Don’t Cry Over Spilled Paint (The Easiest Way I’ve Found To Clean Up Large Amounts Of Spilled Paint)

Have you ever spilled an entire quart or gallon of paint and then panicked, wondering how in the world you were going to get it cleaned up? I have. Over my 30+ years of DIYing, I’ve spilled several quarts and gallons of paint.

Years ago, my initial instinct would have been to grab a whole roll of paper towels and just start mopping up the mess. But in the last few years, I’ve found a much better (and much less stressful) way to clean up spilled latex paint when I spill it on hard surfaces. (Since I don’t have carpet, I have no idea if this would work on carpet, but I’d probably be tempted to try it.)

The trick? Leave it alone and let it dry completely. When it’s dry, peel it up. And then deal with any little remnants left behind.

Over the past year alone, I’ve had to do this three times. The first time, I spilled a quart of dark purple paint in our carport. I didn’t actually spill it. I had set the can of paint on a table, and then during the night, we had really high winds and a large piece of MDF was blown over onto the table, knocking the quart of paint onto the carport floor. When I found it, it had been there a couple of hours already. But instead of panicking, I just left it undisturbed to dry completely. (Once I noticed that it was completely dry, I wasn’t so careful around it, and I did step on it. That’s why it has a shoe print on it. 😀 )

But once it was completely dry, I just grabbed the edge and peeled it up. The bulk of it came up in one solid piece.

I wasn’t sure this would work as well as it does on a really smooth floor since the concrete has a rough surface, but it came up just fine!

I did still have these little remnants left, but those will come up very easily once I get enough water hoses to use my power washer in the carport.

The second time this happened in the last year was actually in our master bathroom. I had just finished the master bathroom and was working on the home gym, inching closer and closer to finishing that room. After I painted the walls in the closet area black…

…I set the one-gallon can of black paint on the floor in the bathroom. And soon after that, I accidentally pushed it over when an extension cord wrapped around it and I pulled too hard. The rest of that black paint (about a quart) spilled in a puddle on the bathroom floor.

But I left it there, completely undisturbed, for about a week and then peeled it up. And once again, almost 100% of it came up in one solid piece. I did have a little bit of scrubbing to do on about a three-inch strip of grout, and there were a few thin splatters that scratched off pretty easily (since it was on tile). But it all came up. And that was so much easier than trying to wipe it all up with paper towels and making a huge, smeared mess.

So on Friday, when I accidentally pushed this brand new quart of paint right off my desk and onto the floor in my studio, I didn’t panic, and I didn’t run for the roll of paper towels. I just left it alone. But since this is a high traffic area (I’m in here all the time, but so are Cooper and Felicity), I just grabbed a cardboard box and put it over the spill so none of us would accidentally get into it, and then I set a few heavy things on top to keep it in place.

When I checked on it this morning, I could see that about 1/3 of it is dry, but the rest is still wet. I’ll wait a few more days and then peel it up and see what kind of further cleanup is needed. This is a bit of a different situation because I spilled latex paint on a floor that has been painted with latex paint. So we’ll see how it works. I’m hoping for the best, but it may discolor the painted floor, especially since I spilled such a saturated color. But at the very least, this is much easier and way less stressful than trying to mop up the mess with paper towels.

So this is my method of dealing with spilled latex paint on hard floor surfaces. I’ve left puddles of paint to dry on concrete, tile, hardwood floors (sealed with oil-based poly), and now painted hardwood. Although I can’t guarantee anyone else’s success with this, I can say that I’d personally never choose to run for a roll of paper towels to mop up a large quantity of spilled latex paint. And like I said, I’d even be tempted to use this method if I spilled on carpet, too. But that’s just me. 🙂

Side note: Needless to say, I didn’t get the exterior of my back studio doors painted this weekend. Cleaning the doors took way longer than I expected, and then I was painting on the Jasco Primer & Mask onto the panes as the cold weather set in. Once I had a chance to go get a replacement quart of paint for the one I spilled, the weather was too cold to paint. 🙁 Once the temp gets above mid-40s later this week, I’ll get out there and paint. But today, it’s way too cold for that!)



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  1. This got me thinking/curious…. if you had tape handy. Tape off a spot/perimeter and help it flow over the tape, would it give a better starter edge to peel. Or if it’d create a weak point. I’d tape off the grout lines some if spilled on the tile to minimize clean up if possible. Also wondering if mixing in sawdust would help it dry faster as well. And I might take a meat injector size syringe (if I had one handy) and pull the paint drying out of bigg bubbles to speed it up as well.

