How to Remove Old Paint Stains

Like all stains, spatters of paint are much easier to remove when they are fresh. Once the paint has dried, many materials absorb the pigments, making stain removal a real challenge. However, there are a number of simple home remedies that can lift paint stains from a variety of surfaces. Complete removal may take time and patience. Old stains come out slowly and generally require multiple cleaning attempts. Additionally, you may have to try several solvents to find one that works as it may be impossible to tell if the paint was acrylic or oil-based.

Paint spills should be cleaned as promptly as possible.
  1. Remove as much of the dried paint as possible. Scrape soft surfaces with the edge of a spoon. On hard surfaces, use the edge of a credit card to get underneath the residue. Sweep away any loosened paint particles with a stiff-bristled brush.

  2. Pour ¼ cup liquid dish-washing detergent into a small bowl. Add ¼ cup hot water and stir well. Cover stains with a cloth that has been soaked in this solution. Weigh the cloth down with a heavy object, such as a large glass. Wait 5 minutes, giving the solution time to soften the dried residue.

  3. Remove the cloth and lightly blot the area with a damp sponge. Work from the outside of the spill toward the center, pressing the sponge against the surface repeatedly. Do not rub as this can cause the stain to spread. Blot up the soap solution with a damp cloth. If any paint has come up, repeat this process until the stain is gone.

  4. Dab a cotton ball that has been moistened with isopropyl alcohol onto stubborn stains. Press the material firmly against the affected area, moving from the edges to the center. When the entire stain has been treated, blot up any excess alcohol with a dry paper towel. If any paint is visible on either the cotton ball or the paper towel, reapply the solvent. Sponge with cool water to rinse.

  5. Mix ¼ cup of household ammonia into 1 cup of warm water. Apply the solution to any remaining stains with a damp cloth. Wait five minutes then blot the area with a dry paper towel. Take note of any color picked up by the paper. A mildly alkaline solution, ammonia is effective at removing paint stains; however, it can also remove finishes and dyes. Therefore, it is best used on light-colored surfaces.

  6. Pour ¼ distilled white vinegar into a small bowl. Add 1 cup of warm water. Stir until the two are thoroughly blended. A weak acid, vinegar will neutralize any remaining ammonia and help dissolve lingering traces of paint residue. Apply the vinegar solution to the affected area, blotting gently. Wipe with a damp sponge to rinse and pat dry with a paper towel.


  • Test any solvent in an inconspicuous area before using it on the stain.

About the Author

Lisa Parris is a writer and former features editor of "The Caldwell County News." Her work has also appeared in the "Journal of Comparative Parasitology," "The Monterey County Herald" and "The Richmond Daily News." In 2012, Parris was honored with awards from the Missouri Press Association for best feature story, best feature series and best humor series.