Help me remove the layer of filth from my walls
April 22, 2007 6:18 AM   Subscribe

How do I clean my walls? It's more than just run-of-the-mill dirt.

When I was out of town, my landlord had some people come in and refinish/sand/repair the floors in my bedroom. They also repainted. The problem is that they apparently repainted first and then did the floors, leaving a nice coating of brown dust on every square inch of the white walls.

I don't know what kind of paint is on the walls. I tried to clean them using a slightly damp cloth both with and without a few mild cleaning products. It mostly just moves the grime around. My concern is that it seems like some of the white pigment is coming off on the cloth. It's not so bad where the wall looks stripped of paint or anything, but I obviously don't want to head in that direction.

Techniques and "home remedies" would be especially helpful, as I don't have access to a lot of cleaning products. Yes, in a perfect world my landlord would be responsible for this. But this is not a perfect world so I'm looking to take care of it myself.
posted by veggieboy to Home & Garden (16 answers total)
I'd use a vacuum with a hose and brush attachment.

If you are stuck with the damp cloth and cleaner then the key is to use the right kind of cloth. A lintless cotton is best. Use a simple cleaning product like ammonia mixed with water. Change the water often.
posted by JJ86 at 6:33 AM on April 22, 2007

Try going over the walls with a tack rag, too.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:47 AM on April 22, 2007

If the paint was still damp when the sanding was done there may not be a lot you can do about the dust. Does it seem stuck on?
posted by Coaticass at 6:50 AM on April 22, 2007

Beware rubbing too hard. You'll end up with a shiny spot.
posted by smackfu at 7:18 AM on April 22, 2007

Response by poster: I don't have a vacuum and don't know anyone who does, unfortunately.

Does it seem stuck on? Not really stuck on. I can move it with my finger. Although I do see what you're saying -- it might be that the paint was still tacky when the dust settled = bad.
posted by veggieboy at 7:22 AM on April 22, 2007

I think your first 'method' should be to call your landlord and try to get him (or her) / the contractors to admit fault and fix it.

I've seen Trisodium Phosphate (TSP) used to clean walls, and the Wikipedia page mentions that it's a degreaser, too. (You'd definitely want to do more research before you buy a chemical and smear it all over your walls, though, especially if I'm the one recommending it.)
posted by fogster at 7:55 AM on April 22, 2007

dry-ice power-washer (it might work)...
"The dry ice blasting process creates a tension wave between the contaminant and the underlying substrate. This wave has enough energy to overcome the adhesion or bonding strength and literally pops the contamination from the substrate off from the inside out. "
posted by acro at 8:10 AM on April 22, 2007

Fire remediation

"Dry Ice cleaning is extremely effective in removing toxic residues, soot, and associated smells after a fire. Independent dry ice blasters often work with major insurance companies over a large geographic area to quickly clean fire and smoke damaged locations."
posted by acro at 8:13 AM on April 22, 2007

Go get a decent wet/dry or other vac. You will find you can use it for all kinds of things. Cobwebs, dust bunnies, papermaking, all kind of things. Barring that, I would talk to your landlord about getting it cleaned up or reimbursing you for having someone else clean it up. I had a vaguely similar problem with wet drywall dust getting on my stuff after some repairs and my apartment company paid to have some pillows replaced with very little discussion.
posted by stormygrey at 8:40 AM on April 22, 2007

I hate to be pessimistic, but to me it sounds like the paint was still wet when the dust settled, and it's now 'part of' the paint. It sounds like seen similar stuff I've seen doing little woodwork things, and from memory the only 'fix' we had was to repaint.*. I would definitely handball this back up to the landlord/repairmen, unless you'd rather paint the place yourself. Even if you would, if the same company handled both the painting and floorwork, then it's just pure idiocy on their part and the landlord will probably appreciate knowing.

*With the caveat that these were crappy homemade things and it wouldn't have been worth exploring expensive technical cleaning methods, but I don't think it is for you either, given it's not (entirely) your problem.
posted by jacalata at 8:41 AM on April 22, 2007

Sugar soap is great for cleaning painted walls.
posted by hot soup girl at 10:04 AM on April 22, 2007

You can hire a cleaning person with a vacuum to do it for you. Make sure you give them the details so they know what they're agreeing to and what to bring. My mom's a cleaner and she always brings her own vacuum because it works better than what she'd usually find in people's homes. I'd expect the landlord to reimburse you this cost.
posted by xo at 10:06 AM on April 22, 2007

If it's not a huge room, and I didn't have a vacuum, I'd give it a go with a brush (starting at the top brushing downwards obviously) - the kind of brush you'd normally use on tiled/wood floors for dust. At least it'd be cheap to buy a clean one with fairly stiff bristles to try.

Getting the walls wet/damp + scrubbing may make this dust stick more 'into' the paint I'd have thought.
posted by selton at 3:16 PM on April 22, 2007

Best answer: I have dealt with this several times, because we had our floors refinished a couple of rooms at a time. I prefer a dry method because it leave no streaks or other unevenness on the walls. You can use a dust mop or a broom with a pillowcase or old towel over it -- fasten the fabric with twine or rubber bands. You may have to shake the dust off pretty often. Don't forget to dust the ceiling first!

Most recently, I used a microfiber dusting cloth instead of a pillow case or towel. These "miracle" cloths really do grab onto dust and keep it from flying around. You still have to shake the dust off now and then, but the cloths save a lot of work.
posted by wryly at 2:36 PM on April 23, 2007

Response by poster: Thank you all for your help.

Because a microfiber cloth was something I had at hand, I decided to give it a shot first. And it works ridiculously well. I'm so happy. It's so easy.
posted by veggieboy at 5:58 AM on April 25, 2007

Response by poster: The only caveat I have with the microfiber cloth method is that if you happen to be an idiot, when you go to the balcony to beat the dust out of the cloth, it will fly out of your hands and fall 11 stories down to the street below. And you will have to buy a new microfiber cloth.
posted by veggieboy at 6:08 AM on April 25, 2007

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