Do You Wash the Walls? (Please Say You Do!)

I have never in my life seen human beings wash walls before I partnered into this family. Am I oblivious? Is everyone else really washing walls?
Publish date:
December 14, 2011
home, cleaning, fighting, adrenaline junkie, fight or flight

Prior to moving out of our last apartment, we were doing a final cleaning blitz when my partner said, “Don’t forget that we need to wash the walls.”

It wasn’t the first time I’d heard him say this. When we were packing up our second to last apartment, his parents came to help. His dad rented a van and helped us drive our belongings across town. His mom stayed in our flat and washed the doors and walls.

I have never in my life seen human beings wash walls before I partnered into this family. Am I oblivious? Is everyone else really washing walls?

It’s worth pointing out that my partner and his family are Danish -- not Americans of Scandinavian descent but full on great Danes from and/or currently living in Denmark. Is this a Nordic thing? A quick Google search seems to indicate that no, this is not something foreign and special. I’m just a revolting fool.

I admit that not knowing this is maybe totally gross. I mean, think about what gets on the walls. I can offer some recent real-life examples since I now think about my icky walls all the time.

Here’s one. I live in a hundred-year-old building with cranky plumbing. The toilet recently overflowed for the second time since moving in. What do I do when my toilet overflows? I plunge the shit out of it, literally. And where does toilet water spray when it leaves the toilet bowl? If not onto me directly -- I know, nice visual, right? -- well, it lands on the floor and mists the walls. (The walls are not my only problem. I have a terrible plunger too.)

We all probably clean the floors. But do we ever clean the walls?

I’m not trying to make you feel bad. I’m just way into this wall cleaning business now. I see the error of my ways, and I’m trying to make amends. I am basically trying to be less disgusting and embarrassing by explaining how I am trying to be less disgusting and embarrassing.

So let’s talk logistics. Washing the walls is actually kind of fun, mostly because unlike any other type of cleaning, there aren’t really rules. I mean, there are -- don't ruin the walls! -- but they’re obvious. Everything else is fair game.

I feel like there are really specific rules related to scrubbing a bathtub or mopping a floor. There are very clear indicators about what constitutes clean, visible or not. Shininess counts for a lot, as does a lack of splotches. Removing dirt particles is key. Time spent waiting for foam to attack limey grout is par for the course. When you wash the walls, none of that applies.

I wash walls and doors a la my mama-in-law, and I keep it simple. I mix warm water and vinegar. Beloved household cleaning agent that it is, avoid baking soda unless you want streaky walls with even more chalky buildup. To keep my nails nice, I make sure I’ve got some sort of protective glove or baggie. (I know, single-use plastic pollution isn’t awesome, but bear with me and/or get a reusable cleaning glove.)

I’m also the granny-inspired type to reuse clean but officially discarded socks and underwear as cleaning cloths. Socks are especially great for washing walls because you can stick your glove-covered hand in there like a scrubbing mitt and get to work.

And then, well, you just wash. I ONLY wash lacquered walls that don’t look ready to flake and crumble, and I use a minimal amount of water and rinse my sock puppet-ish mitt often. If the paint seems old or in any way compromised, I don’t scrub. I wipe and run. And seriously, you should look this up before you try it. I’m not qualified to assess whether or not we’ll all demolish our homes and/or cause some sort of mold growth behind the layers of paint.

Mostly, I find that washing walls is like cleaning a chalkboard -- was anyone else forced to do this insanely unsettling task in elementary school? -- only without the same chalky water. You’ll probably end up with some chalk in the dull gray water, just not as much as if you beat an eraser into it. If you or someone who previously lived in your building smokes, the post-wash water might be an even darker shade of brown. If you like to keep the windows open like I do, you may have soot water to contend with. Air pollution is REAL, and you will see the evidence.

Oh, one last thing. Wallpaper. Do people still have wallpaper? Whatever, don’t wash wallpaper unless you want it to fall off. I don’t know about the specifics here, but I don’t want to get into trouble for advising you to rub diluted vinegar onto vinyl- or cloth-covered wall coverings that are held up by vinegar-soluble glue, which most wallpaper glue is. So avoid it.

Obviously, I am very new at this.