Cleaning Walls and ceilings

A cobweb brush with an extending handle is invaluable for removing those grimy threads of dirt which suddenly and horrifying appear when the sun shines brightly. A vacuum cleaner attachment with soft brush is useful for occasionally brushing down walls, or you can use a broom with a soft duster tied over the head. Remove light fittings, pictures or mirrors before you start, to avoid breakages.

Painted walls can be washed down when they get dirty. First take down any pictures. Move furniture into the middle of the room, get help with this if moving heavy items. Cover the furniture with an old sheet, blanket, or newspapers taped together with sticky tape. Turn back floor coverings if possible. Brush down walls, or use a vacuum cleaner attachment to remove as much loose dust as you can. Take two buckets, and fill one with warm water plus a squeeze of washing-up liquid; fill the other with cool clear water. Do not use soap powders sold for washing clothes; they usually contain ‘fluorescers’ which may brighten up your washing, but can change the colours of some paints. Before starting to wash walls all over, treat any very dirty or greasy patches with a little neat washing-up liquid squeezed onto a clean damp cloth. Wring out a sponge or cloth in the detergent solution and, working from the skirting upwards, wash the walls in strips of about I m at a time. Alternatively, you can use a sponge floor mop.. When you have washed a complete 1 m strip from bottom to top, take a second cloth or sponge, wring it out in the clean water, and wipe down the washed area, this time from top to bottom. Now move on to a fresh section, and repeat the routine. But do try to complete one wall in one session, or you could get a line where the cleaning stopped. Before you clean around power points or light switches, it is safest to turn off your electricity at the mains.

This routine can be adapted for painted ceilings: but if your ceilings have the old-fashioned distemper they cannot be washed, or even be repainted until every scrap of removeable distemper has been scrubbed away. When you have removed as much as you can give the ceiling a coat of primer sealer from a builder’s merchant or decorating shop, and allow to dry, according to the directions on the can. This should prevent blistering or flaking of the new paint when it is applied.

Polystyrene ceiling tiles can be dusted very gently with a cobweb brush or with a duster tied around a broom head. Or use a vacuum cleaner attachment. Wash the tiles gently with a solution of warm water and washing-up liquid, then rinse with clear water. But never use solvents of any kind, e.g. white spirit, as the tiles will simply dissolve. After washing the tiles and allowing them to dry, freshen them up with a coat of emulsion paint; but never use oil-based paints as these are a fire risk.

Washable wallpaper should not be taken at face value. You cannot actually wash it, but you can sponge it. First dust down the walls. Then take a bucket of warm water with a squeeze of washing-up liquid, and after wringing out your cloth or sponge thoroughly so that it is barely damp, gently sponge the wall, working from the bottom upwards. Be very careful not to overwet and do not rub the wallpaper. Do not use white spirit or solvent dry-cleaner stain-removers, as they could damage the paper’s finish.

Non-washable papers. An old-fashioned but effective method for erasing dirty marks is to rub them gently with a piece of bread. Or you can try a soft, clean pencil rubber. A dry-cleaning stain-remover may remove some marks, but always test in an out of sight place first. Sometimes you can lift grease by covering the damaged area with blotting paper and applying a warm iron.

Vinyls are much easier to clean. After dusting well, wash them down using a cloth, sponge or even a soft scrubbing brush, and a bucket of warm water containing a squeeze of washing-up liquid. Work on a small area at a time, and wipe off as you go with a clean cloth well wrung out in a second bucket of clean water. Work upwards from the skirting board, and avoid rubbing across the joints. Try treating stains with a very small dab of white spirit on a clean cloth, or rub very lightly with scouring powder. But these treatments are not suitable for vinyls with metallic colourings. If the joins are coming unstuck you will find that vinyl will not stick to itself with ordinary wallcovering adhesive. You can buy a special adhesive for resticking vinyl overlaps, from decorating stores, or use a latex white liquid craft adhesive.

Speciality wallcoverings now include paper-backed hessians, silks, grasscloths and so on. The supplier should be able to advise you about suitable cleaning techniques. In general this type of wallcovering can only be dry dusted, using if in possible the attachment brush to a vacuum cleaner. It may be possible to treat marks and stains with a solvent dry-cleaner stain-remover but do test this out first on an area that doesn’t show: for example behind a piece of furniture. Unfortunately, if wetted with water – or even if cleaned with a solvent -many of these wallcoverings may shrink back along the joins, or lose their colour.

Ceramic wall tiles are very easy to clean. A wipe-over with a clean cloth well wrung out in a bucket of warm water to which a squeeze of washing-up liquid has been added should usually be all that is needed. Add a few drops of disinfectant if cleaning tiled areas around the wc. Rinse the tiles with clean water, and polish them dry with a soft cloth. You may be able to whiten old discoloured grouting by applying a solution of household bleach on an old toothbrush. But often the only satisfactory solution is to rake out the old grouting and to replace it with new grouting.

Paintwork on skirtings, doors etc. should be dusted regularly. A damp cloth with a little washing-up liquid should remove most marks, but you can also use a cream cleaner or an aerosol general purpose cleaner/polisher. A little white spirit will usually remove black heel marks. When very dirty, wash down, adapting the methods described for painted walls, above.

Cleaning Walls and ceilings

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