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Dirty walls? Here's how to safely clean them

You love your sunshine yellow walls, but that crayon masterpiece your 2-year-old created, not to mention the fingerprints all around the switch plate, scream for attention. Before grabbing a scrubby sponge and your favorite spray cleaner, listen to what a professional painter has to say about safely cleaning those colorful walls. It’s so simple, you may be surprised.

Nicole Hill Gerulat

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Latex-painted interior walls

According to Wil Bias, owner of MB Painting and Maintenance Services, LLC, in New Orleans, cleaning walls depends primarily on whether the paint is oil-based or latex. To safely clean latex-painted interior walls, mix three or four drops of dish detergent in half-filled bucket of water. (Or you can go “old school” use two or three tablespoons of distilled white vinegar to a gallon of water.)

Wet a sponge in the mixture and wring it out dry. (This is important as you don’t want to mess up your walls with lines of dripping water.) Wipe off the dirt, rinse the sponge and repeat as needed. This works for all types of latex paint — flat, semi-gloss and gloss.

Make sure the sponge is wrung out dry before cleaning around electrical outlets, light switches and telephone connections. And before cleaning dirty outlet covers, turn off electricity to those areas first to avoid shocks.

Bias cautions that you should never use a degreaser or any other harsh chemical cleaners on latex- painted walls.

“If marks don’t come off using just soap and water, or white vinegar and water, you’ll have to repaint. “

Oil-based painted interior walls

Because oil-based paints are a bit hardier, in addition to cleaning with the detergent/vinegar and water mixture, you can safely use a mild degreaser to remove grease, especially on kitchen walls. Just be sure it’s a mild degreaser and follow package directions carefully.

As with latex-painted walls, never use a scrubby sponge, Teflon pad or harsh chemicals to clean walls painted with oil-based paints. “If you do,” says Bias, “you’ll leave permanent streak marks every place you wipe.”

And of course, follow the above precautions when cleaning around electrical and phone outlets.

Exterior walls

To clean exterior painted walls, whether latex or oil-based, start by wetting the walls. Then, using a pump garden sprayer, lightly spray the walls with a mixture of half-cup Jomax, one cup of bleach and enough water to fill the container. Allow the mixture to work for 15 minutes, then scrub with a soft scrubbing brush. This will remove mildew, mold and other dirt. Rinse with a garden hose.

When cleaning a two-story house, a garden hose may not reach high enough to completely rinse the walls. In that case, advises Bias, you can use a pressure washer but only if it’s fitted with a 25-degree nozzle and you use NO PRESSURE. Just spray the water as it come out. Using pressure could damage the paint and cut into the siding.

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