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How To Clean Dirt & Grime from Painted Surfaces

Grime is a mundane mixture of dirt, oil and various environmental pollutants that build up into a sticky, difficult to remove mess. Caked on grime is unappealing to the eye, unhealthy for you and other occupants of your home, and damaging to the surfaces on which it sits. Don't let the grime claim victory over the painted surfaces of your home - combat existing buildup and potential stains with these specialized removal techniques and maintenance tips. For specialized painted surfaces such as automobiles, refer to the specific articles, techniques and products for those items.

If there are areas where there is a significant thickness to the buildup, remove those portions of grime first. Use a blunt tool like a tongue depressor or plastic butter knife to gently scrape away any grime that has depth. You can also use a scraper, but keep in mind that scrapers can also remove paint, so they should be used gently. Work in small sections. The more gradual and methodical your approach, the more likely it is that you will be able to succeed in removing the caked-on grime without damaging the painted surface. Test all cleaning solutions and application techniques in an inconspicuous  location before using them in a wider area.

Next, mix 1 gallon of water, mild pH neutral dish liquid like Dawn or Ivory to make a pH neutral solution, and, if you have combination issues with mold and mildew, 1/4 cup of borax. Begin your cleaning work in a corner, working your way out section by section. Using a clean sponge or soft bristle brush, apply the cleaning solution to the grimy areas, rinsing your cleaning implement regularly. Try to avoid over wetting, and keep a clean damp rag close by to remove excess moisture as necessary. Refresh your cleaning solution when it starts to get cloudy so that it will remain effective. For hard to reach nooks and crannies, or otherwise difficult spots, a soft bristle toothbrush is a handy scrubbing tool. Allow the wall surfaces to dry. You may wish to set up fans to help speed things along. Choosing a day when the weather is warm and dry will help prevent lingering moisture that is hospitable to mildew.

For especially stubborn patches, there is a technique that is more exotic than the problem itself. You can treat your home like a palace by using the same method for removing caked on grime that restorers used on the Taj Mahal in 2001 and again in 2008, applying a poultice of fuller's earth and cleaning agents.

The base of the poultice is fuller's earth. Fuller's earth is a naturally occurring oil-absorbent clay. It is available from a variety of sources, including auto parts stores, beauty supply, pet stores, fly fishing shops and a variety of online vendors. Fuller's earth found in kitty litter may also be mixed with other chemicals designed to aid clumping and mask odor, so read labels carefully prior to purchase. This remedy may be more appropriate for light-colored walls, as fuller's earth can have a bleaching effect.

Mix 1/2 cup of fuller's earth and 2 TB of borax, added for its anti-fungal properties. Mix in 1 TB of water at a time until a smooth paste is formed. Apply the poultice to problem areas. Allow to dry. Brush away and discard the poultice/adhered grime residue. Follow with a light overall cleansing with a mild pH neutral dish liquid diluted with water, and allow to dry.

To help prevent future buildup, remember that common household causes of grime buildup include the use of incense, cigarette smoking, and cooking residues. Keep your home well ventilated particularly while cooking or if there is a smoker present. If you use incense, place the incense in the middle of the room, rather than in close proximity to a wall or other painted surface. Try to encourage smoking to be done outside.

Caution: Never mix cleaning agents or chemicals, the result can be dangerous or deadly. Before cleaning, always test the agent on an inconspicuous location to determine its suitability and to make certain it does not damage the material. Wear appropriate clothing such as gloves and protective eyewear, and work in a well-ventilated area. Accidental inhalation or ingestion of cleaning agents can be hazardous and even fatal, particularly to pets and children.

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