Clean Lamp Shades Without Ruining Them

Cleaning a dirty lamp shadeStupid lamp shades… It’s almost like they were designed to collect dust and cobwebs. Sure they do a great job of filtering the light, and your lamp would look pretty cheap or silly without one, but none of us signed up for the maintenance they require. This is one of those jobs that you never think about, and few of us make it part of our regular routine, but if you have owned your lamp long enough, the day will come when you notice that it is completely covered in grime. Common cleaning maneuvers usually involve vacuums or dusters, but this delicate item is easily dented, scratched or discolored, so it is important to clean them properly and carefully. The last thing you want to do is force yourself to find a new one that matches your other lighting, or even worse, turn the ruined spot toward the wall to keep it out of sight.

All Shades Are Not Created Equal

When tackling this job, it is important to note that there are actually several types of lamp shades out there, and each one will require slightly different handling for best results. Certain materials will be more delicate than others, so water might damage one type while a vacuum might cause trouble with another. If you carefully examine the exact material, and then go with a technique that is safe, you should be able to finish the job and prevent damage at the same time. Directly below, we will list the common materials that you will find, along with any tips or warnings associated with them. Continue reading after that for step by step instructions for removing dust, spider webs and other grime without denting, marking, wrinkling or causing any other permanent damage.

  1. Fabric – This is probably the most common type found in peoples houses. Usually the softer material is wrapped around a plastic skeleton, so getting it wet will not be a problem. They offer a great look as far as decor goes, and can be pretty resilient when it comes to damage. If too much pressure is applied, they can easily dent, and if sharp or metal objects are used, ripping and scratching can occur. Because this material is compatible with moisture, a kitchen sink or bathtub can make the perfect spot for cleaning. You can certainly do something more quick and simple to remove any surface dirt, but for a thorough cleaning with this type, try some soapy water, light scrubbing and a gentle rinse to make it look like new again.
  2. Paper – This is another common material used in covers for home lighting, but due to construction methods, you definitely want to keep them dry. You may be able to get away with some light spot cleaning that involves moisture, but if fully saturated, the glue that holds them together may dissolve and cause a real mess. Because paper is pretty delicate, and there will be no plastic lining, you really need to be careful when trying to remove dirt. For best results, a more frequent schedule will be your best bet. Because a thorough job is almost impossible, regular use of a vacuum or dust cloth will keep things clean with very little impact. If you let it go too long, you may have to purchase something new to have a clean shade again.
  3. Parchment – Similar to a regular paper one, but usually far more delicate, you will want to take all of the same precautions. Always work with dry tools to avoid trouble, and avoid anything sharp or metal. Anything that requires a light touch while still removing plenty of dirt would be a good choice here. Certain vacuums with the right attachment will work well, or even a lint roller.
  4. Plastic – These ones are going to be the easiest to clean because you can use just about anything. You still want to be careful in order to prevent damage, but you will not have to worry about creases or tearing when working with a thicker plastic lamp shade. Regular dry dusting will keep them clean longer, but this type is usually easy to remove whenever a more thorough cleaning becomes necessary. Simply take it off and away from the fixture, and use soap and water or another cleaner to make it spotless.

Cleaning Instructions

There are many ways to do this job, and some will be more effective than others. We will start out by listing the commonly suggested steps and tools, and then we will add a couple other tips that may make things easier for you. The key to success is to eliminate dirt and other build up without affecting the appearance or condition of you shade. Regular recommendations will usually get the job done in a safe way, but there may be faster and more effective ways to go.


In most cases, the grime that has settled is totally loose and dry in composition. This means that dusting or vacuuming should be all that is needed to remove it. The right rag may do the trick, but an attachment for your vacuum may provide a better reach. Other tool like sticky rollers can combine the convenience of a cloth with the power and long reach that a cumbersome machine provides.

