30 Thrifty Painting Tricks

Make a paint job a piece of cake with items you probably already own!

Aluminum Foil

  • When you open a half-used can of paint, you’ll typically find a skin of dried paint on the surface. Not only is this annoying to remove, but dried bits can wind up in the paint. You can prevent this by using a two-pronged attack when you close a used paint can: First, put a piece of aluminum foil under the can and trace around it. Cut out the circle and drop the aluminum foil disk onto the paint surface. Then take a deep breath, blow into the can, and quickly put the top in place. The carbon dioxide in your breath replaces some of the oxygen in the can, and helps keep the paint from drying.
  • Cleaning out paint roller pans is a pain, which is why a lot of folks buy disposable plastic pans or liners. But lining a metal roller pan with aluminum foil works just as well — and can be a lot cheaper.
  • When you’re painting a door, aluminum foil is great for wrapping doorknobs to keep paint off them. Overlap the foil onto the door when you wrap the knob, then run a sharp utility knife around the base of the knob to trim the foil. That way you can paint right up to the edge of the knob. In addition to wrapping knobs on the doors that you’ll paint, wrap all the doorknobs that are along the route to where you will clean your hands and brushes.
  • Going to continue painting tomorrow morning? Don’t bother to clean the brush — just squeeze out the excess paint and wrap the brush tightly in aluminum foil (or plastic wrap). Use a rubber band to hold the foil tightly at the base of the handle. For extended wet-brush storage, think paintbrush Popsicle, and toss the wrapped brush in the freezer. But don’t forget to defrost the brush for an hour or so before you paint.

Aluminum Pie Pans

Next time you have something that needs painting, place an aluminum pie pan under the paint can as a ready-made drip catcher. You’ll save a lot of time cleaning up, and you can just toss the pan in the trash when you’re done. Even better, rinse it off and recycle it for future paint jobs.


The toughest part of any touchup paint job is invariably pouring the paint from a large can into a small cup or container. To avoid the inevitable spills, and just to make life easier in general, use a baster to take the paint out of the can. In fact, it’s a good idea to make a baster a permanent addition to your workshop for transferring any solvents, varnishes, and other liquid chemicals.


Tired of splattering paint all over as you work? Make a neater paint dispenser by cutting a large hole opposite the handle of a clean 1-gallon (3.7 liter) jug. Pour in the paint so that it’s about an inch below the edge of the hole, and use the edge to remove any excess paint from your brush before you lift your brush. You can also cut jugs in half and use the bottom halves as disposable paint buckets when several people work on the same job.


  • Avoid messy paint spills when painting on a scaffold or ladder. Put your paint can and brush in a large bucket and use paint-can hooks to hang the bucket and the brush. If the bucket is large enough, you’ll even have room for your paint scraper, putty knife, rags, or other painting tools you may need. A 5-gallon(19-liter) plastic bucket is ideal.
  • Use the lids from 5-gallon (19-liter) plastic buckets as trays for 1-gallon (3.78-liter) cans of paint. The lids act as platforms for the paint cans and are also large enough to hold a paintbrush.

Coat Hangers

When you are up on a ladder painting your house, one hand is holding on while the other is painting. How do you hold the paint can? Grab a pair of wire snips and cut the hook plus 1 inch (2.5 centimeters) of wire from a wire hanger. Use a pair of pliers to twist the 1-inch section firmly around the handle of your paint can. Now you have a handy hanger.

Coffee Cans

An empty coffee can is perfect for briefly soaking a paintbrush in thinner before continuing a job the next day. Cut an X into the lid and insert the brush handles so the bristles clear the bottom of the can by about 1/2 inch (12 millimeters). If the can has no lid, attach a stick to the brush handle with a rubber band to keep the bristles off the bottom of the can.

Garden Hose

You don’t want that heavy paint can to slip and spill. Plus those thin wire handles can really cut into your hand. Get a better grip by cutting a short length of hose. Slit it down the middle and encase the paint can handle.

Ice Scraper

If you just painted your bath-room and have gotten paint splatters all over your acrylic bathtub, use an ice scraper to remove them without scratching the tub surface. Use ice scrapers to remove paint specks from any other nonmetallic surfaces.


Mix any flavor of unsweetened Kool-Aid into water-based latex paint to alter its color. Or mix unsweetened Kool-Aid with water to create your own watercolors, but don’t give them to the kids — Kool-Aid stains can be tough to remove.

