Washing walls: are we having fun yet?
Before you actually start the work of washing walls, you need to assess just how much work they actually need…and how much effect your work can actually have.
Do your walls need spot cleaning…a dab here and there for dirty spots? Or are they seriously soiled, covered with grime, soot, or nicotine? Even if you are planning to paint the walls, a good cleaning is in order. And that nice new sponge mop you used for the ceiling is the perfect tool for washing down dirty painted walls. But when washing walls, begin at the bottom of the wall and work your way up…those drips of water running from the top will leave streaks in a dirty wall surface that will be devilishly difficult to remove later! The same cleaning solution used on the ceilings is perfect for painted walls, although you should test first in an inconspicuous spot to make sure it will not harm or remove the paint.
Be careful about scrubbing too hard on painted wall surfaces as you may lose the paint. If you have wallpaper and it’s not vinyl, you could be in for some trouble: wall paper can be very difficult to clean, particularly if the offending agent is oil-based, like cooking splatter.
Crayon: WD-40 can be helpful in removing crayon from painted wall surfaces: spray over the spots and wipe off with paper towels. Then wash the wall with your cleaning solution.
Pencil: An art gum eraser can be very helpful in removing pencil marks from walls. Rub gently, as if you were erasing a sheet of paper, and wash afterward with cleaning solution.
Ink: Anything that can remove ink from a painted surface may remove the paint as well. Test the following in an inconspicuous spot before applying to the inked areas. Wash wall afterwards.
Hair spray: with an amply supply of paper towels at hand, spray hairspray over the ink spot and then blot clean. Use a fresh paper towel for each blot or you could end up spreading the stain.
Toothpaste. Gently rub a little on the spot, let it sit for about 10 minutes, then wipe clean.
Alcohol: for surfaces that will not be damaged by alcohol, dab some rubbing alcohol (isopropyl alcohol, which is a solution of 30% pure alcohol and 70% water) directly on the stain. Try to keep a moist pad of alcohol against the stain for ten minutes or so, then blot away the stain with clean paper towels.
Nail polish remover: it can strip paint, so this must be tested before use in a visible area. This works especially well for floors and tiles, but caution must be taken for painted walls. Blot onto the stain with a paper towel.
While you are on vertical surfaces, this is the time to do windows, pictures and picture frames, woodwork, and anything else that may drip dirty water down to the floor…remember to start at the bottom and work your way up.
Washing the whole (painted) wall
The same solution, mop, and technique that were used to wash the ceiling can be used to wash painted walls with the following caveats:
1) Gloss and semi-gloss walls will survive washing better than flat latex paints. If your paint is flat (not even a little shiny), don’t scrub too hard or you may take off paint and all.
2) Wash walls from the bottom, up. Start at the baseboard (skirting board) and work your way up. Don’t allow water to run down the wall as you clean. A sponge mop that is only damp is the best tool to use.
Nowadays walls can be made of…or covered with…just about anything. It’s not possible to cover every eventuality, so we’ll just touch lightly on the most common wall coverings:
If you have fake wood panelling, you can wash it exactly the same way you wash a painted wall. Cleaning panelling of real wood, however, depends on how the wood is finished. See the section on woodwork, below, for how to clean wood.
Tile is pretty forgiving and most things will come off tile pretty easily. Problems with grout sometimes arise, though, and sometimes rust will stain tile.
A poultice made of bleach and baking soda on a damp paper towel will help remove rust stains from tiles and grout. The poultice can be stuck to the tile…even tiled walls…by wetting the paper towel and smoothing the outer few inches against the wall.
A paste of bleach and baking soda can also be “trowelled” into grout using the back side of a teaspoon. Allow to dry, rinse off, and repeat as necessary.
Vinyl wall paper can be washed with a damp cloth and mild soap. Hard scrubbing should be avoided to prevent rubbing off the pattern. Dry with a soft cloth.
Other wall coverings such as sisal, paper wallpaper, fabric should be vacuumed with a soft brush. Any further cleaning should be done by a professional.
Washing the woodwork
When the walls are clean, it is time to wash the woodwork: doors, door frames, window frames and sills, built-ins, and panelled walls.
Woodwork is usually painted with high gloss or semi-gloss enamel paint. This makes it relatively easy to clean.
Never spray your cleaning solution directly on a surface, and this includes woodwork. Spray the solution onto your cleaning cloth and wipe it over the surfaces to be cleaned. Do not forget to wipe the tops of door sills and door frames. The same solutions to wall stains can be used on painted woodwork.
When cleaning vertical surfaces, be sure to start at the bottom and work your way up so you don’t create drip marks.
