How to Avoid a Paint Can Mess

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Paint and Art

My DIY husband is back with a request to help a reader avoid a paint can mess. You’ll love this easy and efficient tip from a professional painter. 

From Tim: Let’s talk about that paint can.  Many of you may have heard of putting a layer of plastic wrap over the opening before tapping the lid down.  Not a bad idea, but not fool-proof.  The brave among you may even combine that tip with storing the can upside down.  Potentially disastrous and still not a complete fix. 

There is a step prior to closing that lid at the end of your project that can make a HUGE difference, both while you work and long after you’re done.  The trick is this; metal paint cans have a groove all the way around the top.  This is designed to accommodate paint that is rubbed off your brush after you dip into the paint.  It does the job, but most DIY painters are notoriously messy here.  Look at the side of the can!  Catastrophic. 

Paint and Mess

So here’s what you do: immediately upon opening the can for the first time, Get a standard sized slotted screwdriver (not the one that looks like an asterisk, the other one) and a hammer.

Mess and Paint

Punch three holes in that groove along the top of the can. 

Space them about three inches apart, lightly enlarging each one after the screwdriver penetrates the can. 

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Paint and Mess

DON’T do this all the way around the lip!  These holes will allow the paint to run back down into the can! 

Paint and Mess

Occasionally clean the groove with your brush tip and the excess will be directed to the holes and drain away. 

Paint and Mess

If you force yourself to only drag the brush across the side of the can with the holes (I consistently make that the label side with all the instructions), your can will stay clean, you will have FAR less drips as you work, and, with a much cleaner groove without a bunch of dried paint interfering with the seal, that lid will fit nice and snug where it’s supposed to go.

Good luck!

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  1. I always pour the paint I think I will use in that session, into another container with a plastic bag inside the container.

    I put the top of the bag down using a rubber band so that it doesn’t come out of the container while I’m using it.

    This also makes it easy to clean up by tying up the bag & tossing it out. I also use a container that I have a lid for so that I can seal it up if I don’t use it all.

    This is also helpful if I find that I need to add a little water or thinners to the paint instead of having to add to the whole can. It’s also helpful if I want to add another colour to the paint, eg. white paint to give a shaded effect on drawers.

    1. Hi, Wendy. Thanks for sharing your tip. MY husband’s the professional so I leave the paint cans up to him! I’m purely a chalk paint gal myself. 🙂

    1. Hey, Bonnie. I’m glad you liked my husband’s paint can trick. He’s full of bright ideas and is pretty good about letting me share them!

  2. Thank you!! I tried this once years ago but used a nail instead of a flat screwdriver. The hole was too small for the paint to drip down. I will try again using a flat screwdriver and make more holes.

    1. Hi, Jeanette. I’m so glad my husband’s paint lid tip was helpful. He’s full of helpful ideas! If you click on the DIY tab you can see his Ask Tim posts. Thanks for visiting!

  3. Oh! I have tried using nails, but nail holes fill with paint and becoming self-sealing, which undoes the hole. But a screwdriver hole, that makes sense. Why not do it all the way around?? However, If I had known this, I wouldn’t be in the jam (paint jam) that I am in now, with a mess….
    I am going to get a clean new can from the hardware store, and do this for the paint that is left so It can be treated and keep the last of the paint for my room in pristine condition!

  4. Genius! LOL ~ thanks for the tip.
    I’m visiting you today from Uncommon Slice of Suburbia. I co-host a Linky Party Tuesday (opens at Midnight Mon). I hope you get a chance to stop by my blog, link up and leave a comment, too!
    ~ Megin of VMG206
    Join me each Tuesday for Brag About It Link Up Party

    1. Haha! I hope it goes viral. It’s been slow going so far. I always wonder if my pic helps or hurts and if the graphic is just right. Silly, I know, but I’m still learning!

    1. Hi, Lucy. I’m so glad you liked my husband’s paint can tip. He has great ideas, doesn’t he? He actually has written some posts for me (Ask Tim) if you want to check out his handy DIY skills! Thanks for stopping by!

  5. So that’s how you do it! This info came just in time as my hubby and I are in the middle of a whole house re-paint (inside). Thanks for sharing this! I found you on the Stonegable blog hop.