How to clean walls without removing paint – including Mrs Hinch’s fabric conditioner hack

Follow our paint experts’ six simple steps for damage-free walls

It’s happened to us all. Someone has managed to leave marks on your newly painted walls and, despite your best efforts, it seems impossible to get rid of them without removing the paint.

Although it’s tempting to try and scrub the mark away, or even reach for the paintbrush, experts advise that while good old-fashioned elbow grease may work for some parts of your home, a gentler approach reaps the best rewards when it comes to your walls.

Credit: Shutterstock/Nana_Studio

“Everything from splatters of food to make-up and crayon marks can leave streaks on your wall,” says Sarah Lloyd, paint and interiors expert at Valspar Paint. “But fortunately, you don’t need to cover it up with a fresh coat of paint. You can clean it. It’s not a difficult process – you just need to be gentle.”


Before you start – what paint is on your walls?

Knowledge is power when it comes to cleaning your walls

Being aware of what paint finish is on your walls is key to treating the mark in the right way. “Gloss finishes are tougher than satin and eggshell, but they can scratch easily,” says Lloyd.

There’s also a popular interiors trend for using matt paint and, although the flat finish looks aesthetically pleasing, it’s traditionally marked more easily. However, paint experts say that this is less of a worry than it used to be.

“Over the past decade there has been a significant step change in paint formulation technology,” says Stephanie King, creative lead at Dulux. “This means that you can now easily clean your walls, as opposed to repainting them, to give them a much-needed refresh. To get a wipeable finish in the past, you may have had to use a shiny, non-porous finish such as a silk or eggshell, but newer technology allows durability in a more desirable matt finish.”

woman in hat wearing glasses holding paint roller stood in front of an orange wallCredit: Shutterstock/Aricancaner
Knowing what type of paint is on your walls could prevent painting over marks

It’s still best to err on the side of caution when removing marks, according to Henry Paterson, cleaning expert at Housekeep. He advises we use our common sense and test our chosen removal technique on a less conspicuous area first.

But, whether it’s an annoying mark or just a general clean, it seems the experts agree there are some key tips for cleaning your walls without removing paint.

1. Dust or vacuum first

Don’t mix dust with water – you’ll just make it worse

“Dust or vacuum the wall to get rid of excess dust and dirt,” says Lloyd. “If there’s a specific mark you want to clean, you only need to dust that area,” she adds.

Paterson agrees, offering some extra advice: “Start by dry dusting and using a dry sponge to see if you can lift off scuffs without needing to use any liquid.”

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2. Use liquid with caution

Less is more when it comes to wiping down walls

When it comes to adding moisture to your walls, all the experts agree that you should use a damp, rather than a wet cloth or sponge.

“Wring your cloth or sponge fully before wiping walls,” says Paterson. “You want to use as little moisture as possible.”

“Light marks can be dabbed away with warm soapy water,” advises Lloyd. “You should use this approach first for all marks, as it can be quite effective.

hands wringing out wet soapy cloth over a bowlCredit: Shutterstock/Davko
Always wring out excess water – your cloth should be damp, not wet

“All you need to do is dip the sponge in water and wring it out. This will stop excess water from running down the paint and causing streaks,” adding that we should wait two weeks after painting before washing walls to ensure the paint has fully adhered.

3. What cleaning solution should you use?

You may not have thought of one of these suggestions

In general, warm soapy water seems to be the preferred option. But, “if you’re trying to remove pencil, crayon, rub marks or marker pen, you might need to take a different approach,” says Lloyd. She recommends a multi-purpose cleaner or baking soda diluted with water.

glass jar with white powder in lying on side and spoon with powderCredit: Shutterstock/Geo-grafika
Baking soda may help remove really stubborn stains

Paterson warns us to “steer clear of abrasive or harsh cleaning chemicals”. Lloyd agrees, adding: “You should completely avoid any product that contains alcohol, as this could break down the paint and leave marks.”

Cleaning influencer Mrs Hinch is known for reaching for a bottle of fabric softener when it comes to dealing with wall marks. She recommends diluting a small amount with water before wiping on your walls for stain removal and a ‘scentsation ’ all in one.

Intrigued by this, I tried this method on a recent mark that was made during a house move and it worked. I’m not sure whether it’s more effective than other options, but it did smell great.

4. Soft cloths are a must

Avoid abrasive materials where possible

“Opt for soft microfibre cloths, or a sponge,” says Paterson. “Never use any abrasive sponges or cloths such as steel wool or scourers on the walls.”

King says: “Although it’s tempting to use an abrasive sponge to get those really tough marks cleaned, it’s best not to as this could damage the protective paint film and buff the matt appearance to a shine, leaving it looking patchy across the wall surface.”

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5. Gentle, circular motions are best

Try not to rub hard – even on stubborn stains

If you’ve tested your cleaning liquid choice on the wall and there are no adverse effects, “lightly rub the mark in a circular motion to get rid of it,” says Lloyd. “This should work for most marks.”

Paterson suggests dabbing the walls gently to lift off stains, but to avoid scrubbing vigorously at all costs. Paterson tells us it’s also important to: “Pat the area you’ve cleaned with a dry cloth afterwards, to remove as much moisture as possible. Then leave the surface to air dry fully.”

hand wiping blue wall with green clothCredit: Shutterstock/FotoDuets
Use a circular motion or dab your walls to protect the paint

6. Don’t forget to clean regularly

It helps prevent long-term damage

Lloyd leaves us with a final reminder of the value of not leaving walls until they have marks on them. “Regular cleaning will help your paint finish last longer,” she says. “You don’t need to completely wash it, just use a duster or the soft bristle attachment on your vacuum.”

Choosing paint less prone to marking

Paint technology has come a long way

If you’re looking to redecorate, there are paint options available that could prevent your walls becoming marked in the future.

King tells us: “Dulux Easycare Washable and Tough is supremely washable. It is 20 times tougher than standard Dulux Matt emulsion so you can remove stubborn marks without damaging the paint on your wall.”

It is also claimed that the paint repels many common household stains by using innovative stain beading technology to turn the liquid into beads, which then sit on the surface of the paint, making it easier to wash away.

Lloyd also mentions that Valspar paint is designed to be tougher than other brands and can stand up to being scrubbed.

Although we’ve not yet tested these claims at the Saga Exceptional Testing Centre, we intend to do so and will let you know the results.

Sarah Harley

Written by Sarah Harley she/her


Since first picking up a paintbrush and experiencing the joy of re-decorating her bedroom in a questionable red, white and grey scheme as a young teenager, Sarah Harley was hooked on the world of interior design. This obsession even led to a real life ‘Grand Designs’ project in 2005 when she donned a pink hard hat and appeared on TV screens, project managing the renovation and extension of a Grade II listed 17th century Folly in South Wales.

Throughout her career, Sarah has gained an array of experience in several different roles, ranging from copywriting, PR, events management and photography to interior design and home staging. With her two passions being the written word and the joys of a beautifully designed home, Sarah’s mission is to open the door on the world of interiors, inviting readers in to help them work their way through the vast choice of products, ideas and trends so that their own homes can reach their full potential.

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