How To Remove Paint From Carpet (And Hard Surfaces Too)

Jeremy Holderness

Paint Pouring From A Can To Show How To Remove Paint From CarpetIt doesn't matter whether it's spatter, splatter, or an outright, full-blown, five-alarm spill.  If you've done enough painting then you're familiar with that sinking feeling you get in the pit of your stomach when you realize that you just spilled paint on your finished floor.

It's going to happen to all of us at some point, and you can't undo it, so the question we're asking today is, "How to remove paint from carpet?"  That's what we'll be discussing in this week's article, and no article about cleaning up spilled paint would be complete without addressing several things you can do to make it much less likely that it will happen to you again...or at least help you to minimize the amount of cleanup you're faced with the next time around.

 

An Ounce Of Prevention...

Truer words have never been spoken about paint cleanup.  I know, I know there's enough prep work that needs to be done as it is to prepare for a painting project.  Regardless of whether you're changing the color on your walls and ceilings, or painting your windows, doors, and trim; these tips are invaluable for helping a homeowner to keep from having a major mess on their hands.

1.) Protect Your Floors - For the many of you who still use the little plastic dropcloths that the paint store has conveniently displayed near the checkout register -- stop it!  These "dropcloths" are generally made of thin plastic that easily tears under your feet, leaving your flooring exposed.  Even if you went with the heavy-mil plastic sheeting, there are a couple of major issues with plastic drops:  a.) if and when you get paint on the plastic and step in it, you will track it everywhere because they aren't absorbent; b.) wet paint on plastic creates a slippery surface and becomes a fall hazard. 

Instead go with some canvas dropcloths.  I understand that they're more expensive but they're also well worth it.  They don't tear easily, they absorb spills, and you can reuse them over and over.  Better yet, I would go with the butyl-backed canvas dropcloths because they catch the spills that absorb through the canvas and keep it from going onto your finished floor.

The proper way to drop-off a floor is the take a roll of wide painter's tape and run a line of it on the floor along the perimeter of the room, right where the baseboard meets the floor.  This gives you a little buffer to work with so you don't have to worry about being meticulous when you're trying to get your dropcloth as close to the wall as possible.  Next, overlap the edge of your dropcloth onto the painter's tape, and adhere it to the painter's tape with some masking tape to keep it from moving and sliding back away from the wall as you walk around the room.

You can just buy and use runner dropcloths (narrow and long, and designed to run the length of a wall) if you have great confidence in your ability to not spill paint, but I would recommend also using some full-size drops to cover the exposed floor in the middle of the room as well -- just to be safe.

2.) Use The Right Kind Of Container - There are so many different types of paint containers to choose from, and the kind of container you use can make a big difference in helping you keep the paint from going where it doesn't belong.

Cut containers or cut buckets are the painting vessel that you hold in your hand to dip your paint brush or mini roller into when you're cutting-in along the edges.  Choose one that's ergonomic so your hand doesn't get tired so quickly.  Fatigue can cause you to loose your grip and have accidents.  This one with the strap and the disposable liners is a great option for a homeowner.

Roller containers are the larger buckets or trays that people sit on the floor and dip their paint roller into when they're painting the wall or the ceiling.  I despise the traditional, low-profile paint trays with the removable liners.  They're unwieldy, tip over easily when you move them, and tend to get stepped-in because they're overlooked.  Instead use a regular five-gallon bucket with a metal drop-in grid for removing the excess paint from your roller cover.  They are easier to see and keep track of, and they have a handle so you can move them around the room easily. 

If you've always used the old-school paint tray, you'll thank me later.

3.) Don't Put Too Much Paint In Your Container - This is common sense but it bears repeating -- don't fill your container more than 1/4 to 1/3 full.  I understand that it's a pain having to refill the container often, but when you have a spill you stand a much better chance of catching it quickly before much paint is lost onto the floor.

4.) Don't Put Too Much Paint On Your Brush & Roller Cover - This is probably the #1 cause of paint splatter.  Folks load-up their brush or roller cover and don't remove the excess before slinging it from the container to the surface.  When you dip your brush keep the paint level on the bristles restricted to the lower 1/3 and always tap the sides of your bucket or wipe it along the edge of the cut bucket to remove the excess.

 

When Disaster Strikes 

If you're reading this article you're probably not thinking ahead about how to prevent paint spills.  You're most likely reading because you need to clean up a current spill and you're ready for me to get on with the information that's relevant to you.  So here it is:

Small Carpet Spills - If you get a spill on your carpeting you need to act fast.  If you allow the paint to dry on the carpet you don't stand a great chance of ever getting it out without also damaging the carpeting.  

Get a bucket of hot, soapy water (a good dishwashing liquid solution should suffice) and some rags.  If you're just dealing with splatter or small drops, get your rag wet and squeeze some of your soap & water mixture onto the spots to dilute and disperse the paint.  Then blot the area with your rag, but don't wipe or scrub at this point because you'll only spread the paint over a larger area.  Repeat the process of squeezing water onto the spot and then blotting it until the paint spot has become very faint.  At that point you can doing a little scrubbing with the rag to remove the last remnants of your spill.

When I'm done I like to run my small handheld carpet cleaner with just water over the area for one final rinse as well as to help remove the excess water from the carpet and the padding.

If the paint has started to dry some on the carpet you can still try the soap and water mixture -- allowing it a little time to soak on the spot and soften it -- but you'll need to be more aggressive with your cleaning.  Try scrubbing with a stiff-bristled brush and/or a rag once the paint has softened.

Large Carpet Spills - If you spill a large amount of paint on the carpet I would not recommend even attempting to clean it yourself.  The best thing you can do at this point is get several cotton rags damp and lay them overtop of the area to keep the paint wet.  Then call a professional carpet cleaning company to setup an emergency service call within the next 12-24 hours.  This is how they make their living so they have the equipment and the skills to remove disastrous spills, as long as they're able to respond quickly and the paint isn't allowed to dry.

Hard Surface Flooring Spills - The great thing about a spill on most hard surfaces is that you don't have to worry about it soaking in.  As long as you clean it up quickly with some rags and soapy water you should have little trouble getting rid of any evidence.

If the paint has been allowed to dry and harden, try mixing a runny paste of corn meal and water to cover the entire spill.  Allow it to sit on the spot for a few hours to soften the paint film, then scrape it off with a plastic putty knife.

When All Else Fails - The remedies I've discussed here are all intended to be gentle on the surfaces.  Many folks immediately reach for harsh chemicals, store-bought paint removers, solvents such as lacquer thinner, etc.  These do work, but you also run the risk of discoloring your floors or destroying the adhesives that hold the carpet fibers and the backing together.  So exercise caution when resorting to the more extreme methods.  Personally I think I would rather pay a local carpet cleaning company a few bucks to try their hand at cleaning up my mess than I would want replace my carpeting because I was overzealous in my own efforts.

 

Key Takeaways 

Go the extra mile with prevention.  Protect all of your surfaces from spills, use good work practices that minimize the chance of a large-scale mess, keep a damp rag handy at all times to immediately wipe away small splatters and drips, and be prepared to act quickly when major accidents happen.

Follow these few tips and you'll save yourself money, time, and hassle.

 

 

 

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photo by: Buckley Air Force Base / CC BY CC0 1.0

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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