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Shine Up Dingy Walls for a Fresh Look

March 4, 2024

Shine Up Dingy Walls for a Fresh Look

Assess the Wall Condition

Before determining how to brighten up dingy walls, it’s important to understand why they look faded or dirty in the first place. Here are some common causes of dingy wall surfaces:

  • Nicotine and smoke residue: If previous occupants were smokers, walls can take on a yellowish tinge over time as nicotine accumulates on the surfaces. This is especially true for walls near windows where smoke tends to congregate.

  • Grease and cooking residue: Kitchen walls get coated in grease from cooking which also causes discoloration. Especially around ovens, stoves and near the ceiling where grease vapors collect.

  • Dirt, soil and grime: Walls simply get dirty over time from normal use, especially in high traffic areas. Dirt and oils from skin and hair also contribute to soiling on walls.

  • Sun fading: Sunlight streaming in windows can fade paint and wall colors, especially on walls getting direct sun exposure daily.

  • Water damage: Any water leaks, flooding or high humidity can cause stains on walls, or paint/drywall damage. This appears as splotches, peeling or bubbling paint.

  • Previous wall repairs: If previous repairs were made to holes or cracks in walls, the patching compounds used may not blend perfectly with the surrounding paint. These patched areas often appear lighter or darker than the original wall paint.

Clean Walls Thoroughly

The first step in freshening up dingy walls is giving them a thorough cleaning. This prepares the surface for new paint or treatments. Here’s how to clean walls properly:

  • Remove artwork and fixtures: Take down any wall hangings to clean the entire wall surface evenly. This includes paintings, mirrors, lights and curtains/blinds.

  • Vacuum cobwebs and dust: Use the brush attachment of a vacuum cleaner to remove any loose dust, dirt or cobwebs from the walls and corners.

  • Wash with warm water and mild detergent: Mix a mild liquid detergent like dish soap or Murphy’s oil soap with warm water in a bucket. Use a sponge mop or cleaning rag to wash walls section by section.

  • Rinse well and let dry: Wipe each section with a clean damp rag after washing to rinse off detergent residue. Let walls dry completely before painting or applying new treatments.

  • Spot treat tough stains: For grease splatters, scuff marks or remaining dirt, use a cleaning paste of baking soda and water. Lightly scrub with a sponge or rag and rinse.

  • Fill any holes/cracks: Use spackle compound to fill and smooth over any holes, cracks or uneven patches for the best paint finish. Sand smooth when dry.

Freshen Up Painted Walls

For lightly soiled or faded painted walls, a new coat of paint is often the easiest and most effective refresh. Here are some tips:

  • Scrub walls before painting: Make sure walls are clean and free of grime. Lightly sand glossy surfaces to help new paint adhere.

  • Use high quality primer: Priming ensures even coverage and helps paint last. Use oil-based primers for heavily stained walls. Else, water-based acrylic primers work for most applications.

  • Apply two paint coats: Paint color will look its best with two coats. Use a roller for large flat surfaces, cutting in edges first with an angled brush. Allow each coat to dry before adding another.

  • Consider sheen: Higher sheen paints like satin or semi-gloss are ideal for kitchens, baths and kids’ rooms. Eggshell or matte finishes work for living spaces and bedrooms.

  • Paint ceiling same color: Painting the ceiling the same color as walls makes the space appear brighter and more expansive.

  • Use accent wall colors: Paint one focal wall in a bold color to add drama. Tie in complementary shades on other walls.

  • Update trim and mouldings: Freshen up trim, mouldings, baseboards and door frames by painting them clean white or a contrasting color.

Special Treatments for Damaged Walls

For walls with excessive damage, stains or fading, specialized paints and treatments can hide imperfections:

  • Stain blocking primer: Alkyd based primers designed to block stains allow painting over water marks, smoke damage or grease stains. May require 2-3 primer coats.

  • Textured paint: Paint with sand or grit mixed in disguises uneven drywall repairs or scratches by adding depth.

  • Color washing: Water down paint slightly and apply unevenly to create a mottled, aged effect over damaged walls.

  • Whitewash: Thin white or light gray paint applied thinly over distressing creates a washed out, vintage look.

  • Sponge painting: Apply contrasting paint colors in a random blotchy pattern with a sponge for camouflaged variation.

  • Wallpaper: Use wallpaper to cover over visually unappealing walls. Look for durable washable options.

Alternative Wall Refresh Options

For dingy walls that require more than just paint, consider these options:

  • Power wash siding: Hire a pro to power wash exterior siding and masonry walls to remove grime if walls are extremely dirty.

  • Replace drywall: For severely damage interior walls, it may be necessary to replace sections of drywall entirely for a fresh start.

  • Skim coat plaster: Coating damaged plaster walls with a thin skim coat of new plaster creates a smooth finish for painting.

  • New wall paneling: Install new wall paneling right over damaged walls for an updated look. Choose wood, metal, brick, stone or textured panels.

  • Wall murals: Professionally painted or installed photo murals conceal unsightly walls with beautiful large-scale artwork or scenery.

  • Wallpaper mural: Paste up wallpaper printed in a continuous panoramic image to hide flawed walls.

With some elbow grease and these techniques, it’s possible to transform dingy walls into a clean backdrop for any room. Proper prep and the right materials make all the difference.

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