Alternatives to TSP for Cleaning the Walls Before Painting

Painting walls is a fairly easy do-it-yourself project; however, preparation is necessary to ensure the paint job will last. Begin by vacuuming and washing the walls to remove dust, grease, nicotine, etc. All-purpose cleaners, such as TSP, are available; however, equally effective, less toxic products can be made at home. Soap, vinegar, baking soda, borax and washing soda are useful for this purpose. After cleaning, thoroughly rinse walls to ensure good paint adhesion.

Woman mixing paint.

Dish Washing Liquid

Dish washing liquid and bucket.

Combine 1 tsp. borax with 2 tbsp. white vinegar. Add 1 cup hot water, and stir to dissolve the borax. After the mixture cools, transfer to a 16-oz. spray bottle, add ? cup dish washing liquid—not dishwasher detergent—or ¼ cup Castile soap. Fill the bottle with water.

Baking soda

Baking soda on a wooden spoon.

An all-purpose cleaner is made by combining ¼ cup baking soda, ½ cup vinegar and ½ gallon water. One-half cup borax can be added; increase the water to 1 gallon.

A paste of baking soda and water can be rubbed on walls to remove stains.

White Distilled Vinegar

Vinegar bottles.

Loosen stickers by dabbing with vinegar. Apply vinegar to mold and mildew stains. Vinegar combined with an equal amount of borax and diluted with warm water will also remove mildew. Mix well to dissolve borax.

Lemon Juice

Whole lemon with a glass of lemon juice.

Undiluted freshly squeezed lemon juice is effective in removing mold and mildew.

Washing Soap

Liquid soap dispenser.

Combine ½ tsp. washing soap with a dab of dish washing liquid and 2 cups hot water. Mix until washing soap is dissolved and clean walls.


White powder detergent on black background.

Another good wall cleaner combines 2 oz. borax, 1 tsp. ammonia and ½ gallon warm water. Stir to dissolve borax.


Young girl pouring blue liquid with gloves on.

Use large amounts of ammonia only in a very well-ventilated area. Start with one gallon of cool water and add 1 to 2 cups of ammonia. For very dirty walls combine ¼ cup baking soda, ½ cup white vinegar and 1 cup ammonia with 1 gallon of hot water. Do not use this mixture on glossy walls that will not be repainted as it may dull the finish. Always protect your skin and eyes, and avoid inhaling the fumes when using ammonia.


Aerial view of bucket for cleaning.

Cleaners can be mixed in buckets, and sponge mops used to wash the walls; replace solution as it becomes dirty. Store products in new 16-ounce spray bottles.


Woman storing products under kitchen sink in cabinet.

When storing, label mixtures making sure to list all ingredients. Always store in bottles that have not been used for other products. Regardless of whether cleaners are homemade or store-bought, do not allow chlorine beach, commercial oven cleaners, dishwasher detergent or toilet bowl cleaners to combine with ammonia, vinegar, lye or rust remover. Such combinations will create toxic gas fumes.

Keep all products out of the reach of children and pets. Test products on a small inconspicuous area of the wall prior to using.