How To Clean Paint Spills


You wish it never happened, but it did. The paint spilled and now you have an unwanted mess—maybe even a disaster. Whether it's a small dribble or a large puddle, knowing what to do, when it happens, is the key to tackling the situation and achieving the best possible result.

Generally speaking, you want to clean a paint spill while it is still wet. If the stain is dry, you may still be able to remove it, but it may require a little extra effort.

Water-based versus oil-based paint spills:

  • Water-based paints, such as latex, tend to be easy to clean, especially when the spill is fresh. They typically clean up with hot soapy water.
  • Oil-based or solvent-based paints, like anti-rust enamels and most lacquer paints, require more specific attention because of the potential for hazardous air pollutants. They can create a serious cleaning dilemma because the spill area, rags and tools are susceptible to spontaneous combustion; fires can occur. Soap and water will not work with these paints. The only solution may be to use mineral spirits (petroleum distillate), or a paint thinner or solvent that is recommended on the paint can or is designed especially for your flooring.

NOTE: Always read the cleaning instructions first on the paint can label; different types of paint may require different kinds of remedies. You may also want to read the cleaning instructions that came with your floor surface.

The paint experts at Valspar offer some general rules for tackling a wet or dry paint spill:

Large Spills
A large spill can be particularly menacing because it can spread quickly.

  1. First, remove children or pets from the spill area. If it is an oil-based or solvent-based paint spill, ventilate the area and get the air circulating.
  2. Contain the spill. Pour kitty litter, sawdust or cedar chips around the entire perimeter to stop the spreading. Or, lay newspapers over the top of the paint.
  3. Mop up any excess liquid. Paper plates, folded in half to create a scoop, are great for mopping up wet paint. A shop vacuum or steam cleaner may also work, but realize they could be forever contaminated with dry paint.
  4. Blot—don't wipe the remaining stain with a flat sponge or rag. Use hot soapy water on water-based paints and hot water or paint thinner on oil-based or solvent-based paints. Keep in mind that paint thinner or solvent may strip the surface wax or varnish off your hard flooring surface. Don't use paint removers or strippers on water-based paint spills.
  5. If the paint spill has already solidified, you may be able to peel it right off the surface, or scratch it gently with a craft knife or carpet comb.
  6. Throw any water-based waste out with your regular trash, unless your municipality requires other removal procedures. Properly remove from the home any oil-based waste, such as sponges, rags or tools used to clean the oil-based paints, due to their susceptibility to spontaneously combust.

    DANGER: A spontaneous combustion hazard exists when cleaning up after using products that contain drying oils, such as linseed oil or tung oil. Rags, steel wool, sanding dust or waste soaked with oil-based products may spontaneously catch fire if improperly discarded. Immediately after each use, place rags, steel wool, sanding dust or waste in a sealed, water-filled metal container.

Small Spills
  1. On small spills measuring about half a teaspoon, wipe away the spill while the paint is still wet. You can also soak up wet paint using kitty litter, sawdust or cedar shavings.
  2. Blot any remaining paint with hot water and a flat sponge or rag.
  3. If the paint has dried, try brushing the carpet fibers with a craft knife, carpet comb or toothbrush to create crumbs you can remove.
  4. On really tiny dribbles, whether it is latex or oil-based paint, let dry completely; once solidified, comb with a toothbrush.
  5. Throw any waste out with your regular trash, unless your municipality requires other removal.

Short-pile carpets that are stain resistant or waterproof will most likely cause latex paint to sit on top of the carpet fibers. If the contrast between the carpet colour and paint colour is nominal, you may want to wait until the paint dries and then peel it off, or loosely brush with a wire or nylon brush or toothbrush.

With large spills or spills with high-contrast scenarios, such as red paint on white carpet, it is best to clean the spill immediately—while it is still wet. Mop up the excess paint and then blot the stain with a flat sponge or rag and hot soapy water, if the paint is water based. High-contrast scenarios may not fully clean, depending on the colour, contrast and level of saturation.

Long-pile or thick shag carpets, or carpets featuring an indented detail, create a more tedious cleaning challenge. For wet latex spills, try hot soapy water and the blotting technique. Keep the stain wet while you clean, using a water-filled spray bottle. Make sure you don't saturate the carpet, because it can cause mildew to grow underneath the carpet or in the padding.

You may want to consider replacing the carpet if you spill a large amount of oil-based paint.

Wood Floors
Wood surfaces are porous and are usually treated with a protective wax or varnish coating; therefore, they could be altered during the cleaning process. Try not to let latex paint dry. Clean the spill as quickly as possible with hot water. Avoid using any strippers or paint removers. If the paint does dry, try peeling it off the wood surface.
Laminate Floors
Laminate flooring is not absorbent and therefore tends to clean easily. A dry latex paint spill on laminate will most likely peel right off. You may first want to review the laminate manufacturer's cleaning instructions.
Concrete Floors
Spread any paint drips or spills across the concrete surface with a shop brush or mop, to eliminate bumps. You can also try cleaning the area with hot soapy water. Hide stains by applying a topcoat enamel paint. Concrete cleaners are also effective, particularly if the stain has dried, but they should only be used outside the home, in a well ventilated area. Make sure to follow the manufacturer's instructions.
Automobile Interiors
When paint spills in your car it's important to clean it as quickly as possible; latex paint will begin to dry, set and cure rather quickly, which you don't want. First, remove as much of the wet paint as possible. A shop vacuum in this situation may be your best bet. Blot the remaining stain with a sponge or rag and hot water. Keep the stain wet while you clean, using a water-filled spray bottle.

Don't use any chemicals inside the car because interaction with other surface treatments could create toxic smells or melt or damage carpet or fabric fibers.

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