How to Remove Stains, Without Removing Paint

Removing splatters from your wall can be a pain. I’ve rented a couple of houses in my lifetime, and each time the landlord came by to conduct an inspection I’d find myself stressing over stains. The wallpapers of my bedroom, kitchen…you name it, I’d stained it.

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If you’re reading this article, maybe you’re in a similar situation where the blemishes on your walls are getting a bit out of control. Luckily for you and I, there are lots of wall-cleaning chemical “erasers” readily available on the market. However, if you don’t have the money to spend on cleaning supplies, that’s fine too, as you can create your own stain removers at home with ammonia and water in a jiffy. But beware – things can easily go south and you can scratch off a layer of your paint if you aren’t careful, and I’m speaking from experience here. So what should you do to ensure that your bright, shiny coat of paint stays safe, whilst removing the stain at the same time? Check out these three common methods and select the one that suits you best. 

Before you try any of these methods, I’d strongly recommend that you find out what type of paint is on your wall. Different paints react differently to different chemicals, and a method of cleaning that might work for one type of wall might not work for another. Glossy surfaces, semi-gloss surfaces or enameled paint will respond​ well to cleaning, whereas eggshell or flat surfaces might not hold up as well.​   

Usually, you can tell whether a surface is painted with gloss / semi-gloss/ enamel by feel, as these types of paint will have a smoother and shiny surface. On the other hand, eggshell or flat surfaces will have a matte finish.  

Water 

Before you try the other two ways of removing stains listed below, try rubbing your stain away in the easiest way possible – either with a simple baby wipe or a wet cloth. There’s no need to use harmful chemical formulas if you can remove it with water and cotton, is there? This method works for fresh and non-oil based stains, and if you’re lucky it might just work.  

Water has a neutral pH and so does not damage walls, unless they are very water absorbent. In that case, you will have to use a dry rag with a drop of dishwashing liquid so that mold does not form.  

Recommended for: ​Nearly all paint types. Fresh stains respond better to water.  

Soap  

For smudges that won’t come off with water, soap is your next best bet. Simply use a quarter teaspoon of liquid soap (or dishwasher liquid) and mix it with a cup of (ideally warm) water. Next, take a cloth and wet the material in the liquid and get scrubbing. When using soap, remember to use unscented, colorless soap. 

Otherwise, you might make the stain much worse and cause discoloration. 

If you’d prefer to buy your soap from the shops, “sugar soap’ is a widely available type of soap-like chemical which can be used to brighten up your wall. Dilute the sugar soap according to the instructions on the back of the bottle and spray it on the stained surface, then wipe it away with a sponge and you’re done! 

Recommended for: ​Nearly all walls, however water absorbent or fragile walls might not hold up well to this sort of treatment.  

Chemicals 

What if the stains won’t go away with water or soap? Well, there’s only one solution left – chemicals. Before you go get your ammonia and/or store-bought eraser, remember to open all the windows in the room that you’re in to save your lungs and reduce the damage that these chemicals can do to your health. Wear gloves at all times, and put a layer of newspaper on the floor so that the formula doesn’t erode your carpet. 

There are a lot of variations of homemade stain cleaners floating around the internet, but the one that I found especially helpful during my years living under a landlord was an ammonia-and-water concoction, where I mixed two cups of ammonia withfour liters of warm water.  

Before you splatter this solution all over your wall, you need to dip a sponge or cloth in the liquid with your rubber-gloved hands, and spot-test it on a small area (as all walls are different – some may be more sensitive to ammonia than others). If the marks come off without damaging the wall, congratulations! You’ve just made yourself your very own liquid cleaner for cheap. 

During spot-testing, if you’ve noticed that the marks don’t come off, add more ammonia (half a cup each time, increasing the concentration gradually.) But if the paint comes off, add some water (a cup each time, lowering the concentration gradually). Eventually, you’ll find a concentration that’s just right for your stains. 

Remember to not rub the sponge or cloth too hard, otherwise the paint from your walls may fall off with the stain and leave a garish blight on your wall. 

Recommended for: ​ Glossy, semi-gloss or enameled surfaces. You should only use this method for other types of walls as a last resort.  

Happy cleaning! 

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