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How to clean paint from outlet and switch covers

Earlier this year, I did some cosmetic fix-up of a house that, among other things, had a lot of painted-over outlet covers. Preventing that is easy–it takes a couple of minutes to unscrew the cover and put tape over the outlet–but if someone didn’t do that, the cleanup is cheap and easy too, even years after the painting mishap. And all you need are common household items to clean paint from outlet and switch covers or other types of wall plates.

Key takeaways to clean paint from outlet and switch covers

remove paint from outlet covers

To clean paint from outlet and switch covers, soak them in generic pine cleaner or scrub them with a scouring pad soaked in generic pine cleaner.

  • Generic pine cleaner is effective for cleaning and removing paint from outlet and switch covers, even if it’s completely dry
  • You can soak the covers in the cleaner or scrub them with a scouring pad soaked in cleaner
  • Soaking for 30 minutes generally works well but paint can start to lift in as little as 5 minutes
  • Wear rubber gloves while handling the pine cleaner, as it can dry out your hands

Process and materials to clean paint from outlet and switch covers

All you need to do to clean the paint off is pour some generic pine cleaner (the dollar store varieties usually work better for this purpose than the brand-name equivalent) into a plastic container. Then drop the plates in. You can clean them off one at a time or in batches, whatever is more convenient. Let it sit for a few minutes. Depending on the paint, it could take as little as 5 minutes or closer to 30. In extreme cases you may need to let it soak a few hours, but that’s unusual.

Once you start to see the cleaner turn the color of the paint, fish the covers out, scrub off any remaining paint with a green scouring pad, and rinse. It’s best to wear kitchen gloves while you’re handling it, because the pine cleaner will dry out your hands. As long as the cover isn’t too scratched up, it will be good as new. Sometimes better.

It’s cheap, too. A few ounces of cleaner costs 25 cents and is enough to clean every cover in the house. The plates aren’t terribly expensive either, but cleaning them takes scarcely more effort than changing them. If you’re changing more than three, replacing them costs more than the whole bottle of the cleaner. As long as the wall plates aren’t broken, it makes good economic and environmental sense to clean them.

This trick works on baseboards and trim, too

If you have baseboards or trim with paint mishaps on them, this trick could help those too. Pine cleaners are harmless to wood. That’s what they’re designed for, after all. But it turns out they’re really hard on house paint. Sometimes you can just scrub the paint off with a scouring pad soaked in pine cleaner, but if that isn’t enough, you can remove the board, put some pine cleaner in the tub, and give the trim a bath.

The paint doesn’t especially want to stick to the varnish on the trim. And it really doesn’t want to stick to plastic without a primer. So it usually doesn’t take long at all for the pine cleaner to lift the paint.

When I recommend changing covers

The only time I recommend changing the covers is to change the color scheme, or to save energy. While you’re working on the outlets, I do recommend adding insulating pads before you put the covers back on. It’s one of several little things you can do to save a surprising amount of energy, and therefore, money.

And if you do want to change the color scheme, you can properly paint the wall plates. The key to getting good results that will last and look good is good prep work.

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