Affordable Solution for Removing Primer and Paint Spills from Concrete

By: Liz Sadoff

This article has been generously provided by Findamuralist member, Tom Renick. Owner of Murals By Renick, Tom has more than 35 years of commercial art experience, providing custom, hand-painted murals, faux finishing, decorative painting, and hand lettering for commercial and residential applications throughout the Houston, Texas area.

Have you ever spilled paint or primer on concrete while painting a mural?  A few years ago I did and it could have cost me a couple of thousand dollars to correct it, that is until I figured out how to clean it without leaving a trace.

Mason Barn Project; site of spilled primer debacle. Pre-cleaned state.

In this particular case, I was applying primer on a large garage door for an outdoor mural.  I chose to use Glidden® Gripper Primer because of its fantastic ability to adhere to just about any surface—even glass—but it’s extremely difficult to clean up if you get it on an unwanted surface, especially porous concrete.

A strong wind blew my tarp up in the air on my first day of the project, and a full gallon of the gleaming white primer spilled all over the concrete slab beneath where I was working.  After recovering from the “oops factor,” I quickly hosed the primer off with water, but that just didn’t do the job.  I scrubbed and scrubbed with water and a broom, but the residue was still there–and when the slab was wet the stain really showed up!  Needless to say, the owner of the property was not happy at all, so I decided to call in a high-pressure washer expert several weeks after the spill had baked into the concrete by the hot Texas sun.

The “so-called” pro came and pressure washed the slab but he could not get the residue off, so he used more pressure until he started etching the new slab.  He finally gave up and walked away defeated by the stubborn residue.  Once again, the property owner expressed his displeasure, so I offered to break the concrete out and have it re-poured at my expense.  “There goes all of my profits,” I thought.

An Aquatic Themed Mural by the artist

After pondering the potential financial loss, I decided to try to remove the baked-in primer myself.  I purchased brush cleaner from Home Depot for the 5 X 15 foot spot and only saturated small areas for three to five minutes at a time so that I could keep the dissolved primer residue manageable.  After pouring the brush cleaner directly on the residue, I scrubbed the area with a wire brush on a handle from different angles while standing so that I could apply firm pressure.  With the brush cleaner still wet, I blasted away the residue with a high-pressure washer using a moderate amount of pressure so that I wouldn’t etch the concrete further.  I continued this process until the entire spill area had been cleaned.  To make sure that all of the residue had been completely removed, I hosed the area with water and realized that it needed a second effort on some of the suborn areas.  With each application of the brush cleaner, I used the high-pressure washer to remove all residue so that the dissolved residue didn’t migrate to new areas like a cancer.  Once I completed this process, I hosed the slab off again with water and realized that I had cleaned the slab all the way down into the pores.  I had removed every sign of the residue so that no one could tell that the primer had ever been spilt there, even when the slab was wet!

Looking back, I realized that I had consulted with several pressure washing pros, but none of them thought that the slab could be saved.  With a lot of prayer and a little ingenuity, I realized that there really wasn’t any reason to cry over spilt primer!

The Artist in Full Work Mode

Next time you spill paint or primer on concrete, try this process.  It can restore concrete to its original state and save hundreds (if not thousands of dollars) in replacing a concrete slab.

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