Though the bulk of the work is done once paint dries, there are maintenance tips that will help your paint job look fresher for longer. We'll show you how to remove dirt, unstick painted edges, scrub paint stains, and much more.

January 26, 2019

When properly applied, high-quality paint will protect and beautify your home for years. But as with most finishes, paint has a number of enemies that can spoil both its appearance and its longevity. Like any aspect of home improvement, painted surfaces need periodic attention and maintenance.

You should check painted surfaces twice a year so you catch problems early and thus minimize paint failures. In addition to assessing and treating dirt, chalking, mildew, and efflorescence, look for cracking or checking, blistering, peeling, serious fading, loss of gloss, and signs of rusting. This tutorial shows you how to identify and treat each of these conditions.

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Touching Up Paint

Just when you've finished artfully touching up a damaged surface, and after the paint has dried, you take another look at your handiwork only to find that the area you've touched up looks glaringly different from the rest of the wall. Touch-ups can look lighter or darker than the original color, they can have a different sheen, and they can stick out from the surface, depending on how much paint you apply. To avoid this dilemma, follow these tips:

  • Apply an appropriate primer, especially if you have removed some paint from the area.
  • Tint your touch-up paint—this may mean taking a chip of the old paint to your supplier to match a faded color.
  • When spraying, backroll the final coat to create a less uniform surface that will hide later touch-ups more easily.
  • Apply the touch-up paint in a thin coat with a foam brush. Dab the brush to mimic the texture of the rolled surface.

Removing Chalked Paint

Accumulated dirt can darken paint and provide nutrients for mildew. Weathering can cause release of chalky pigment, fading the colors. Both dirt and chalk can be removed by scrubbing or power washing.

Scrubbing is best done with a mild detergent and a scrub brush, followed by thorough rinsing. Harsh, alkaline cleaners, such as TSP, can reduce the gloss of alkyd paints and of some latex paints. Power wash with plain water, without cleaning agents. Use care to not lift the paint or to damage the substrate.

Dealing with Dirt

Most dirt on exterior paints is airborne and can be removed with a pressure washer. Dirt on interior paint is usually in the form of handprints around switches and knobs; splashes in kitchen and bathrooms; marks on hallways and corridors; or "soot" above lamps and other heat sources.

Removing dirt before it accumulates not only keeps the paint looking tidy, it prohibits dirt from permanently embedding itself in the paint film.

Check for dirt and assume you'll find it near cooking areas and at all places at hand height. Always begin cleaning with a mild detergent and a sponge or soft cloth and work up to harsher cleaners only when necessary. Alkaline cleaners can dull the sheen of glossy paints. Abrasive cleaners will burnish nearly any paint, and will dull the gloss of satin, semigloss, and gloss products. Rinse the surfaces thoroughly to keep residual cleaner from interfering with the adhesion of new paint.

Removing Efflorescence

Efflorescence is a film of white, powdery salts carried out to the surface of masonry by water within the substrate. Remove any buildup of efflorescence with a stiff wire brush; wear eye and skin protection and a dust mask. If possible, identify and eliminate the water causing the efflorescence. Where necessary, prime with a latex masonry primer, and repaint.

Unsticking Painted Edges

Painted surfaces usually stick together because they come into contact before the paint dries. Dark colors stick more than light ones, and glossier paints stick more than flats. Allow ample drying time before putting a painted area back into service. If surfaces stick, rub them with talcum powder. Plasticizers in window and door gaskets can soften latex paint and cause sticking, so avoid painting the gasket.

Removing Crayon Marks

Soften up crayon marks with a hair dryer and blot up the marks with a heavy-duty paper towel or soft rag. Keep the dryer close enough to the wall to soften the crayon but not the paint. You can also try to soften the crayon by running a warm iron over an old rag placed over the area.

Eliminating Mold and Mildew

For all their protective qualities, all paints, especially flat paints, oil-base paints, and economy formulations, can provide a great growth medium for mold and mildew. These fungi love damp and shaded conditions, so on the exterior, check northern exposures thoroughly. On the inside, check laundry rooms, bathrooms, and basements.

Wherever you find these conditions, household bleach is the solution. Protect plantings, grass, and interior floors with plastic and scrub the affected paint with a 3-to-1 water-bleach mix and a stiff scrub brush. Work the solution into the surface 1 foot beyond the affected area and let it set for 20 minutes, keeping it wet as it sits. Then rinse the area thoroughly.

Keeping Track of Colors

Many times you'll have to repaint a cleaned or repaired area, and you'll need to know the color of the original paint. To keep track of the colors in each room, dab the paint on the back of a switchplate. Note the brand and name of the paint on tape and put it on the back of the switchplate too.

Scrubbing Paint Stains

Fast action is the best way to ensure that stains don't evolve from a temporary blemish to a permanent mark in the paint film. In time, chemicals in the stain can bond with those in the paint and become tougher to get out.

You can kill mildew with a bleach solution, but try hydrogen peroxide first. It's milder and might not fade the color of your paint. To clean dirt from gloss paints, use a mild detergent and increase its concentration only if the stain proves stubborn. Use a diluted deglossing agent to clean grease from kitchen surfaces. Increase the concentration of deglosser if results aren't immediate. Remove rust with a solution of 1/2 cup epsom salts to 1 cup of water.

Rinse all cleaned areas thoroughly.


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