How to Clean Wall Paneling in 4 Easy Steps

Wood paneling, or cladding, is making a comeback in today’s modern homes. Paneling gives your home a warm finish with style variations that let you be you. Whether you are remodeling or trying to restore the luster to your home’s wood-paneled walls, you might wonder how to clean wall paneling. We’ve researched the best cleaning methods for cleaning wall paneling to give you the answer.

Wooden wall paneling with painting and hanging lamps, How to Clean Wall Paneling in 4 Easy Steps

If your wall paneling has visible marks, greasy fingerprints, or smoke residue, you can clean the paneling in 4 simple steps:

  1. Dust by using a hand-held duster or soft, lint-free cloth.
  2. Prepare a cleaning solution by mixing warm water and dish detergent or mild cleanser.
  3. Wipe the wall by using a sponge or soft, lint-free cloth that has been dampened with the cleaning solution.
  4. Dry the wall paneling with a clean, lint-free cloth.

Keep reading and, we’ll take a closer look at each step for how to clean veneer finished, wood finished with a standard sealant (polyurethane, shellac, lacquer, or wax), and unfinished wood types of wall paneling.

How to Clean Wall Paneling?

Wall paneling is no longer just a retro style. Numerous styles of wooden paneling are making a comeback on the interior walls of modern homes. Wall paneling offers an affordable and straightforward install that gives your home decor a customized look and comfortable feel.

Whether your walls are clad in rustic, repurposed wooden planks or classic, shiplap panels cleaning the paneling is the most you’ll ever have to do to keep your interior walls looking like new for years to come.

1. Dust the Wall Paneling

Dusting your wall paneling is the easiest way to prevent the build-up of grime and keep your walls looking fresh. You can use a hand-held, microfiber duster (longer handles are great for accessing tough to reach areas near the ceiling), or a soft, lint-free cloth to lightly dust the entire wall.

Dust just before a thorough cleaning or as needed when you observe tiny particles gathering on your wall paneling.

2. Prepare a Cleaning Solution

For tough stains, grease, or smoke residue, you’ll need to prepare a cleaning solution by mixing warm water and a mild cleanser like dish detergent. Wooden panels are typically finished with veneer or sealant so, the wood is protected from moisture. Using a gentle cleaning solution will gently clean the exterior, sealed layer of the paneling to remove stains or grime without damaging the wood.

Avoid using abrasive cleaners or strong alkalis and solvents to clean wood paneling because these substances can scratch, make dull, or remove the sealant on the exterior of the paneling.

Tip: How to Restore the Luster of Sealed Wood Paneling

  • Add a few drops of olive oil or vegetable oil to your cleaning solution. The oil helps to restore the sealant’s finish by replenishing dried surfaces.
  • Alternatively, you can purchase a commercial oil soap to use on wooden paneling as an all-in-one cleanser/sheen restorer.

Click here to find this on Amazon.

3. Wipe the Wall Paneling

Dampen a sponge or soft, lint-free cloth with the cleaning solution that you’ve prepared. Using a soaking wet sponge or cloth can allow water to penetrate the sealant and distort the wood so, make sure to wring out your cleaning tools before you begin. Always test your cleaning solution on a small area before applying to the entire wall surface to be sure that you will be pleased with the result.

Starting from the bottom of the wall, work in small sections to gently wipe the wall paneling. Working diligently from bottom to top will prevent drips and streaks from occurring as you clean. You should not need to scrub the paneling, simply apply light pressure as you wipe.

4. Dry the Wall Paneling

Immediately dry the small, cleaned wall section by using a clean, lint-free cloth. Allowing time for the cleaning solution to dry on the surface of the wall paneling can create a haze or discoloration on the paneling.

Continue cleaning by moving on to another small area to wipe and dry.  Change-out and refill the cleaning solution as needed when the water becomes visibly dirty.

You might also want to either keep additional cleaning tools handy or thoroughly rinse your sponge or cloth frequently with clean, warm water.

How do You Clean Raw Wood Paneling?

Raw wood is not protected with an exterior sealant so, unsealed wood can absorb water, grease, and fingerprints. Unlike sealed wood paneling, to clean raw, unsealed wood, you’ll want to be cautious not to use any cleanser that could potentially discolor the wood.

Follow the same steps mentioned above to clean raw wood paneling. But, substitute either a homemade oil and vinegar cleaning solution or purchase a commercial, wood oil specifically designed to clean unfinished paneling.

1. Dust the Raw Wood Paneling

Dusting unfinished wood as often as needed will help to prevent the surface from building-up dirt and grime over time. You can use a hand-held, microfiber duster, clean paintbrush, or soft, lint-free cloth to dust the entire wall.

2. Prepare a Cleaning Solution

Unfinished wood paneling requires the use of oil rather than a cleanser to replenish the slowly drying, exposed wood, and to restore the color of the paneling. You can make a homemade oil-based cleaning solution by mixing equal parts of olive oil and white vinegar. The vinegar will disinfect the wall surface while the oil seeps into the wood.

Alternatively, you can purchase a commercial wood oil to use on unfinished wood and follow the instructions provided.

Click here to find this on Amazon.

3. Wipe the Raw Wood Paneling

Dampen a soft, lint-free cloth with your oil and vinegar solution. Always test your cleaning solution first on a small area before applying to the entire wall surface to be sure that you will be pleased with the result.

Apply the oil and vinegar solution to the wall by gently rubbing with the dampened cloth. Work diligently, from bottom to top, moving the cloth in the direction of the wood’s grain.

Tip: How to Remove a Stain on Raw Wood Paneling

  • Dampen a soft cloth with mineral spirits and apply to the stain by gently dabbing the area. Allow time for the mineral spirits to penetrate the wood and repeat of the stain reappears.

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4. Dry the Raw Wood Paneling

Allow the raw wood paneling to air-dry. Drying wood will slowly soak up the oil, and any remaining vinegar will evaporate from the surface.

If the raw wood paneling still looks dry or lightly discolored after you’ve applied the oil and vinegar solution and allowed it to dry, reapply the cleaning solution. Cleaned, raw wood paneling should look darkened (to the original color) and refreshed.

What is a Good Cleaner for Wood Paneling?

Good cleaners to use on veneer paneling or sealed wood paneling include:

  • Warm Water
  • Diluted Dish Detergent
  • Diluted, Mild Laundry Detergent
  • Oil Soap

Good cleaners to use on raw, unfinished wood paneling include:

  • Olive Oil
  • Lemon Oil
  • Oil Soap
  • Mineral Spirits

How Often Should You Clean Wood Paneling?

A good rule of thumb for when to clean wood paneling is simply to look at your walls and use your judgment. Walls that are more prone to collect residue or be easily marked, such as kitchen, office, or playroom walls, should be cleaned more frequently.

Cleaning wall paneling once or twice per month would be ideal. But, with busy schedules in active households, we often overlook the very walls that surround us. When it is time for a thorough wash down, now you know how a few simple steps can make a big difference in the cleanliness of your wall paneling. In the meantime, dusting your wall paneling frequently is a great way to prevent excessive build-up of dirt and grime to keep an eye on the walls for unsightly stains.

Check out our blog, “How Thick is Wall Paneling,” to take a closer look at six types of paneling ideas for your home.

Looking for retro decor to spice up your wall paneled room, check out “15 70’s Style Coffee Tables that will Give Your Living Room a Retro Touch.”


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