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. Bill Bratcher on August 24, 2017 at 5:47 pm

    For wall cleaning involving nicotine stains I use tsp or xylene. They remove it easily with out hard scrubbing. But get a thick dense sponge . 27 years ago Eco-lab corp. produced a product formulated just for Nicotine removal from walls, trim, windows, etc. it was the Best I ever used on a nico-stained anything. So-so-easy to use. It was called Eco Lab Nic-Off. I haven’t seen this stuff since 1998. But used in 1990. Most old time painters like the …TIME consuming way which translates to more time, which translates to longer hours = more pay.

  2. Dennise on October 21, 2016 at 11:34 pm

    I use Murphy’s Oil Soap. If they are really bad I at a couple of teaspoons of Dawn dish soap to the gallon mixture of Murphy’s and water.

  3. Chris on October 4, 2016 at 12:59 am

    Here is what worked for me on a white wall (apartment). It was pretty easy.
    Scrub the mark on wall with an old toothbrush (soft) after dipping it in concentrated soap water(I used tide). After few rounds of soft scrubs with the brush, wipe the color and soap with a dry damp rag (or some old white cotton clothes).
    Trick is to apply least force on the paint. Also DON’T rub on the wall with the cloth/rag.

  4. Stefani on September 10, 2016 at 8:21 pm

    Like many of you, I also came to see how to wash flat paint. My boyfriend and I live in an apartment and we were allowed to paint the walls. My boyfriend wouldn’t let me have any say other than color- hence flat paint. The rules are lax, no deposit or anything to get back but my OCD is going into overdrive. DO NOT USE MAGIC ERASERS ON COLORED FLAT PAINT. I learned that the hard way about 2 years ago. We had to rearrange furniture to cover up the clean spots. He has an aversion to vinegar so I’m going to try the Windex or pinesol (spot testing first otherwise it may just be time to repaint) but any other suggestions for colored paint would be great!

  5. big mike on May 13, 2016 at 1:58 pm

    Pick up some TSP (trisodium phosphate) at your local home improvement store and a good solid sponge, the kind used for tile work. Mix the TSP in a bucket of water. A Magic Eraser will remove pen marks, coffee stains, and the like.

  6. Tess on March 1, 2016 at 3:06 am

    I use tide. Vey little with a very wet cloth following up w a dry cloth. Both clothes are white. He leaned is key. Use regular tide. No bleach or color tide. The latter will ruin the flat paint.

    I don’t know what kind of vogegar. I assume it’s while but diluted. Apple cider vinegar is tough on the gut; so I can’t even imagine the walks.

    I am shocked that someone pays 3k for an apt! Oh my golly! Get out!

    I am trying to paint a white wall w flat paint. Just found out it takes 4 to 5 wks to cure. Be careful.


  7. juliana on September 4, 2015 at 5:15 pm

    Hi i live in one bedroom apartment and my apartment walls are filthy. Ive never cleaned them since ive moved in back in 2006. i have an inspection in two weeks and i want my walls to look cleaner, unfortunately my roommate is a smoker and he smokes in the apartment. So the walls are also covered by cigarette smoke, smudges, dirt, and dust. Not to mention my apartment smells like an ashtray and a boys locker room. I have severe indoor and outdoor allergies and asthma. So how can i clean my apartment walls and clear the air of smoke and a foot. What do i need to get and how do i clean the air and walls. I live on a very small weekly fixed income so i cant afford anything expensive. Your ideas would greatly be appreciated.

    • Em on June 1, 2016 at 10:58 pm

      Well firstly, your health and well being is priority one! Ask your room mate to smoke outside due to your allerhies. If she/ he is considerate they won’t mind.
      Only then clean your walls. If the roomie doesn’t agree, start looking for another place to live or get another roomie. Use some TSP or Pinesol and water.
      Good luck!

      • Em on June 1, 2016 at 10:59 pm

        Oops…mis spelled ALLERGIES. Sorry.

    • sandy on March 5, 2017 at 5:48 pm

      Hello there…i just used sunlight dish soap, a micro cloth and elbow…my kitchen wall looks like brand new .

  8. Jenny on April 25, 2015 at 7:19 pm

    I used the laundry detergent and it worked great the next morning the walls were good as new!Thanks

  9. Nicole on March 27, 2014 at 2:12 am

    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?

  10. Claudia on January 14, 2014 at 6:45 pm

    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 on July 15, 2015 at 11:42 pm

      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.

  11. stephanie on August 28, 2013 at 11:03 pm

    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.

    • sandy on March 5, 2017 at 5:46 pm

      Hello there… i just tried my kitchen flat wall paint with sunlight dish soap…a micro clot and elbow grease… wall looks like brand new 🙂

  12. christophla on July 29, 2012 at 2:12 pm

    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)

    • Lew on July 12, 2013 at 1:23 pm

      damn 3500 a month i hope one of those zeros where a typo, thats a couple mortages where im from.

      • Heather Solos on July 14, 2013 at 8:38 pm

        I was just talking with friends and average rent in NYC is somewhere in that neighborhood. Thankfully it’s nothing like that where I live.

  13. MelissaWhiteCamoirano on April 10, 2012 at 12:25 pm

    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.

    • Jesse on May 16, 2016 at 11:49 pm

      Thanks for the tip, I have destroyed our cheap walls with a Magic Eraser and my wife is going to kill me, I am totally going to try this tomorrow!

  14. Belinda Godfrey on May 3, 2011 at 12:06 pm

    Thanks everyone…. I have the same problem and will try some of the suggestions. 🙂

  15. Liz on July 17, 2009 at 5:11 pm

    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! 🙂

  16. Amy In NC on July 16, 2009 at 8:26 pm

    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!

  17. twadlund on July 15, 2009 at 11:27 pm

    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!

    • ari on November 14, 2012 at 1:51 pm

      what kind of vinegar

  18. ThatBobbieGirl on July 15, 2009 at 3:54 pm

    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 🙂

  19. Jenn on July 15, 2009 at 11:08 am

    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.

  20. martha on July 15, 2009 at 11:05 am

    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

  21. gracie on July 15, 2009 at 10:21 am

    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

  22. nil zed on July 15, 2009 at 2:22 am

    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.

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