The Biggest Mistake You’re Probably Making with Your Painter’s Tape — and How to Fix It

published Aug 26, 2021
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You’ve picked the perfect color for your room. You have rollers, drop cloths, and painter’s tape in hand. You’re ready to DIY an Instagram-worthy room makeover, right? 

Not so fast. Before you get started, you need to brush up (no pun intended) on the painter’s tape basics and the number one mistake that almost everyone makes with painter’s tape. 

First things first, Natalie Ebel, color and paint expert and co-founder of the paint brand Backdrop, advises would-be painters to wipe down the baseboards before starting to ensure there aren’t dust particles that will prevent tape from sticking properly in the first place. “After applying the tape, be sure to seal the tape tightly around baseboards, wood floors, and windows to prevent bleeding,” Ebel says. “I like to run a putty knife over the tape to firmly press it down for a good seal.”

If you do see bleeding, act fast, says Mona Ying Reeves, founder of Kickstart House, a home renovation support community for women. “If you’re seeing that paint has already seeped underneath the tape, then it’s time to implement measures for damage control,” she says. “Clean up paint that hasn’t dried immediately with a damp sponge. For small blemishes, use a wet cotton swab.”

But here’s the mistake that almost everyone makes when they get overly cautious with their DIY painting project: being too patient. Even if you’ve applied your painter’s tape perfectly and did a pro-level job on your painting, if you wait until your paint is dry to peel off the tape then you might end up marring your paint job.

“It’s best to peel off painter’s tape before the last coat dries,” Ebel says. “If you wait too long, you risk peeling off some of the paint along with the tape.”

Now, if you’ve timed your tape removal perfectly, you’re in good shape. Peel the tape up slowly and pull at an angle away from the fresh paint, Reeves advises, and you’ll get the crispest edges.

But if you wait too long, don’t fret: All is not lost. Like almost all DIY projects, this can be fixed.

Volodymyr Barabakh, co-founder and project director of Fortress Home, says you just need a few things to help clean up rough edges. First, sand the affected area down with a sanding block to help any touch-ups blend better, then brush on your paint. “Make sure that you clean the area with a slightly damp sponge between sanding and painting to ensure that all the paint dust is removed before you paint over it,” Barabakh says.

And that’s it! As you take on your next paint project, remember: All it takes is a little less patience and, if you’ve been too careful, a sweep of the sanding block and some touch-up paint for a pro-level finish.