Dirty Walls! Flat Paint! What’s A Girl To Do?

Hi Ladies,
I have a quick question about washing my apartment walls. I desperately need to get my security deposit back, and they look nasty. Normally, I’d just use some soapy water and dig right in, but my landlords used cheap, lousy, thin flat white paint. I’m afraid that my washing will ruin the surface. I read online that flat paint shouldn’t be washed, but that if you had to, you could use a mop and an amonia solution. Does this seem reasonable to you guys? I’m sort of terrified to do anything with it, but I need to get my money back!
Thanks, as always!
Whitewashed in Walla Walla

clean flat paint

retrochick.JPGIvy says:

Oh, man, I’ve been there with the horrid walls and the landlord’s crappy paint. The very first thing I would do to perhaps save doing any work at all, is call the landlord. Many apartment complexes automatically repaint with each new tenant and they may not care how dirty your walls are. Unless, you have serious marker stains, like Sharpies. In that case, offer to Kilz over the walls when you leave. It will save you a lot of money.

how to take care of your walls

Click the picture for more tips!

If you still need to wash your walls, I’ve been there. The thing that worked the best for me was vinegar on a damp rag. Make sure it’s not too wet, that will mess up the paint. And don’t scrub really hard, just a light wash is the best you can do.

Hope this helps!


  1. nil zed says

    just don’t do like my tenants did. They spot painted every where that should have been washed. The used textured white paint which isn’t even the same white as the walls, nor does the texture match what was there. For the record, the existing paint was washable. A wet sponge would have gotten it clean enough (I lived here before for 7 years with 2 children, so I know!)

    Now there are random spots of weird feeling wrong white paint all over the place, including over some of the light switches. We can’t seem to clean it off the switches and plates, so those need replacing. Nor do I know how to deal with the texture issue when I repaint.

  2. gracie says

    the house i moved into had a light texture of sand in the paint — which hurt every time my hand would brush up against the wall — so when i re-painted i sanded the walls first got rid of the ‘texture’ very easily and quicker then i thought it would – but like i said it was just a light sand texture.

    I would try a small spot on the wall and see how bad it looks –maybe if they have always used the same cheap paint taking off parts of your layer of paint might simply expose the same layer of a previous tenant that looks better?

    what about those ‘white’ cleaning sponges from mr clean? they have the cleaning solution in them, but they are mostly for spot cleaning.

    good luck

  3. martha says

    my new house is full of those walls, and its definitely a challenge; especially with kids around. i’ve had good results with the “eraser” sponges from the dollar store. it takes quite a few for large rooms, but i cut them up into quarters to make them stretch as far as i could

  4. Jenn says

    Those Mr Clean sponges are great at removing stains…and the paint under them. I don’t think I’d even try them in this situation.

  5. says

    I’d just wash it with some mild soap. The reason that landlords use cheap flat paint is because they KNOW they’ll have to repaint after pretty much every tenant, so they get the cheapest stuff they can. They don’t care what it looks like while you live there, just when the next tenant moves in. If they don’t give back your deposit because of their cheap paint, then they never had any intention of giving it back.

    Sixteen years ago I swore I would never use flat paint. It was on the day that my infant son power-pooped right on the wall as I was changing his diaper. That stain was still there when we moved out – no matter what I tried, it was still quite visible. I rearranged the furniture so it wouldn’t be seen. We still got our deposit back, power poop and all :-)

  6. says

    I love the advise, vinegar and a damp rag. Pretty good, I honestly have never heard of this before, but it sure does make a lot of sense…I already tried it and it works great! Thanks!

  7. Amy In NC says

    I found that Mr. Clean magic erasers are fantastic with this. When you first clean them it looks like they are gonna leave what looks like a water mark, but once it dries completely You don’t notice it. When using them on your walls just be gentle, I didn’t notice it taking any paint off, but i was so nervous I kinda went easy and it still removed the dirt!

  8. Liz says

    Thanks so much for the advice! I’ll let you know how it goes. *keeps fingers crossed* You guys are brilliant and wonderful, by the way! :)

  9. MelissaWhiteCamoirano says

    For people who are still looking for a solution that works, I have/had the same issue with cheap flat paint and how nasty my walls look in our rental unit. I test cleaned the stairway because it was by far the worst area so if I screwed it up, it would have been no worse off. I used several of these suggestions and what I found to work best was a light misting of Windex and scrubbing with a microfiber cloth. In fact, it worked so well it *almost* looks as if I’ve repainted besides all of the nicks and nail holes. I used 1/2 a bottle of Windex and two microfiber cloths and an enormous amount of elbow grease, but it’s so much better I actually stood back looking at my work with tears in my eyes. I wish I had tried this sooner.

  10. christophla says

    Thankfully, my apartment complex doesn’t do deposits. Instead, they do a single security (insurance) payment of a couple of hundred dollars (rent is $3500.00 a month)

  11. stephanie says

    Hi i am a mom of 4 but my youngest is with us full time and believe me i feel all of you with the marks on the walls. I have tried the damp cloth and magic eraser and it leaves a mark on large areas. I found the magic eraser are good i scuff marks on walls but not getting the dirty off sneakingly. We live in San Diego and they use the flat white that is not easy to clean, i asked the complex and they offered touch up paint but we just moved here in june. So i am opting for an easier solution to having to repaint for the next year. i have not tried the vinegar but plan on doing so tomorrow, so wish me luck.

  12. Claudia says

    I have a 2300.00 security deposit and need it back. I am totally going to try the vinegar. Now what about the holes in the walls, from things I had hung up? Will they ding us for that?? Help!!!!

    • Loveswaffles says

      Holes in the walls? Easy! Less than $4 buy yourself a small container of spackle (white) and a 1 inch spackle knife (plastic). To save money, you can also use your finger (sometimes better) First, take the handle end of a screwdriver and press it into the hole. This will push in the hole edges and allow for a smoother, finished result. Apply spackle to knife (or finger) and spread it over the hole. Scrape off as much spackle as possible, leaving the hole filled. Next, allow spackle to dry. After it dries, lightly wipe remaining dry spackle off with sponge, which is why you want a smaller spackle knife to cover as little wall space as possible. The reason you want to wipe over the hole is bc the spackle around it will fill in surrounding textured walls, like flat paint.

      If you’re in a bind, my sister used toothpaste…and then she moved, leaving the house minty fresh.

  13. Nicole says

    Hey ladies great advice I have the same issue my rental apt most walls are matte and white and my 3 small children 21 month old the youngest put my walls thru hell! I’ve tried magic eraser works for the marker and crayons and lots of other stains but leave the wall with marks the worse room is the kitchen who puts matte in kitchen !?!?’ My landlord promised to reprint But then I found out my landlord isn’t really landlor but just a renter who illegally rented us the upstairs apt of the two family house we live in cause the owner lives in another state ..so I guess that’s outta the question! My Only option now to try the vinegar and windex i hope it works! Just can’t stand looking at the constant dirty walls! So I’m wondering will I get my security deposit if they illegally rented the apt to us?

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