  2. I’ve only had spilled paint one time. I accidentally turned over a quart can of black paint on my glass top patio table. Some of it also slung across and landed on one of my finely meshed patio chairs. I immediately took the chair out on the lawn and hosed it down with a strong water spurt. Then grabbed a pan of hot soapy water and scrubbed it with a stiff brush. It came clean. I didn’t touch the paint on the table. It was during one of our hot Texas summer days. Couple days later I took a putty knife thinking I probably would ruin my glass top. All I did was stick the corner edge of the putty knife under the paint and to my surprise I pulled up the big spill in one pull. It was amazing.
    Thanks for your post on this.

  3. I love your new photo! What type of paint do you use from HD? I know it’s Behr but enamel or latex? I’m having a tough time with the enamel/acrylic but our store doesn’t carry the latex.

  4. What a great helpful hint. Thanks. Please you and Matt stay warm. I’m sleeping an electric blanket and staying toasty.

    Stay safe.

  5. Since this is a paint related post…….how does one determine if a surface is covered in latex or oil based paint?
    I’m about to paint some rooms in an older house and to my understanding I can not cover oil based with latex. Is this correct? Thanks!!

    1. I’ve never tried this myself, but I’ve heard you can test it with a little rubbing alcohol on a cotton ball. Rub the alcohol-soaked ball over a small patch of paint; if it comes off and gets a little gummy, it’s latex. If it stays put, it’s oil-based. I hope this helps! 🙂

    2. The oil based paint will not accept the latex paint, it will bead up and you will have to wipe it off, it won’t “set.”

    3. I’ve also heard that you can determine if it’s oil or latex using rubbing alcohol or isopropyl alcohol. I’ve tried it once, and the paint did come off, so I’m guessing it was latex. I can’t remember what I used it on, though. But you are correct that you cannot use latex paint over oil-based paint.

      If in doubt, and you want to be really sure that your new latex paint will stick properly, you can always add a step and prime whatever you’re painting with an oil-based primer like Zinsser Cover Stain. Unlike paint, it’s perfectly fine to use an oil-based primer and then paint over that with latex paint. Zinsser Cover Stain is my go-to for that. It’s amazing, and once it dries, it sands beautifully with 220-grit sandpaper to give you a flawless surface to paint on.

  6. I highly doubt that a dried paint spill could be lifted up off of carpeting but it would be an interesting experiment. Kristi, you look beautiful in your new photograph. Your eyeglasses look great on you!

  7. I appreciate your posts immensely! My goat once knocked over a gallon of white paint in the carport and then tried to eat it. After I locked her back in the pasture, I let it dry and used a putty knife to scrape it up.

  8. I have spilled latex on carpet. It’s like crisp carpet, hair with gunk in it. Lol Not a good look. Happy to know about letting it dry on hard surfaces though.

  9. Oh gosh, it would be so hard for me to leave that much paint to dry! I would probably try to get at least some of it up, without disturbing the very base. I know you are totally right to leave it though! I do that with my craft pallet when using paint or glue, and it peels off when dried, so it does work!!!

  10. A few years ago when I painted my bedroom I had the can of paint directly on the wood floor while I was up on a stepstool with the roller. Once of the times I stepped off the stepstool, and IN TO THE CAN OF PAINT. My entire foot went in (no shoes, just socks) and of course the paint overflowed all over the floor. Luckily I had plenty of towels and was able to get it all up with the exception of a tiny bit between floorboards that is not noticeable except for up close. I learned my lesson that day.

  11. Great idea. I managed to dump 1/2 gallon on carpet. threw wet towels over it so it couldn’t dry out, rented a shop vac and sucked it up adding water as needed. Came out like nothing had ever happened. clean up was just water. Years later I found a drop on the back of my buffet but it just peeled off.

  12. I wish I had known this trick years ago when a gallon of paint fell off a stepladder onto a brand new laminate floor, or when a gallon of white paint fell off a wheelbarrow onto a blacktop driveway or when a gallon of black paint fell over on my red car carpet. I will definitely remember it if there is a next time. My go to answer to a paint issue now would be to walk away screaming so that would be perfect.