Spotless Classroom Cleaning Tricks

From stubborn whiteboard stains to mystery sticky spots, teachers share resourceful ideas to quickly clean classroom messes.

by NEA Member Benefits


As you look around your beloved classroom, are you annoyed that your desks are dirty, you have crayon on your walls and there are Sharpie stains on your whiteboard? Your fellow educators, inherently creative and infinitely resourceful, have devised plenty of ways to clean stubborn classroom messes quickly and cheaply. If you are in need of some cleaning inspiration, try these educator-approved, smart and even fun ways to conquer your nagging classroom cleaning chores.

Shaving cream clean

Use shaving cream to clean classroom desks, suggests Joey Green, an expert on wacky uses for everyday products and author of “Joey Green’s Cleaning Magic.” The great thing about shaving cream is “it’s basically condensed soap. When you wipe it off, you’ve cleaned off the desktop.” At the same time, you’ve made cleaning a fun project that students can do, and will want to do, themselves.

“Small children (and even older ones) enjoy finger painting on their desks using shaving cream,” agrees Sara Van Donge, a K-8 dual language teacher in Walla Walla, Washington. It takes between five and 15 minutes for the shaving cream to clean each desk.

The timing is perfect because “the foam starts to diminish after about five minutes, but children still enjoy [playing with] it for up to 15,” says Van Donge. By the time the teacher moves from desk to desk and finally covers the last desk in the classroom with foam, the first desk is ready to be wiped off with a clean damp towel or sponge.

Does the brand matter? “I usually pick Barbasol shaving cream because it’s one of the oldest and best known, or Gillette Foamy because that’s one of the best selling ones,” Green says. These shaving creams are safe for skin contact, but “obviously you don’t want kids eating shaving cream,” he cautions.

Whiteboard magic

If someone accidently used an indelible marker on the classroom white board, or dry-erase board, it’ll come off if you wipe the board with a paper towel or napkin moistened with Coffee-mate non-dairy creamer, Green says. “Rubbing alcohol will do the same thing.”

Many Pinterest boards show other clever ways to clean whiteboards using hand sanitizer, vinegar-water, WD-40 and Febreze.

Crayon eraser

Toothpaste works well to remove crayon marks from walls, says Green. Choose a white, regular flavor toothpaste without tartar control, whitening agents or other chemicals. Apply it with a sponge or toothbrush. “It just takes the crayon marks right off the walls” at school or home, even on wallpaper. Kids can help or do the job themselves, Green adds.

Another method (although it’s not suitable for children to use) is heat. Set your clothes iron to “cotton” and when it’s warm enough, place a clean paper towel over the crayon mark and iron it carefully. “What happens is the heat from the iron melts the crayon,” Green explains, so “the paper towel absorbs it.” The same method lifts crayon or candle wax from carpets, walls and other surfaces. If there’s a lot of crayon or wax, use a credit card to scrape off as much as you can before you apply heat.

Ban classroom ants

Ants are common in classrooms because students leave candy or fruit in their desks, says Cristin Frank, a Williamsville, New York author of “Living Simple, Free and Happy” and creator-owner of She battles ants with baking soda. “Sprinkle near windows and doors to keep ants out,” she says. Frank uses a mixture of baking soda with lemon juice to clean tables, sinks and desks.

Involve students

Use creative approaches to get students to pitch in and help with cleaning chores, suggests Lee Silber, author of 21 books including “Organizing from the Right Side of the Brain.” Write cleaning-related tasks on slips of paper and place them in a bowl. Add in a few slips that list fun things to do or prizes students could win. Tell each child he or she must do whatever is on the slip. “Children will do almost anything for a small prize, candy or competition,” Silber says. Drawing for chores with a chance of winning a reward makes every task more fun.