Clean Stencils with Simple Green

How to Clean Stencils

For the longest time I’ve been trying to find a way to clean my stencils.  I know you’re probably thinking why didn’t I just clean them right after each use?  That would be the smart thing to do but during workshops there isn’t time to clean after each person so I just went with it.

After many coats of paint, the stencils became a complete mess, especially the ones from Old Sign Stencils because they were used a lot.  My options seemed simple, try and clean or replace.  I decided to clean because spending hundreds of dollars to replace didn’t sound like an option.

This led me to ask several folks how they clean stencils and after receiving few responses I was a little frustrated.

  • Wash them right after using in warm soapy water, great advice for new stencils.
  • Completely ignored, not so nice.
  • Or was told they didn’t wash them, really?

While going through my stencil collection again Robert said, “I have the perfect product to clean those.”

He handed me a bottle of this Simple Green, something he uses for hobby painting.  He paints miniature 40k plastic figures and sometimes he needs to strip the paint and this is what he uses.

He got me my own bottle said to spray several times, let it sit and wipe the paint right off.

Stencils with lots of paint will also need to soak in water

Spray, Soak and wipe off

He was right for stencils that have maybe one – three layers of paint you can just spray the stencil with simple green cleaner, let it sit for 10-20 minutes and wipe it clean.

However, for stencils that are coated to the point they’ve lost the ability to use property you need to step things up and do the following.

  • Get a tub of water and fill the base with water.
  • Make sure the tub allows the stencil to lay flat so it’s covered in water.
  • Spray the stencil with simple green at least two or three times before soaking.
  • Let it sit overnight – if you soak it during the day you may want to check and see if the paint is coming off by rubbing the stencil and apply additional spray.

When Stencils are Thick with Paint

When stencils are thick with paint like this one, it’s going to take time to remove the layers.  Because these stencils are a hard plastic I was able to lightly use a scrubber to remove some of the layers in addition to rubbing with a rag.  Then I sprayed again before placing it back in the water.

I recommend never letting your stencils get to this state, this was a careless act on my part while leading workshops.  I should have taken the time to clean between each use instead of being concerned with moving forward quickly.

Spray and soak stencil in water for 24 hours

Soaking for Hours

This stencil was in bad shape and it had to sit overnight to remove all the paint.  But the good news is simple green worked on all my stencils. With stencils that had a couple coats of paint it took around 10 -15 minutes to clean, this was fantastic!

Clean stencils Paint Free

Here are two restored stencils, the garden stencil that was deeply covered in paint is now back to a white base and ready to use again. The other stencil I haven’t used as much so cleaning was a breeze.

Now that I have a product that works I’ve been busy cleaning the rest of my stencil collection that includes an assortment in addition to Old Sign, like Cutting Edge Stencils and others purchased from craft stores.  The goal is to clean them all and never let paint build up again.

Simple Green can be purchased at any grocery retail store like Walmart.  This product states being a natural cleaner but I would recommend doing your research first if keeping your home toxic free is important.

How to Clean Stencils with Simple Green



  1. Susan says:

    My stencils look just like yours. I couldn’t
    even use it last time I tried. Thanks for the tip I’m going to go get some!!

    1. Carole says:

      Glad I could help… I had to toss my Farmer’s Market one because it was beyond help.

  2. Judy says:

    My snow flakes on the OSS were so caked with paint they weren’t useable. Same thing– workshops. I scraped it off with my finger nail. Yuck. Trying Simple Green tomorrow!!

    1. Carole says:

      I have a workshop coming up but this time I’m insisting we clean after each use. If it’s caked on it will take some soaking and additional spraying to be patient. I got tired with trying to clean my coffee stencil from OSS so I tossed it and ordered another one.

  3. Karen says:

    This is a fantastic tip! I usually wash my stencils off right away, but can never get them completely clean after that first use. I’m going to try this to get those remaining paint flecks cleaned off. Thanks for sharing (and thank Robert too)! 🙂

    1. Carole says:

      You are so welcome – Yes Robert saves the day again. It’s a great tip and works best right after you stencil.

  4. Patti says:

    Great news! I have several coated stencils that I kind of shy away from using because I had no idea how to clean them. Off to buy some Simple Green. Who knew?

    1. Carole says:

      Well apparently Robert knew, LOL. He paints these plastic miniatures and sometimes he has to remove the paint so this is what he uses and said it would work like a charm and as much as I hate to admit it, he was right. Better to use after each use because when they get to thick it takes awhile to remove all those layers. Patience, it’s something I lack.

  5. Suzanne says:

    THANK YOU! THANK YOU! THANK YOU! You just saved me so much time, money and frustration!

    1. Carole says:

      You’re very welcome – I get the frustration because replacing stencils can get expensive.

  6. Bliss says:

    OK, I’m in the line of never cleaning them so I will do it. I happen to have a nice big bathtub I can soak them in. However, how about a long term solution for us lazy folks. We need some sort of a long shallow tub that we can keep the water in all the time, then when we are done at least put them in this tray right away till we can come back to clean them.

    1. Carole says:

      That black tub I used came from Tractor Supply and farm store would have them and they work great for all size stencils. I wouldn’t use my bathtub cause then you’d have to clean that next.

  7. Maryjane says:

    Thanks for a great idea

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