4 Golden Rules of Cleaning Wallpaper

1. Vacuum your wallpaper. The best thing you can do to keep the wall covering in most rooms looking pristine is the simplest: Vacuum it. A soft brush attachment on a vacuum cleaner works best—and is a must if the paper is flocked or has any kind of texture. Start at the top of the wall and work your way down, doing a couple of panels at a time. Be careful of cobwebs. Lift them up with the vacuum; if you try brushing them away, they may streak the wall. Depending on how dusty your house gets, dust every few months. A microfiber cloth on a long-handled sweeper or a clean white cloth wrapped on the end of broom will also work on flat, non-textured wall coverings.

2. Clean delicate coverings with dough. Need to clean a stain off a fabric or reed wall covering? Or off uncoated wallpaper? You can clean a covering that would be damaged by water using a special product called wallpaper dough, sold at paint stores and home centers. Take a handful of dough from the container, roll it into a ball, and then roll the ball across the wall covering to lift the dirt. When the dough gets dirty, knead the dirt into the center of the ball to expose a fresh surface.

3. Test unique or textured wallpaper before washing it. Natural coverings— grass, reed, hemp, cork, leather, fabric—and uncoated wallpaper are easily damaged by water and cannot be washed. To find out if a wall covering is washable, squirt a little dishwashing liquid in water and dab some on the wall in an out-of-the-way spot. If the material darkens or absorbs water—or if the colors run—the covering is not washable. Clean it with wallpaper dough.

4. Give your kitchen wallpaper an occasional wipe. In rooms where wall coverings are exposed to grease, steam, or active youngsters, dusting is not enough. A light washing every few months is in order. Luckily, the wall coverings used in such areas are usually waterproof sheet vinyl. Give them a quick swipe with a natural sponge dampened in water with a squirt of dishwashing liquid. Make sure that the sponge isn’t too wet—you don’t want water to seep under the seams and loosen the covering. Also, be sure to clean from the bottom up; that way dirty water that you squeeze out of the sponge won’t flow down over the dirty areas and leave streaks. Even if the covering is labeled “scrubbable,” it’s best not to scrub hard or to use abrasive cleaners or strong household cleansers. Rinse with a sponge dampened in clean water. Pat dry with a towel. If the paper needs a second washing, let it dry thoroughly first.

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