How to Clean Up Latex Paint Spills

Vector design of colorful paint spill grunge

On a number of different posts here, I’ve talked about paint tools you need to own:  certain brushes, certain rollers and so on.  However, a must-have tool for every do-it-yourself painter or professional contractor is something that’s not as obvious:  a wet/dry vacuum.

Believe it or not, this can be one of the most helpful, time-saving (and potentially life-saving) tools in your arsenal.  See, when people paint inside their homes, one of the most common occurrences involves a ladder, a paint tray and the innate human desire to take short-cuts.  Typically, it works like this:  you’ve got your paint tray hooked to your ladder and you’re happily working your way around your room.  At some point, you decide to move the ladder and, because you’re almost at the end of your project, you decide just to pull the ladder–after all, if you do it carefully, there’ll be no problem, right?  Well, normally there isn’t.  But every now and then, the ladder hits something and before you know it, the paint tray goes over the edge, hits your carpet (it always misses the dropcloth!) and you’ve got a mess.

And that’s why having a shop-vac on hand is such a life-saver:  it gives you your best chance of dealing with the mess and preventing it from becoming a disaster.

However, having the right tool on hand is one thing.  Knowing how to use it is another.  So, with that in mind, here’s how you go about using your shop-vac to clean up a LATEX paint spill:

DON’T PANIC

The first thing you need to do–as is the case with any emergency–is to resist the natural urge to freak out.  Yes, you spilled paint on the new carpet.  Yes, it’s a mess.  Yes, you’ll probably be in big trouble with someone else in your home.  But freaking out and running around in circles isn’t going to help you save your neck.  Calm, cool thinking wins out every time.  So stay calm.  That’s step one.

COLLECT YOUR TOOLS

Calmly (but quickly) grab a bucket of water, some old rags and either a couple wide (6″-10″) putty knives or some scraps of cardboard.

REMOVE PAINT FROM THE SURFACE

Start your clean up by removing as much paint as you can from the surface.  You can do this by scraping it (carefully) off with the wide putty knives or the ripped up scraps of cardboard.  Use either of these items to scoop as much paint off the carpet as possible and return it to the paint tray–NOT THE BUCKET (since you don’t want to add any contaminant to your paint bucket).

BRING ON THE DAMP RAGS

After the excess paint has been removed and you’re left with the paint that’s soaked into the carpet, bring out your damp rags.  Use these to sponge the spot and remove as much of that soaked-in paint as possible.

BREAK OUT THE WET/DRY VAC

After you’ve done all of this, it’s time for the WET/DRY vacuum.  Hit the spot carefully and pull up as much paint as possible.  Introduce more clean water, work it around with your fingers or hand and then vacuum it back up.  Do this again and again and again until the paint has been completely removed.  Don’t quit with this step until you feel you’ve pulled out as much of the paint from the spill as you’re going to get.  Once you let it dry, you’re done–you can’t go back for a second try tomorrow night.

DRY THE CARPET WELL

Once the paint’s removed, carefully blot the wet area with dry towels (don’t scrub the spot with your towels as you can damage your carpet that way.)  Blot the area, removing excess moisture and then put a fan on the area and allow it to thoroughly dry.

If you follow these steps carefully and thoroughly, in about 24 hours, the spot should show no signs at all of the near tragedy that happened there.  And all because you had a wet/dry vacuum in your tool belt!

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