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A Stain Free Guide to Painting and Decorating

By: Hsin-Yi Cohen BSc, MA, MSt - Updated: 13 Oct 2014 | comments*Discuss
Paint Stains Paint Remover Painting

So you've finally found that perfect shade of paint you were looking for and you're all set to attack the interior decorating that's been driving you crazy for years. But before you launch yourself, roller in hand, onto the wall, take a moment to consider these tips so that your DIY efforts don't end in a nightmare of spilt paint, stained furniture and ugly drips on the carpet…


Before you even open a can of paint, make sure you follow these steps:

  1. Clear out all the furniture and accessories you can, including taking everything off the walls.
  2. If there certain items you can't move out of the room (e.g., large piece of furniture), put them in the centre and cover them completely with a good drop cloth, taping the edges down and around furniture. Then put a second layer of plastic or old sheet over everything again.The best drop cloths are heavy canvas cloths as they are not as slippery as plastic and they cover a lot better than newspaper.
  3. Unless you are very experienced, it is almost impossible to avoid drips on hardware like door knobs and hinges when you paint around them - so remove everything you can (all cabinet knobs and hinges, door knobs, light switch plates and outlet covers, and light fixtures) and store them in separate bags, well-labelled to mark the location you took them from. Only put them back when the paint is dry.
  4. Don't forget yourself! However much you are careful, you will invariably get paint on yourself so make sure you are wearing old, comfortable clothes that you do not mind being permanently stained. Take off any jewellery you're wearing and try to wear slip-on shoes that are easy to take off if you have to leave the room, so you don't track paint into other rooms. Again, make sure the shoes are old and stain-tolerant. If you decide to paint the ceiling, it is a good idea to wear a scarf, shower cap, or old baseball hat over your hair and some plastic over your glasses.

The Magic Tools

  • Masking TapeThe one thing no painter should be without; masking tape is essential for straight-edge painting, such as around window-sills and prevents unsightly spills and stains. It has a waxy coating which prevents paint from seeping through and comes in several different widths. What's more, it does not 'strip' any paint that it is stuck on when it is pulled up and it naturally seals when you press it down on a smooth surface. However, note that it loses a lot of its special properties over time so make sure you remove it after a few days, otherwise it may leave traces of tape and residue or even remove some of the surface layer it is stuck to, after that time.
  • Razor BladesThese are vital for scraping off excess paint or drips from windows, tile and glass, as it prevents the paint smearing and leaves the surface clean. As with all sharp instruments, take care and keep out of reach of children and pets.
  • Rags You can't have too many of these, for everything from wiping your hands to cleaning up spills, catching drips and wiping off excess paint.

When It All Goes Pear-shaped…

Even with the best care and preparation in the world, accidents will happen so here are a few guidelines on what to do in a painting stain emergency:

Paint Specks on the Floor
Generally, these can be avoided if you are diligent with a drop cloth and have covered the floor area comprehensively. In addition, using masking tape around the perimeter of the room will make doubly sure that no paint gets on the edges of the floor.

However, if an accident has occurred, tackle the specks with a gradual approach: first use a mild cleaning detergent and water; if this is not effective, try using a solvent appropriate to the paint and scrub with a scouring pad, taking care if the floor surface is delicate and vulnerable to abrasives.

If the stain persists, repeat with some paint thinner. It may require some physical effort, time and patience but this will generally remove the specks.

As a very last resort, use a small amount of acetone or lacquer thinner - however, note that this can dull or mar some floor finishes be very careful and always spot-test in an inconspicuous area or leftover piece of flooring first.

If the specks are on carpet and are very small, then you might be better to wait until they are dry and then pinch them out with your fingernails or "cut out" the stained area with a razor, without affecting the carpet's overall appearance.

Big accidents

If you're unfortunate enough to do something terrible, like spill an entire can of paint onto the carpet, then you will have to act very quickly. Make sure you always have plenty of clean towels and rags handy just for this situation - and ideally, have a carpet cleaner which uses liquid solvents available on standby, even if it means you have to rent it. It may seem like an unnecessary expense but if your carpet is expensive, this is a worthwhile "insurance policy".

Hopefully, the majority of paint will actually be spilt on your drop cloth so simply pick that up by the four corners and remove it outside or into a safe container. (Check your shoes as you're doing this to make sure you're not smearing paint everywhere and making things worse.)

If a large amount of paint has formed a puddle, scoop up as much as possible with your hands, into a roller pan or similar container - then depending on the paint, dilute it as much as possible by soaking the spot repeatedly with the appropriate solvent, massaging it into the carpet, and then blotting vigorously with towels and rags.

If the paint is acrylic, then use cold water as a solvent; if it is emulsion, use warm water and detergent solution; if it is oil-based gloss or enamel paint, then you'll need to use white spirit or turpentine (make sure you have a large bottle handy) - as a last resort, use paintbrush cleaner, although this is a very strong solvent and may damage the material being treated.

NOTE: be extremely careful when using white spirit, turpentine and paintbrush cleaner; always make sure the area is well-ventilated and never smoke in the vicinity. Lastly, follow with the carpet cleaning machine. This may not be necessary for small stains, where the previous treatment might be enough. For spills on hard floors, follow the same steps. If paint has flowed into crevices, you can use a wire brush on stone floors or an old toothbrush on vinyl and wood floors to remove the last traces.

Pain Stains on Clothing

If the paint is on your person rather than your environment, don't worry - acrylic and emulsion paints will come off quite easily if tackled when still fresh and wet, simply with water (cold and warm, respectively) generously sponged into the area and then rinsed and washed as usual. In fact, in the case of emulsion paint, if it is not removed when fresh, it is almost impossible to remove once the paint has dried. For oil-based paints (gloss & enamel), do the same thing but using white spirit or turpentine instead of water - although use as little as possible to avoid damaging the fabric.

Last Tips…

For your hands, remove the paint stains by washing with cooking oil, followed by a glycerine-based soap. And for that over-powering smell of paint which tends to linger for days after decorating work has been completed, simply put a tablespoon of ammonia in a pan of water and leave it in the middle of the painted room overnight (but take care to seal the room from pets and young children.)

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Share Your Story, Join the Discussion or Seek Advice..
@Lesliec - you will first have to clean the fireplace in order to get rid of the scorch marks in order to paint on top. It might be that once you have removed the scorch stains you might not want to paint it, as you will have taken the fireplace back to its natural stone beauty and even if you paint it you may still suffer from blackening and staining. To clean it there are various options including buying a specific fireplace cleane, using a foaming kitchen/bathroom cleaner which will draw the soot from the bricks and then wash down with water. If they are deeply ingrained you can use bleach in the scorched area and wash down after with a sponge and use fine sandstone or carborundum paper. (Don't use an abrasive on a tooled finish, a wire brush produces the best results and should be used alongthe natural groves of the tooling). To stop future staining you could paint with a high temperature natural matt varnish (don't use gloss). If you still want to paint over then you can buy specific 'Fireplace Stone Coating' paint, which is a water-based fireplace paint. It is made from real ground stone to give you an authentic and quality stone finish. Hope this helps.
StainExpert - 14-Oct-14 @ 1:26 PM
I want to paint over an old stone inglenook fireplace that over the years has accumulated very dark smoke and scorch stains. Can anyone help?
Lesliec - 13-Oct-14 @ 3:49 PM
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