How to clean wallpaper

Are your rooms looking tired or grubby, purely because the wallpaper is a little dirty? It is possible to clean wallpaper – and do a good job – if you know how

Cleaning white wallpaper while wearing rubber gloves
(Image credit: I Want Wallpaper)

Whether you've had a spill that's ended up on your wallpaper or the kids continually trail greasy mitts down your walls, you'll occasionally need to tackle cleaning your wallpaper. But doing so isn't a simple task you can just do with any old materials: knowing how to clean wallpaper properly is key to not ruining it – and not having to redecorate too regularly. Here, with the help of, we explain in easy steps.

Once your wallpaper is spotless, check out all our cleaning how tos and hacks. Find out how to clean walls in our expert guide, too. And don't miss our sourcebook of the top 50 must-have cleaning products for your home.

Starry wallpaper in a hallway

(Image credit: I Want Wallpaper)

1. How to clean wallpaper? Pick a washable wallpaper

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If you're about to start decorating and are picking out wallpaper for a high traffic area, including a child's bedroom, picking a washable wallpaper makes good sense. 

There will be a label on the wallpaper when you buy it telling you just how much of a wash it can take – from spongeable to highly scrubbable. If your wallpaper is already up and you've not kept the label (we wouldn't), but you know where it's from, you should be able to find out the information you need about how to clean the wallpaper on the company's website.

No label, no company, no idea? If your wallpaper looks to be vinyl or acrylic, this is washable; if it looks to have a decent sheen on it, it should be spongeable at the very least. If it's delicate looking or is painted lining paper, proceed with caution.

What else to bear in mind? Patterned wallpapers hide marks and scuffs better than plain. Just saying.

Find the best wallpapers for children's rooms and the best wallpapers for hallways in our buyer's guides.

2. Dust or vacuum the walls before washing wallpaper

Doing this once a week with a telescopic duster or the soft brush on your vacuum cleaner held just away from the wall (see our guide to how to vacuum to find out more about this fascinating subject...) will mean that dust and cobwebs don't build up. Combined with grease from cooking or fingers, this near-invisible dust quickly becomes stuck on grime. 

Non-labelled cleaning products

3. Get your wallpaper cleaning kit lined up

You'll need a bucket, a supply of warm water, a good quality washing up liquid and a clean, soft sponge. Avoid bleach or harsh cleaning solutions. Similarly, abrasive products like hard-bristle brushes may be too coarse for this job.  

Simply squirt a little detergent into the water, mix well and you're good to go. 

Pssst! Too much detergent can actually attract dirt and leave stains, so when we say 'a little', we really mean it. And, we'd choose a clear detergent instead of one of the green/yellow/pink ones, just to be on the safe side. 

4. Do a patch test before you clean wallpaper

We say 'good to go', but do a patch test first. Find a discreet spot, perhaps behind a sofa, and test the cleaning solution to avoid costly damage. This will also give you a chance to practice the less is more approach to water. Over-wetting the wallpaper can do more damage to it.

Even scrubbable papers need a soft touch, so be gentle or you will remove wallpaper along with dirt.

5. How to clean wallpaper from top to bottom

Being methodical is important: 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. 

Gentle downward motions will be effective enough to clean off the majority of dirt/stains.

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.

6. Towel dry the wallpaper

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

Cleaning products on a floor

(Image credit: I Want Wallpaper)

7. How to clean non-washable wallpaper

A regular light dusting is your best option. A very light application of soapy water as above can help to remove larger patches of dirt and small stains and marks. But generally, avoid washing non-washable because what tends to happen is that you're left with smeary walls that look just that little bit worse than they did before.

That said, you can perform a little bit of magic on small marks with our favourite product – and your first port of call before a damp, soapy cloth – a Mr Clean Magic Eraser

8. How to remove ink, biro, crayon or felt pen from wallpaper

Mr Clean Magic Eraser not in your arsenal of cleaning products? Try wiping the affected area with a cloth or sponge moistened with cool, clear water, overlapping the strokes to avoid streaking. Then simply pat dry with a clean, lint-free cloth. 

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.

For permanent marker (we're looking at you, Sharpies), try isopropyl alcohol (rubbing alcohol); hand sanitiser, hairspray and nail polish remover may also work, but always do a spot test somewhere unseen first, and wear rubber gloves when applying the solutions. 

For a chemical-free solution, try rubbing the area very, very lightly with bicarbonate of soda, sprinkled on a damp cloth, but bear in mind that this may remove some of the wallpaper's pattern/colour, so you'll need to balance up the worse of two evils: pen marks or faded patches.

For crayon, scrape it away with a blunt knife, then use the iron and a paper towel to lift more stubborn marks.

9. How to remove mould from wallpaper

We'd start with a mix of soapy water, but if this won't do the job well enough, mix in some white vinegar and apply that to the mould, working inwards in a circular motion so that you don't spread the mould further.

Use our guide to getting rid of mould and mildew to find out more.

The best mould sprays

The best mould sprays
Find the best products to get rid of mould and mildew in your home.

Kitchen wallpapered with wallpaper from Little Greene

(Image credit: Little Greene)

10. How to remove grease spots from wallpaper

If you've got wallpaper in your kitchen (or kids who put their hands on the walls) you may have to deal with removing grease spots from wallpaper. 

To do so, make a paste of cornflour and water, apply it to the spots, leave to dry, brush off and repeat if necessary. 

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

As always, experiment in an unseen corner, first.

Find more kitchen wallpaper design ideas: clever ways to add character to your space.

11. How to remove fingerprints from wallpaper

Fingerprints are an inevitable mark on wallpaper if you have children. A clean eraser should rub the stain away with minimal pressure; use a Magic Eraser for best results.

12. How to remove scuffs from wallpaper

There are a number of methods for using 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.

13. How to remove food from wallpaper

Messy kids? Lively dinner parties? Whatever, food occasionally finds its way on to wallpaper. Gently scrape away food that has stuck to the wallpaper. For more persistent stains, gently rub with a toothbrush dipped in detergent – soapy water should do the trick. Ensure you rinse and blot dry.

14. How to remove wine stains from wallpaper

The best way to remove wine stains from wallpaper is to first blot it dry, being careful not to spread the stain, then use a natural sponge lightly dampened with a solution of warm water and a small amount of liquid dishwashing detergent to carefully wipe it away. Blot and repeat.

If this doesn't work, you can try adding vinegar to the soapy water mix. But as always, experiment first.

Find out more about removing wine stains in our guide.

More stain removal and cleaning tips: 

Lucy Searle

Lucy is Global Editor-in-Chief of Homes & Gardens having worked on numerous interiors and property titles. She was founding Editor of Channel 4’s 4Homes magazine, was Associate Editor at Ideal Home, before becoming Editor-in-Chief of in 2018 then moving to Homes & Gardens in 2021. She has also written for Huffington Post, AOL, UKTV, MSN, House Beautiful, Good Homes, and many women’s titles. Find her writing about everything from buying and selling property, self build, DIY, design and consumer issues to gardening.