  • Cloth – A good dusting cloth can be the perfect tool for maintenance on your lights. If you are using a good one, no other sprays will be needed for functionality, so a quick swipe should get the area pretty clean with minimal impact. Slide the cloth across the surface in one continuous motion to make the grime disappear. It will work well for dry debris, but anything stubborn will require more effort, or a different approach.
  • Brush – A soft brush can be used to lightly push debris off the shade. Use a back and forth motion, and work from top to bottom in sections. This technique does not really collect the dirt, but it can get it off your lamp. To finish the job, clean the flooring around your light.
  • Vacuum – Using a vacuum can speed up the process and give you more power, but it can also make the task more dangerous. Be careful of scratching and denting when trying to suck up the dirt. The addition of a brush attachment can add some protection, and sticking some pantyhose over the end can make it easy to clean fringe and other dangly things. Use a long sweeping motion, and be sure to only apply light pressure.
  • Roller – Using a sticky roller can allow for fast and thorough removal of any light dirt. Simply roll it lightly across the surface, and any dust or cobwebs should adhere to the roller and lift off the shade. It is important to use a good quality one that is sticky enough, and it can be beneficial to choose a reusable one, so you don’t waste money or get stuck without any refills. Some of these tools will even come with extendable handles, so you can give yourself a long reach to get the job done faster and with less messing around. Simply roll back and forth to pull up any dust and collect it on the roller. This is one of the easiest, fastest and most thorough ways to dust a shade.

Stubborn Dirt

Sometimes you will encounter more than just dust and cobwebs, so the above techniques will not be enough. If this is the case, and you are working with a compatible shade, use the steps below to perform a more thorough washing. You won’t want to use any moisture if your shade is glued in place, so be careful to make sure any ones involving fabric have stitching and not some sort of adhesive. When trying to clean anything stuck in place, you will either want to spot clean the specific stain, or remove the whole shade and clean the entire surface. Spot Cleaning

  • When working with material glued to plastic, or a certain spot on any shade that is stitched, a spot cleaning technique will work well to remove any stain.
  • Simply use a damp rag and a small amount of cleaner, and work it into the spot. Use a clean, dry cloth to buff the area clean and eliminate the spot.
  • Adding cleaner to a damp cloth will be safer than spraying it right on the shade.
  • With this technique, you can use very little moisture, so damage will not be a concern. Be careful not to press down too hard while wiping though because this will cause damage.
  • The type of cleaner will dictate results, so it you want to make it easy, try Quick N Brite for guaranteed results. Any other mild detergent should be fine, but make sure to read instructions and use something that does not pose a risk to the material.


  • For resilient shade types, soaking them makes for easy cleaning. Use a tub, large container or sink to do the work.
  • Detach the shade from your lamp and get totally wet to rinse off anything loose.
  • Use soap and water or any other detergent that is safe, and then gently scrub to clean. A soft brush or something similar can make it a bit easier.
  • Once clean, rinse the entire thing to remove all soap.
  • Hang up to dry, and then replace when ready.

Additional Tips

  • Finish cleaning with a dry cloth, by dusting bulbs, stands and wire holders. Make sure the light is off and cool before trying this.
  • Regular cleaning is your best bet with this job because they are so delicate. If you do a quick job and lightly clean you will be able to avoid the frustration of trying to remove heavy build up.
  • Sticking them in the tub can be one of the easiest ways to go, but ones that are paper, glued or taped will be destroyed, so before you try to take the easy way out, make sure it is a safe option.
  • Pleated shades can cause even more trouble because you will need to get in between the folds, and it can be easy to dent them or make the lose their shape.

Bottom Line

This job stinks. If you want to make it easy, the only thing you can do is increase frequency and try to use the best tools and techniques possible. For fast and effective cleaning that does not risk damage, a reusable sticky roller can be a really good choice. It can be used quickly, is good for all types, and allows you to pull up dirt without applying hardly any pressure to the shade. Just zip across the surface on a semi-regular basis, and your lamps should be free of dust and other debris. This makes your home look cleaner, but also allows for better lighting too. If you neglect this chore for long periods, you are going to find yourself struggling through it as you try not to ruin anything. Stubborn stains can be lifted, but it will be difficult to avoid  leaving any wrinkles or creases in the process.

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