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Ask Angie: Be gentle when cleaning eggshell paint walls

Angie Hicks
Angie Hicks MCT

Dear Angie: What's the best way to clean walls covered in eggshell-finish paint?

— Alberto B., Callaway, Fla.

Dear Alberto: Eggshell-painted walls clean up rather well, as long as you're relatively gentle in your approach. Don't scrub too hard, or you may leave behind faded or discolored areas.

Eggshell- and satin-finish paint types tend to be easier to clean than flat finishes but require a gentler touch than semi- or high-gloss paint. Use a mild cleaning solution and a soft, warm cloth. Test a small area first. If the spot doesn't come out, it may be best to cover it with some of the original paint.

Here are tips from top-rated painters about cleaning surfaces painted with other types of finishes:

Flat: Most flat paint surfaces are difficult to wash, because flat paint is porous and tends to retain dirt. Use a soft cloth with warm water. Avoid scrubbing, especially if the wall isn't white, or you may leave faded areas. You may get better results by touching up the problem area with the original paint color.

Semi-gloss/gloss: These finishes can generally withstand some scrubbing, but top-rated painters still suggest using a soft cloth or sponge. To remove tough stains on semi- or high-gloss surfaces, such as cigarette residue, one highly rated painter suggests using ammonia and water.

Here's a good general approach to cleaning a painted surface:

With a soft, dry cloth, remove loose dust, dirt and cobwebs. Use the dust-brush attachment to vacuum along walls and baseboards. Your cleaning solution can be as simple as a cup of white vinegar, or a small amount of dish soap, added to a bucket of warm water. Keep a second bucket of water for rinsing a soft cleaning cloth, so the cleaning solution doesn't get dirty.

Wash walls in sections, beginning at the bottom and working your way to the top. Rub gently, in a circular motion. If your cleaning leaves a few spots, you may have good results with Magic Eraser and other brands of melamine foam sponges. However, these work like extremely fine sandpaper, so test a small area before using extensively.

If you'd rather not clean walls yourself, consider hiring a reputable painting company or housecleaning service. One painter tells us he charges $75 an hour for a two-person cleaning team.

Angie Hicks compiles the best advice from the most highly rated service pros on Angieslist.com to answer your questions. Ask Angie your question at askangie@angieslist.com.