Most “natural wood” woodwork is varnished. If neglected, varnish can easily damage, which creates an even bigger problem: sanding and refinishing. You must take care of varnished wood or pay the piper.
Before you set yourself up for difficulty, try to determine if your wood had been varnished or polyurethaned. They look alike, but the polyurethane finish is virtually indestructible and needs only to be wiped down with a damp cloth.
To test, go to an inconspicuous spot (get on a ladder and test the top of a door sill) and put a few drops of acetone (nail polish remover) on the varnished wood and rub gently in a circular motion. Do not allow it to run! After a minute or two, check it. If the finish has gone sticky or gel-like, it’s varnish. Polyurethane will not change.
In your arsenal of household products you should have a bottle of teak oil. You can get light teak oil and dark. If you have wood furnishings and woodwork, you should have teak oil on hand at all times. Light teak oil works on light woods, dark teak oil on dark woods. Teak oil works remarkably well to remove dirt from varnished or oiled wood surfaces, and it camouflages scratches. Mineral oil (not mineral spirits!) is a good second choice.
If rubbing with teak oil did not remove the soil, then you must wash the surface. You can wash varnished wood by dampening a clean cloth with a solution of mild soap and warm water and rubbing a small section of the wood to remove dirt. Dry immediately with a soft cloth. Working in small areas at a time prevents the finish from absorbing moisture. Remember, when working on vertical surfaces, like door, door jambs or window frames, to start at the bottom and work your way up.
Apply a coat of furniture polish or wax when finished.
Before anything else, try to use teak or mineral oil to remove dirt. This can take a bit of effort, but it is the best way. Always rub with the grain of the wood.
If the soil is too deeply ingrained, then follow the instructions for varnished wood, above. Make certain that you adequately oil the wood when finished cleaning it. Rub the oil in with the grain of the wood until it looks like it is “too much.” Wait about 15 minutes for the oil to soak in, them come back and polish with a soft dry cloth.
Unfinished wood is porous and unprotected against moisture, which will eventually cause damage. Unfinished wood (unless it is redwood, cypress, or cedar) needs some kind of protective coating.
Because it is uncoated, it is very difficult to clean soiled unfinished wood. Dirt and debris can cause permanent staining. If you have unfinished wood in your home, protect it by giving it a coating of mineral oil, furniture polish, or furniture wax.
You can clean unfinished wood like varnished wood but, except in the case of very light soil, do not expect miracles.
When you acquire a new piece of unfinished furniture, treat it immediately: oil it, varnish it, wax it, paint it…anything to protect the wood. Don’t forget the bottom of the piece, where it touches the floor or you don’t see. The paint/oil/varnish is not there for looks: its primary purpose is to protect the wood from the elements, such as dampness…or too much dryness…in the air. The same is true for wood elements in your home: unfinished wood doors, door frames, built ins, may all look fresh and natural, but once they are soiled (finger prints, spills, scuffs) the soil in permanent. Seal and protect your wood so that it will give you decades of beautiful service.
Making your own wood polish
You can make your own wood polish with items found in most households. Remember, our ancestors didn’t have commercial spray-on furniture products to clean those beautiful antiques we cherish today. They made it themselves from common household goods.
You can use 2 parts vegetable or olive oil with 1 part lemon juice to make a furniture polish. Put it in a bottle with a tight fitting cap and shake vigorously. Make sure to shake again each time the oil and juice separate so that you have an emulsified liquid on your cleaning cloth. Apply with a soft cloth and then rub in a circular motion to polish. Make sure you label the bottle (use a permanent marker) with its contents on one side and the “formula” on the other so you can easily mix up a refill.
If you like lemon oil polish, take a pint ( ½ litre) of mineral oil (not mineral spirits) and dissolve a teaspoon of lemon oil in it. Bottle and label as above.
Here are some tips from Michigan State University Extension for cleaning various types of wood:
For Unfinished Wood: Mineral Oil. Mineral oil is flammable. Apply sparingly with a soft cloth.
For Mahogany: Vinegar. Mix equal pans white vinegar and warm water. Wipe onto wood and then polish with a chamois cloth.
For Grease Spots: Salt. Immediately pour salt on the grease spot to absorb grease and prevent staining.
For Scratches: Lemon Juice and Vegetable Oil. Mix equal pans of lemon juice and salad oil. Rub into scratches with a soft cloth until scratches disappear.
For Water Spots: Toothpaste. To remove water marks, rub gently with toothpaste on a damp cloth.
For Washing Wood: Mild Soap. Dampen cloth with a solution of water and mild soap, such as Ivory or Murphy's Oil Soap. Wring the cloth almost dry and wipe the furniture section by section, drying with a clean dry cloth as you go so that no section stays wet.
Next: Windows and mirrors