A quick look at my vast stencil collection will clearly tell you I am in the “Not to Clean” camp. Over the years, I have tried various methods recommended by other stencilers, but invariably end up damaging my stencils in the process. I have tried Simple Green, Dawn, Krud Kutter, nylon scrubbies, soaking the stencils in my bathtub or sink, spraying with various cleaners and rolling in plastic to soak, etc. Basically, you name it and I’ve tried it. The problem for me seems to be when I have to scrub the stencil to get the paint off that the cleaner has not loosened. This is where I rip the bridges.
And how on earth do you clean these very large stencils???? I could easily make a “Funniest Home Video” with my attempts at this task! I have a very small bathroom with no large tile area that does not have either a window, soap dish or towel bar. If I had a large, tiled surface that was uninterrupted, it would be ideal to stick the large stencil there and hose it off. These stencils are so big, that they do not fit in my bathtub. Trying to clean one of these in my tiny bathroom, is not too unlike trying to clean a large dog in there! I wrestle with keeping the stencil in the tub, not getting completely drenched myself, and not hurting either me or the stencil in the process.
I’ve heard some say they clean their stencils on the job site. I’ve rarely done this. Again, where do you do this without creating total havoc in someone’s house? When doing a recent commercial job, the closest source of water was a small slop sink in the maintenance room, which was locked most of the times I needed it. I had one small pail of water at my disposal.
The method that has worked best for me has been to just let the paint dry on the stencil and keep reusing it until it is no longer usable. I buy multiple copies of a stencil I know I will be using a lot for a specific job and just figure that cost factor into my pricing.
Troweling plasters and various texture materials through a stencil creates a whole new set of issues. For this process, I lay the dirty stencils out on large, heavy sheets of plastic and scrape the excess material off of the stencil so I can continue. Of course, when using this method, now you have to deal with wiping off the plastic that the stencil was lying on, before you lay down the adhesive sprayed stencil to clean, or else you now have the back of your stencil to clean too!
On a recent commercial job, I was using the large Rattan stencil, rolling latex paint through the stencil. There was absolutely no place to clean this stencil, so I alternated the 2 large pieces I had with me, taping one to the large plate glass windows to dry, as I used the other one. When finished, I had to just roll up these paint encrusted stencils and bring home to wash. Of course, when I got home, I had to quickly shower and change to go out to a Holiday event for the evening. The next day I was out the door early for another job, and the week continued at that pace. The dirty stencils continue to sit rolled up in my studio. Now, how do you clean these neglected stencils, weeks (sometimes months!) later? Is there a miracle solution/method I have not tried?
I would love to hear how others clean their stencils, so please share your methods here!