Margarine Tubs

Want to touch up the little spots here and there in the living room, but don’t want to lug around a gallon of paint? Pour a little paint into a margarine tub to carry as you make your inspection. Hold it in a nest of paper towels to catch any possible drips. The tubs with lids are also perfect for storing that little bit of leftover paint for future touch-ups.

Masking Tape

To prevent paint from filling the groove at the top of a paint can, simply cover the rim of the can with masking tape.

Milk Cartons

If you have a small paint project and you don’t want to save the leftover paint (or lug a heavy can), an empty milk carton can help. Just cut off the top of the carton and pour in the amount of paint you need. When the job is finished, throw the carton into the trash, leftover paint and all.


Don’t bother buying thick masking or carpenter tape when painting around the windows of your home. Simply wet several long strips of newspaper and place them on the glass alongside the wood you’re painting. The newspaper will easily adhere to the surface and keep the paint off the glass or frames, and it is much easier to remove than tape.

Paper Bags

You don’t have to make a mess every time you need to spray-paint a small item. Just place the object to be painted inside a large shopping bag and spray away; the bag will contain the excess spray. Once the item has dried, simply remove it and toss away the bag.

Paper Plates

Painters scrape the paintbrush on the side of the can to remove excess paint. To prevent drips from falling on the floor, place a paper plate under the can.

Petroleum Jelly

You’re about to undertake painting the family room. But do you really want to fiddle with removing all the metal fixtures, including doorknobs? Petroleum jelly rubbed on the metal will prevent paint from sticking. When you’re done painting, just wipe off the jelly and the unwanted paint is gone.

Plastic Bags

  • You’re halfway through painting the living room, and it’s time to break for lunch. No need to clean the paintbrush. Just stick it in a plastic bag and it will remain wet and ready to use when you return. Going to finish next weekend, you say? Stick the bag-covered brush in the freezer. Defrost next Saturday and you are ready to go.
  • If you’ve got a few small items to spray-paint, use a plastic bag to control the overspray. Just place one item at a time in the bag, spray-paint, and remove to a spread-out newspaper to dry. When you’re done, toss the bag for a easy cleanup.

Plastic Lids

Worried about getting messy paint drips all over yourself while you’re touching up a repair job on the ceiling? Try this trick. Cut a slot in the middle of a plastic lid. The kind of plastic lid that comes on coffee cans is the perfect size for most paintbrushes. Insert the handle of your paintbrush through the lid so that the lid is on the narrow part of the handle just above your hand. The lid will catch any paint drips. Even with this shield, always be careful not to put too much paint on your brush when you are painting overhead.

Rubber Bands

Every time you dip your paintbrush, you wipe the excess against the side of the can. Before you know it, paint is dripping off the side of the can and the little groove around the rim is so full of paint that it splatters everywhere when you go to hammer the lid back on. Avoiding all this mess is easy. Just wrap a rubber band around the can from top to bottom, going across the middle of the can opening. Now, when you fill your brush, you can just tap it against the rubber band and the excess paint will fall back into the can.


Crawling along the floor to paint a baseboard can get real old real fast. Borrow your kid’s skateboard and save your knees. Sit cross-legged on the skateboard and roll along with your paintbrush and can.


The secret to a good paint touch-up job is to use as little paint as possible, because even if you do have the right paint, the stuff in the can may not exactly match the sun-faded or dirty paint on the furniture. The solution: Dip the end of a toothpick in the paint and use it to touch up just the crevice. Unlike a brush, the toothpick won’t apply more paint than you need, and you won’t have a brush to clean.


  • Place a couple of shallow dishes filled with undiluted white vinegar around a freshly painted room to quickly get rid of the strong paint smell.
  • Painted cement floors have a tendency to peel after a while. But you can keep the paint stuck to the cement longer by giving the floor an initial coat of white vinegar before you paint it. Wait until the vinegar has dried, then begin painting. This same technique will also help keep paint affixed to galvanized metal.
  • To remove dried-on paint from a synthetic-bristle paintbrush, soak it in full-strength white vinegar until the paint dissolves and the bristles are soft and pliable, then wash in hot, soapy water. Does a paintbrush seem beyond hope? Before you toss it, try boiling it in 1-2 cups vinegar for 10 minutes, followed by a thorough washing in soapy water.

Reader's Digest
Originally Published in Reader's Digest