Tack Cloth: Your Ticket to a Flawless Paint Job

Using a Tack Cloth on Wood Surface
Using a Tack Cloth on Wood Surface. Mint Images / Getty

Imagine a "miracle" cleaning cloth that costs less than a Starbucks coffee yet makes your painting or staining job look like a million bucks.  It does exists, it is cheap, and it is called a tack cloth.  

If you have used a shop vacuum or cotton rags to wipe surfaces prior to painting, you know that these take off the majority of the dust, but not all of it.  After a wipe-down with a clean, dry cloth, you may still be able to pull your finger across the surface and come up with discoloration or dust.

The first time you use a tack cloth, you will be amazed at how thoroughly it can clean.

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Tack Cloth:  Your Damp Cloth Substitute

Using a tack cloth can be likened to cleaning a surface with a damp cloth, but without the harmful effects of water on your porous surface.  

Tack cloth is cheese cloth impregnated with beeswax.  It usually comes in small squares.  If not, it is recommended that you cut them into smaller sections.

Professional painters and woodworkers use it to clean off surfaces like baseboards or trim prior to painting, staining, or otherwise coating with some kind of permanent liquid treatment.  After a light wipe-down with tack cloth, the surface will be entirely smooth and dust-free.

It is a one-use-only item. It cannot be rinsed out and reused. When it is full of sawdust and particles, you must throw it away.

 Unfortunately, it cannot be recycled.

What To Use It For

Generally, you will be using tack cloth for smaller areas, not entire walls or floors.  It cleans off sawdust, metal shavings, and other dry construction-related particles.  

What Not To Use It For

  • Anything that is truly dirty--as in dirt from the ground--will not respond well to tack cloth.  The dirt will just smear.
  • Damp items.  Make sure the surface is completely dry before wiping with a tack cloth.  Water will bead off of the tack cloth.
  • Anything that has too much debris.  Tack cloth clogs up quickly.
  • Windows or other areas of glass as it may produce streaks.
  • Ceramic or porcelain tile.
  • Excessively rough areas.  While tack cloth is meant for porous surfaces, areas that are extremely rough will tear the tack cloth.
  • Pliable surfaces such as leather or cloth.

How To Use

  1. Prior to using the tack cloth, vacuum off or wipe down the surface with a clean, dry cotton towel or rag.  The aim is to get rid of as much as possible before using the tack cloth, but without further embedding the dirt into the surface.
  2. While not necessary, it is recommended that you wear latex or vinyl gloves when handling tack cloth.  The wax embeds in your skin and it takes a long time and much scrubbing to remove it.
  3. Using your shop scissors, cut the tack cloth into squares that are about 5" x 5".  If you have a pair of shop scissors, use those, as tack cloth tends to gum up the blades.
  1. Very lightly pull the tack cloth across the surface.  Do not exert hard pressure on the cloth, as this will have the opposite effect of embedding your surface with wax.  
  2. You can visually test for dust and debris by shining a light across the surface at a low angle with the room lights turned off or down.  This will highlight particles remaining on the surface.
  3. If you have wax residue, you can first try wiping down the surface with your clean dry cotton cloth.  If that does not work, your only recourse is to lightly sand off the wax with #180-#100 fine grit sandpaper.
  4. Toss the tack cloth in regular garbage.  Do not burn it.