How to remove paint splatters from brick

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Q: Is there a way to remove, or at least cover up, paint that has gotten onto bricks because of sloppy workmanship?

A: Removing paint from bricks — especially the types made for walls rather than pavement — is tricky because of their texture and pores. Paint seeps into all the little crevices, essentially making it impossible to scrape or sand away. And if you use a paint stripper, you risk smearing the residue onto nearby bricks, which would look even worse.

You can try removing the paint in a way that minimizes smearing, but you need to accept that, if it doesn’t work well, you might need to cover the remnants with paint that matches the bricks. Or you could skip trying to strip it and fast-forward to the painting step.

If you want to try removing the paint, a stripper such as Peel Away, made by Dumond, might seem appealing. In theory, you would apply the stripper, cover it with the special paper that Dumond sells, wait for the stripper to work, then peel away the paper and the paint residue clinging to it, with no risk of smears. But a call to Dumond’s customer service line (609-655-7700) made it clear that the paper is there mostly to keep the stripper from drying out too fast; the bulk of the softened paint probably won’t peel away with the paper when you go to remove it.

Nevertheless, the customer service agent recommended getting Dumond’s paint removal test kit ($26.99 at Ace Hardware), because it contains small samples of three stripping formulas, as well as the paper and basic tools such as gloves, brushes and a scraper, so you can determine what would work best on your brick. Paint formulas vary, so chemical strippers need to vary as well. Or, if you have stripper from a different project, you could test that, provided that the label says it can be rinsed with water and isn’t highly alkaline, which might damage the bricks.

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The agent looked at the picture you sent and made a couple of observations that might influence the process on your house. The paint color on the brick matches the window trim, and it appears to be fairly new paint, so there’s a good chance it’s only one or two layers of water-based paint, rather than multiple layers that include old oil-based paint. He recommended testing the Smart Strip and Smart Strip Pro formulas in the kit but setting aside the container of Peel Away, which was designed to work on thick layers of oil-based paint, including products that contain lead. (If you think the paint on the brick is from the 1970s or earlier, test for lead before proceeding.)

Although the areas of paint on the brick are wide enough to look unsightly, from a paint-stripping perspective, they are quite small. The agent suggested not worrying about covering the stripper with paper; you could just brush on a little more stripper if it dries too fast. After about three hours, the paint probably would be soft enough to remove, assuming you tackle this when it’s at least about 40 degrees. Wait for warmer weather if needed.

To scrape away the softened paint from small areas, use a little brush with stiff nylon bristles, such as the plastic handle stripping brush ($4.99 at Ace Hardware), and wash it after each pass. (If you were stripping a bigger area, you’d also need a tool such as the 3M heavy-duty stripping pad, which is $4.99 per two-pack at Ace.)

Be careful not to smear the paint over a wider area. Work from the outermost part of the paint toward the window. Then, while the paint is still soft from the stripper, try to wash away any remnants. Use the jet setting on the nozzle of a hose, not a power washer. To avoid damaging the paint around the window, shield the wood with a tool such as the 12-inch Allway blue steel taping knife ($12.75 at Walmart) in one hand while you use your other hand to squirt away the paint remnants. Alternate between brushing and rinsing as needed.

If you still can’t get off all the paint, or if you don’t want to try to strip it, covering it with paint might be the best remedy. Bring home paint-sample cards and compare them with the brick color to get the best match. Buy paint that’s that color and that’s a little darker, or ask the paint store if it can tint a small amount of the main color, so it’s slightly darker.

Brush the main color over the paint you want to cover. Feather the edges, so there isn’t a distinct line where the paint meets the unpainted brick. Let that dry, then apply the darker color with a stencil brush ($6.99 at Ace) with short, stubby bristles, to mimic the shadows formed by the texture of unpainted brick. Load a tiny amount of paint onto the tips of the brush and dab it onto the brick at a right angle with a clean in-and-out motion. Or hire a painter who specializes in faux painting. Someone who makes sets for theatrical productions, which are all about faux effects, might also be able to create the magic you need.

Have a problem in your home? Send questions to [email protected]. Put “How To” in the subject line, tell us where you live and try to include a photo.

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