Freshen Up A Room With This Frugal Alternative To Painting The Walls

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Want to freshen a room, but painting is not in the budget? Here’s a frugal alternative to painting walls that is almost as good.

mop and bucket infront of wall papered wall

One of the cheapest and easiest ways to give a room a facelift is to paint it. But what if painting isn’t in the budget?

There’s another way to give your paintwork a lift, and it’s a whole lot cheaper than painting.

When we first moved into our place, the walls were a mess. Paint chipped off in places. Dodgy patch jobs. Pink window frames and skirting board.

Actually, it’s still like that in a lot of places. Probably worse since the kids were born. Having old and tired walls to start with has been a boon in some ways – we haven’t had to worry if the kids have dinged or drawn on them.

So far, we’ve repainted the bedrooms, but the rest of the house hasn’t made it into the budget yet.

This brings us to the economical way of giving your paintwork a lift: cleaning the walls.

It’s amazing what a difference a good clean can make. It can make a room look brighter and fresher, without the expenses of a new paint job.

While you can use commercial sugar soap to clean walls, you probably have everything you need right in the pantry.

Here’s how to freshen your paintwork the frugal way.


It’s a good idea to give the walls of each room of the house a good clean once or twice a year. Washing the carpets, curtains, and soft furnishings at the same time can really lift a room, and freshen the smell, as well as the look.

If you live in a high-pollution area, have recently had a lot of smoke from fires or dust from dust storms, have problems with dampness and mildew, smoke inside, or have kids and pets, the walls may need cleaning more often.


Before you get started, remove posters and pictures and move furniture out of the way. I’ve tried cleaning walls straining around furniture – it takes longer in the long run.

Be careful when removing Blu Tack because that stuff is really good at ripping great chunks of paint off the wall, especially if it’s been there a while and dried hard. Whoever lived here before us had stuck it everywhere even on the ceiling. Slowly roll it off the wall to prevent the paint from peeling.

Once everything is out of the way, give your walls a vacuum, using the upholstery/brush attachment on your vacuum cleaner, to remove dust and cobwebs. Alternatively, you can use a broom or a dry mop to give the walls a going over.

If you have carpet, you might want to put down an old sheet or towels to catch any drips as you wash the wall.


The next step is to give your walls a good clean. Here’s what you’ll need:

  • A clean white rag (or several)
  • A clean white old towel (old terry nappies work a treat)
  • A bucket
  • Warm water
  • Dish detergent
  • White vinegar

The white or light-coloured rag is so you don’t transfer any stain from the cloth to your walls. An old T-shirt works well here.

Sugar soap is great for washing walls, but for a cheaper sugar soap alternative, dishwashing detergent and vinegar do the trick.

Put some warm water in a bucket with a squirt or two of dish detergent and a splash of vinegar.

With your rag, wet it in the soapy water and wring it out so it’s not soaking wet. You don’t want to saturate the paint.

Then starting at the top corner, wash the wall, rinsing out the rag regularly in the soapy water.

When you’ve done a section, wipe over it again with a dry towel to remove any excess moisture and dirt.

It’s a bit of work, but your walls will look almost brand new, and it’s free exercise at the same time.

And while you’re freshening up a room here are some other things to do:


A magic eraser is great at getting out stains. So if you have any tough marks on the walls that won’t come out, a magic eraser will probably do the trick. You can save money by buying them on sale.

There are cheaper alternatives to a magic eraser.

For crayon and pencil marks, a regular pencil eraser will remove them. To start with, it will seem like you’re making the marks worse, but they disappear after a bit more rubbing.

If the crayon has been on the wall for a while, the pigment might stain, even after you’ve rubbed most of it away. Bicarbonate of soda is a miracle stain remover and can get out just about anything. To use, sprinkle a little on your damp rag and rub onto the stain until it has gone.

An alternative to bicarb soda is eucalyptus oil, which can also get out pen marks as well. Again, blot a little onto a damp rag and wipe the stain.


The cheapest and easiest way to quickly hide dings and scratches on your wall is to colour them in with a pencil or crayon that is the same colour as your paintwork. It’s not a perfect solution, but hiding the dings can make it seem like the wall has been painted.

Alternatively, you can get a sample pot of paint from the hardware store to match the existing paint as closely as possible (unless you’re lucky and you still have a tin of the original paint hiding in the back of the shed).

Either way, it’s not going to be a perfect cover-up, but it will hide dings from casual glances and will they will only be revealed upon closer inspection (and few people closely inspects walls).

If the marks and dings are beyond a small patch-up, you can strategically place your furniture to hide them. Every time my husband wants to rearrange the lounge room, I remind him of the hole the lounge is hiding.

Alternatively, you can hang pictures to cover marks. If you’re renting, command hooks or similar, that are designed to be easily removed, allow you to hang pictures without damaging the wall (just check with your rental agreement.) Photo collages are good because you can space the frames in a pattern across a wall to hide random marks. Large fabric wall hangings are another option. If you can’t hang pictures, placing them on top of boxes, a bookshelf, or a table, leaning against a wall, is an alternative.

A hardy pot plant, in the right spot, is another great way to hide marks on the walls.


If you have a really bad wall, and you can’t or don’t want to paint the room, you can use removable wallpaper or removable wall decals to turn it into a feature wall for the right reasons.

While it’s not economical to wallpaper a whole room compared to slapping on some paint, papering a small feature wall, or adding some decals, can really brighten a room in just a few hours. Every time I look for removable wallpaper online, more and more places are selling it, including stores like Kmart and Spotlight, with some overseas stores selling it very cheaply.

If you want to give a room a lift, but it’s not in the budget to paint, giving it a deep clean is a great alternative to painting walls. Washing the walls will clean off the inevitable grime that you don’t notice accumulates on the walls until you start to clean. Then strategically hiding marks can make the place look great, while spending very little or no money at all.

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  1. These are great tips, thank you! We’re not painting our walls until the kids are older, and stop drawing on them / driving toy trucks into them, so this will be great to do in the meantime.

    1. Melissa Goodwin says:

      Hi Brigit, I can relate! We’re also waiting for that time. And I want to save up for that washable paint!

  2. I don’t even want to touch the walls, the paint is bubbling so badly. We’re not allowed to put stuff over it either, unless we can hang it from the picture rails – so trying to think of what we can do cheaply and elegantly about that.

  3. I washed my porch in exactly this way and my realtor, who had just sold me the house, asked if I’d painted. :) Great tips!