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Expert's corner: how to clean wallpaper like a pro

Keep your walls looking pristine even in areas that are prone to dirt and scuff marks
   Alex Whitecroft  |  written on: 28-05-2022 16:00pm

It’s spring cleaning season, and as homeowners happily set about clearing out cupboards, scrubbing floors and polishing windows, walls are often overlooked. Yet they can become just as grubby as other areas of the home – sticky fingerprints, scuff marks and even crayon are just some of the ways that wallpaper can become dirty.  

The good news is that most wallpaper can be easily cleaned without damage and for heavy use areas that are prone to dirt, there are scrubbable and extra washable wallpapers available on the market. 

1. Pick washable wallpaper
How washable a wallpaper is can be found on most wallpaper websites in the product summary section or on the packaging. Look out for vinyl/acrylic covered wallpaper as this can be scrubbed with mild detergents and is more hardwearing than plain-paper options.

Arthouse Lagoon Coral Wallpaper

2. Look for the labels
Before going at the walls with a scrubbing brush, check the instructions that came with the wallpaper. All of I Want Wallpaper’s products are supplied with easy to follow symbols that signify how to clean them, what cleaning agents to use and even how much pressure to apply.

These range from ‘spongeable’ (only dab fresh paste off when hanging the paper when it’s still wet), to ‘highly scrubbable’ (scrub using mild detergents to remove oils and other tough stains). For more details about ‘washability’ and ‘scrubbability’ head to I Want Wallpaper’s wallpaper symbols guide.

3. Dust or vacuum the walls
A weekly going over with the duster will keep walls looking fresh and limit the accumulation of cobwebs and dust bunnies that tend to gather on walls. Use a feather duster with a long handle or alternatively, vacuum with the cleaner attachment for hard to reach areas. Try not to press on the wall with the vacuum extension so as not to leave a mark or transfer dirt. 

Tip: Always vacuum or dust the walls prior to washing them.

AS Creation Star-Pattern Canvas Wallpaper in Blue

4. Get everything you need ready before starting to clean
Tool up with the following items before beginning:

- Ladder (free standing is best so as not to damage wallpaper when leaning it against the wall)
- Hoover/duster
- Plastic/cloth sheet (Line the floor and nearby furniture with a large, preferably plastic, sheet in case of drips, dust or spillages)
- Soft brush
- Bucket of clean water
- Bucket of water with mild detergent
- Plain, clean sponge
- Clean cloth
- Small towel

5. Do a patch test
Find a discreet spot and test the cleaning solution to avoid costly damage.

6. Be sparing
Too much detergent can attract dirt and leave stains. Similarly, too much water can damage the paper and leave water marks. Dip the sponge in the soapy water and wring out excess moisture until the sponge is just slightly damp.

Arthouse Mother Of Peal White Wallpaper

7. Be methodical
Start at the top left corner and wipe the wall with soapy water using gentle downward motions being careful to avoid loosening or ripping conjoining edges. After cleaning a strip, use the bucket filled with clean water (and the fresh cloth) to remove excess soap. Clean from top to bottom (to avoid drips) and work across the wall from left to right. Rinse the sponges and change the water regularly, so as not to just move dirt around.

8. Towel dry
Dry each section with a towel as you go. Using a towel will gently absorb any leftover moisture and limit the risk of water marks.

Muriva Roses Vinyl Wallpaper

9. Be gentle
Even scrubbable papers need a soft touch – it’s paper after all. Avoid bleach or harsh cleaning solutions. Similarly, abrasive products like hard-bristle brushes may be too coarse for this job. Gentle downward motions will be effective enough to clean off the majority of dirt/stains.

10. And for hard to remove stains…
Try these wallpaper hacks to remove tougher stains but always remember to spot-check first.

- There are a number of methods for removing scuff marks – an eraser being one of the most effective. Baking soda/water can also be used but is slightly abrasive so always test it first.

- Talcum powder can absorb grease stains on non-vinyl wallpaper (simply apply and leave for five minutes then brush away)
- Alternatively, a low-heat iron applied over paper towels should soak up the stain.

- Gently scrape away food that has stuck to the wallpaper. For more persistent stains, gently rub with a toothbrush dipped in detergent.

- Scrape away crayon with a blunt knife. Use the iron and paper towel technique to lift more stubborn marks.

- Baby wipes should remove the ink from washable markers
- Gently rub baking soda and water onto non-washable ink.
- Rubbing alcohol or silver polish can be used on very durable wallpapers.

- An eraser should rub the stain away with minimal pressure.

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Alex Whitecroft

Alex Whitecroft has worked in the home interest sector for more than 15 years. Having run her own successful interior design business for over a decade, she now specialises in wallpaper, which she hand selects from leading suppliers for I Want Wallpaper, one of the UK’s leading online wallpaper stores.