All About Painters Tape

Learn how to properly apply and remove painters tape—plus prevent annoying paint seepage.

Painters tape is essential for starting any major paint project. Whether you’re protecting the edges of molding or planning a striped design, painters tape ensures a clean finish. While sticking tape to a wall might seem easy enough, our simple tricks will make your DIY paint job look as professional as possible. Nobody wants to eagerly lift up their tape to find that they need to do touch-ups because paint leaked onto a nearby surface. See how to apply painters tape, how to remove it, and how to prevent paint seepage.

Painters Tape versus Masking Tape

First, make sure you purchase a suitable tape for your project. While you're shopping, keep this in mind: Painters tape (usually blue or green) and masking tape (usually tan or white) aren’t interchangeable. Masking tape is inexpensive and readily available, but it often leaves residue behind if it’s not removed quickly. Masking tape may also rip off paint and other finishes. Painters tape is specially designed for painting and can be left on surfaces longer. However, it is more expensive. To make matters even more confusing, tape sold as “artist’s tape” or “drafting tape” may look like masking and painters tape, but it’s not the same thing. These types of tape have a very weak adhesion and are intended to allow gentle removal from paper. If you try to use them while painting, paint will seep underneath.

How to Apply Painters Tape

Before you begin painting any large area, clear the room. Remove picture frames, hanging hardware, light fixtures, switchplates, and window treatments—anything that could get in the way or that you wouldn’t want to get paint on. Always turn off the power to a room before handling any switches, outlet covers, and lighting. Patch any unwanted holes.

Before adhering painters tape to your wall, make sure the surface is clean. Vacuum to remove dust and cobwebs. To deep clean your walls, use a mixture of warm water and mild soap applied with a clean sponge. Let dry overnight before continuing to prime or paint.

Painters tape comes in different widths. It’s a good idea to have several sizes on hand so you can easily tape around a variety of areas. Use wide strips of tape to cover switches, outlets, and recessed lighting. Tape around window and door frames, baseboards, built-ins, and the edge of the ceiling. Apply tape in pieces that are several feet long to prevent tangling and bunching of longer pieces. Press tape down firmly using your fingers or a 3-in-1 paint tool. Be sure to overlap the next piece of tape about an inch or so above the point where the two ends meet. This will ensure that no paint gets in the gap.

To help prevent paint seepage, heat-seal the tape. This sounds intimidating, but all you have to do is run a tapered tool (such as a plastic putty knife or the 3-in-1 paint tool shown here) along the edge of the tape. The friction heats the tape and forms a barrier at the edge.

How to Remove Painters Tape

When to remove painters tape after you’re done painting is often a point of concern. Remove it right away and the paint will be dripping wet and messy; wait too long to remove it and dried paint will cake on the tape and potentially tear the work you just did. A happy medium is to wait about an hour—when the paint is tacky to the touch. Then, carefully peel back the tape on itself, holding the end at a 45-degree angle. If the tape seems stuck, carefully score along the tape edge with a utility knife first. Scoring should help prevent you from accidentally tearing off paint.

If you’re wondering about the labels on your painters tape, varying levels of adhesive are sold as 14-day, 30-day, 60-day, and more. This rating means that the tape can be left up for that amount of time without leaving behind gunky residue. The 60-day rating has the lightest adhesive, which is why it can be left up longer.

If you do inadvertently wait too long or need to get rid of old tape residue from a previous project, there are several ways to remove the stickiness. Start by rubbing the area with warm water and a cloth or sponge. If that doesn’t work, try blowing hot air from a hair dryer on it. Use a razor blade to gently scrape off the residue, if needed. For particularly stubborn spots, you may need to try mineral spirits or a degreaser, such as WD-40. Spot-check any chemicals first since they could damage the underlying material.

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