Certain Paint Colors Can Actually Make Your Home Look Dirtier—Here’s What You Should Use Instead
The wall or trim color you choose has a bigger impact than you think—choose wisely.
It’s hard enough to keep your home’s floors and surfaces clean—add worrying about the walls, and you’ve got a near-overwhelming cleaning checklist. Dirty walls are a nuisance and inconvenient to clean, and those little scuffmarks from shoes, children, pets and bare feet can really add up. Worst of all, an otherwise-clean room can feel dirty if the walls don’t look completely spotless.
So how do your walls get so dirty-looking in the first place? One major reason can be that they were painted the wrong color. While that crisp, glossy white felt like a good idea at the time, clearly this is an instance where good design can go bad when life happens. Whether you are repainting a room or starting fresh in a new home, it’s important to choose paint colors that can help your house look cleaner, even if you go a little too long without a deep clean.
Here are the paint colors that interior designers and decorating experts say are best to avoid because they can make your home look dirtier, no matter how much you clean, plus some great alternatives. Yes, you can still paint the room white—just be sure to choose the right shade.
Avoid earth tones
According to Alexis Rodgers of Home with Alexis, if you are designing a room that has a tendency to get dirty or messy, avoid painting your walls brown, tan, or yellow. “Those colors can make a room look dingy right off the bat,” she says.
If you must use those colors, an accent wall may be easier to keep clean. You can also choose wallpaper instead of paint.
Pick your neutrals carefully
Beige is a popular neutral, but that doesn’t mean it’s any easier to keep clean than white is. Maureen Stevens of Maureen Stevens Design says any muddy color is a no. “Dirty colors are usually the ones that are muddy. To me, it's the muted beiges and the builder’s beige. And especially when they use it on walls and ceilings,” she says. (Exterior paint colors can also fall into the muddy color trap.)
Rodgers has a helpful tip for finding the right neutral shade. “If you are tired of gray and the word beige makes you cringe, try Sherwin Williams Accessible Beige (To buy: From $20; sherwin-williams.com) at 25 percent to its original formula,” she says. “It’s a neutral, sand color that’s warmer than gray, yet doesn’t have dingy brown or yellow undertones.”
Choose the right whites
Lisa Rickert, CEO and Creative Director of Jolie Home, says whites are a natural choice for the main interior walls of a home because they reflect lots of light and make a space feel clean and open. “However, there are some whites to avoid in the home because it can make a space look dirty,” she says. “Avoid whites that have yellow or brown undertones, unless you are specifically going for a vintage look.”
She recommends using Jolie Paint in Palace White (To buy: $40; joliehome.com). “This color is considerably bright but still warm, so your home won’t look too sterile,” she says.
Kate Lester of Kate Lester Interiors says cool whites and grays are the most challenging paint colors to keep fresh. “This is because often people select a less-than optimal shade of white or gray in the first place, so the areas already have a dingy hue to begin with, when not in direct sunlight. Then, life happens, and kids, pets, and the elements just add to all of that, and soon enough, what you were hoping would be light and bright space is drab and dingy.”
But Lester doesn’t think you need to avoid white altogether. She believes it’s a better choice than grey. “To keep it feeling fresh, stick with a white that is not too cool or too warm. My favorite is Simply White by Benjamin Moore (To buy: From $43; benjaminmoore.com). It has the perfect amount of pigment and reflects light in a way that always seems to give off the most bright, balanced white.”
Most designers agree the trick to keeping your walls looking clean is to avoid any color with an extremely cool or warm undertone. Tammy Price of Fragments Identity always recommends avoiding colors that have a brown, greenish, or dusty pink undertone to them. “They can oftentimes make a space look dirtier than it really is. These colors have a difficult time bringing a bright and clean feeling to a room.”
The key is to nail down a balanced tone. Price likes All White by Farrow and Ball (To buy: From $110; farrow-ball.com). “It is a true white and it always looks clean and crisp. Also, it doesn't have a beige, yellow, pink, or blue undertone that so many other whites do. I have found it to be a perfect shade.”
Skip the light colors
While pastel pinks, yellows, and blue paint colors can make a big statement, they’re also a challenge to keep clean. According to Camille Styles, Lifestyle Expert and EasyCare Paint Brand Ambassador, dark, bold colors are the way to go, particularly for the rooms we often ignore, such as the laundry room.
“The laundry room is less frequently seen by guests, but that doesn’t mean it can’t still be fun and vibrant,” she says. Styles likes EasyCare Paint Cranberry Splash (To buy: $37; truevaluepaint.com) as an alternative to the typical whites we see in these spaces. “You’re safe from muddy pants, grass stains, and laundry room messes.”
Consider color blocking
Color blocking with dark and light paint gives you the best of all worlds. This design choice works especially well in mudrooms. The darker color is for the bottom section of the wall. “Darker colors are perfect for heavily trafficked rooms such as the entrance of your house,” Styles says. Juke Box (To buy: $37; truevaluepaint.com) is one of her favorite paint colors for a mudroom. “This will help open up the room but still guard against muddy shoes and boots,” she says.
Keep baseboards clean
Keeping baseboards and trim clean can be a hassle, especially if you have kids and pets. “If you are tired of touching up your standard white trim over and over because scuffs and dings are so noticeable, think outside the box and paint it a color and keep the walls white instead,” says Lester. Not only is this a unique and interesting play on a traditional paint concept, but color in the high-traffic areas also makes scuffs less noticeable.
Buy high-quality paint
If your paint constantly looks dirty, it could have nothing to do with the color, but rather the quality, explains Price. “If you're selecting a low-quality paint, it can make walls, ceilings, etc. look dirty and dingy because you are not getting good overall coverage.”
If you need a lot of paint and are on a budget, consider waiting for a sale or use a promo code online—you’ll thank yourself later.