the backdrop for all of of our furniture and décor, but we often forget to include them in day-to-day home maintenance and cleaning routines.

Grubby hands, make-up smudges, furniture marks, crayon graffiti, and just general traffic through the room can make a painted wall look worse for wear very quickly. So is there a quick fix to spruce up that paint job? Is there a way to spot clean (or spot paint) without repainting the entire wall?

First up, it’s important to know your paint. Matt, satin, and eggshell finishes are less durable than semi-gloss or gloss. While gloss finishes can usually withstand a good rigorous scrubbing, the flatter finishes can rub off quite easily. Always be very gentle when cleaning, and test your cleaning method in an inconspicuous area before having a go on a larger part of the wall. 

Here are some tips to keep your walls looking their best…

1. Clean off dust and cobwebs regularly

Once or twice a year, give your walls a once over with a dry duster or cloth to clear any build up; this small bit of preventative maintenance will stop grime setting in to paintwork. You can also stay on top of keeping your paintwork spotless by wiping up any splatters or spills as soon as they happen. Wet or greasy marks such as food and drink spillages, mud splashes, and grimy fingerprints will be far less likely to leave a permanent stain if they are wiped up immediately with a damp cloth.

2. Deep clean any particularly grubby areas

If you have a particular area needing a deep clean, then you can’t go too far wrong with the old reliable mix of a dash of washing up liquid and a cup of distilled white vinegar in a bucket of warm water. Gently wipe down the wall with this mixture using a soft sponge – always wring the sponge out before you wipe as the last thing you want is to make the problem worse with drippy water marks all over your paintwork, or to cause a fire hazard by allowing water to run in behind a light switch or plug socket. Work in small sections, starting at the top and making your way down to the skirting, and use a soft cloth to dry as you go. Bear in mind though – if you do a really good job spot cleaning one area, it may make the other walls look grubby as a result…

3. Spot clean stubborn stains

Some stains will require either a bit more effort or a specific cleaning product. For condensation trails in kitchen and bathrooms, a light rub down with a mild solution of washing up liquid and warm water, followed by thorough rub with a dry lint-free cloth should remove the marks.  For crayon, dried in food, or very apparent scuffs, something abrasive such as a magic eraser will usually work but, be warned, these products work by removing a tiny layer of paint as well as the stain. To make a gentler version yourself simply dip a damp cloth or sponge into baking soda and rub lightly over the stain. For ink-based stains, your best bet is to try rubbing alcohol or hand sanitiser, but test a small area first before you tackle the whole stain.

4. And use stain-specific products if needed

For stains such as nicotine or grease from cooking that won’t respond to a general cleaner, sugar soap can work really well. It is a mild degreasing detergent with a light abrasive effect so it’s a great all-rounder for most paint stains and scuffs. If your walls are discoloured by mildew from condensation then you must treat this with a mould remover; use one without chlorine if you are worried about discolouring your paint finish. For makeup spillages, immediately blot the area with dry toilet paper, then gently wipe from the outer edge of the stain to the centre with a very small amount of makeup remover on a soft dry cloth. If the stain is still visible then a magic eraser should shift it.  

5. If all else fails, touch up the paint

If you can’t get rid of a stain and you decide you need to touch it up, you are most likely to be successful if you have the original paint that you used. Colour matching technology is very effective, but it won’t guarantee you the exact same finish and colour. To cover a stain or scuff, prep the area by cleaning and drying it thoroughly, and then apply your paint with a very soft bristled brush to minimise brush marks. Use a technique called stippling to apply the paint – rather than making strokes with the brush, dab at the area with the tip of the bristles working your way around until the whole stain is covered. This will give you a finish which more closely matches the effect of a paint roller, and won’t stand out a mile against your original paintwork.

More: How to get your chrome and steel surfaces sparkling (and keep them that way)>

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