How to Clean Wallpaper Correctly and Safely

Wallpaper can look beautiful, but as anyone who has it knows, it can quickly go from glorious to grubby, especially if you have kids who prefer flinging their food around to eating it. While a painted wall is relatively easy to clean and “touch up”, a wallpapered wall can be more of a challenge. But that’s not to say it’s impossible. With a few tips and tricks, you can learn how to clean your wallpaper correctly and safely. Getting your kids to stop throwing that food, on the other hand, is something you might have to figure out on your own. As House Cleaning Central advises, the first step in cleaning your wallpaper involves figuring out the exact type it is. Wallpaper comes in several standard varieties; as the cleaning method will vary depending on type, it’s imperative to work out what you’re dealing with before you get going.

Vinyl and Vinyl Coated Wallpaper

If you have vinyl or vinyl-coated wallpaper, count yourself lucky. Vinyl wallpaper is by far the lowest maintenance of all the wallpapers, offering good resistance to grease spots and water stains. Even if it does end up getting a little grubby, you’ll find it a breeze to clean. To clean vinyl, start by filling one bucket with warm water and multi-purpose cleaner (use the guidelines on the back of the cleaner to determine the appropriate proportions) and another bucket with warm, clean water (this will be the one you’ll use to rinse out the sponge every now and again to avoid smearing dirt onto the walls). Dip a soft, microfiber cloth into the bucket containing the cleaning solution mix, wring it out (don’t forget this step: over saturating your wallpaper with water can cause the adhesive holding it to the wall to fail. It can also disintegrate old or fragile paper), then gently wipe the cloth over the wallpaper from top to bottom. Clean using circular motions, completing one section at a time. If this is the first time you’ve cleaned the walls using that particular cleaning product, you might want to spot-test it first to make sure it doesn’t stain.

As Dummies recommends, rinse the wallpaper after you’ve cleaned it to get rid of any lingering cleaning product. To do this, simply blot a slightly damp sponge over the washed areas. Once you’ve finished cleaning, turn the radiators up to max to dry out the walls. Alternatively, towel dry them by lightly dapping them with a clean towel. Although most types of vinyl can take a light scrubbing, resist the temptation to put too much elbow grease into your efforts, and never use an abrasive cleaner or rough-textured sponge, both of which can cause irreversible damage.

Coated Fabric Wallpaper

Coated fabric wallpaper is slightly less durable than vinyl, and a little less resistant to stains. Fortunately, it’s often covered with acrylic or vinyl, so can be easily washed. Use the same method as outlined above, remembering to patch test the cleaning product before you start.

Waterproof/Washable Wallpaper

Waterproof and washable wallpapers are usually made from acrylic or vinyl, and as such, can be easily cleaned using the same method as above. As always, be sure to complete a spot test before getting underway, and under no circumstances use an rough cloth or abrasive cleaning solution.

Paper, Silk, or Grasscloth Wallpaper

Paper, silk, or grasscloth wallpapers are where things start to get slightly tricky. Although some have the benefit of a light protective covering (which makes them not only more resistant to stains in the first place, but easier to clean if they do develop any), others aren’t so lucky. Paper and natural materials can be all but destroyed by water, so don’t be tempted to utilize any of the cleaning methods mentioned so far. As Wallpapers to Go notes, spot cleaning can help treat small stains (simply dab a cotton swap in a mild, diluted cleaning solution and gently dap the affected area), while for larger areas, a dry cleaning sponge makes a good option. Unlike most cloth’s and sponges, a dry cleaning sponge requires zero water to use, and can be safely utilized for cleaning anything that doesn’t tolerate moisture (other than wallpaper, you’ll find it useful on silk lampshades, upholstered furniture, air vents, painting, paper documents, and the like.). If you don’t already have one in your cleaning basket, it’s well worth investing a few dollars to get one.

Dusting Wallpaper

Even if your wallpaper’s in good enough shape not to need a wash, it might still benefit from a dusting. Fortunately, dusting your walls is much easier than cleaning them, with the same method applying regardless of type. The easiest and most efficient dusting method is to use a vacuum cleaner. Simply attach the wall brush extension, then gently brush from top to toe in short, gentle movements. If you don’t have a wall brush extension (and it really is advisable- vacuuming walls without one risks leaving scratches), you can achieve much the same results with a broom (cover the broom with a microfiber cloth before sweeping the wall from left to right and top to bottom), or a cloth (use a dry, clean microfiber brush and wipe the walls from left to right, starting at the top and working your way down. If your walls are particularly dusty, you might want to change cloth’s every now and again to prevent the cloth from leaving dirty smudges).

Top Tips for Cleaning Wallpaper

  • Use light, circular motions to avoid leaving streaks or watermarks.
  • Never be tempted to scrub using a rough abrasive or pumice, no matter what type of wallpaper you have.
  • Don’t use magic eraser sponges – even if the wallpaper is badly stained, the rough texture of the sponge can cause irreversible damage.
  • Always spot test in a small, unconscious area of the wallpaper before you start.
  • Never over saturate the wallpaper with water.
  • Avoid any harsh cleaning products, especially ones with bleach.

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