How Not to Paint an Area Rug

  • 01 of 05

    The Tools

    Preparing to paint my area rug
    Cheryl Simmons

    Having seen many beautiful DIY rug-painting projects online, I decided to give it a try, and to share the process with my readers. Let me preface this article by stating that I am not the world’s craftiest person – far from it, actually. So, please keep that in mind as you read about my mistakes, and when you see the finished product!

    What I Used

    • 1 can of Simply Spray Upholstery Fabric Spray Paint
    • 1 piece of carpet 2’ wide by 5’ long
    • Painter’s tape
    • Tape measure
    • Protective gloves
    • A board to protect the floor underneath (you can easily use plastic or a drop sheet)

    My First Mistake

    The first mistake I made with this project was to use the wrong style of carpet. Rug painting works best with a short-pile or even looped carpet. I knew this; however, as this was more of an experiment than an actual project, I limited my options to those in the “scrap” pile of my carpet store (the odds and ends that are usually small off-cuts from jobs, that the customers don’t wish to keep). So, my selection was fairly small, and I settled for an off-white saxony, even though I suspected the fibers would be too long for the paint to really be effective.

    Continue to 2 of 5 below.
  • 02 of 05

    The Prep Work

    Measuring and taping the stripe pattern in the area rug.
    Cheryl Simmons

    I decided on a striped design for my rug (which is really a runner, since it is long and narrow). I first calculated the length, and figured out how many equal-sized stripes could fit. I did this on graph paper. I then measured out the stripes on the rug, and taped off the sections with regular painter’s tape. If you are doing a similar project, use caution when measuring your stripes, and remember to allow for the width of the painter’s tape when measuring your next section.

    Pro Tips

    Before tackling the project, I contacted the distributor for some tips on using the paint. A representative advised me that the paint can only cover a color lighter than the paint. So for example, I could paint a white rug black, but I could not paint a black rug white. So, after choosing the paint color Periwinkle, I made sure to choose a carpet in a much lighter color.

    The distributor spokesperson also recommended that when painting, I should start off of the product and end off of the product. In other words, I should start spraying the paint beside the rug, spray it over the rug, and then keep spraying until I am off the rug again. This helps to minimize drips that can happen when the spraying starts and stops. 

    Continue to 3 of 5 below.
  • 03 of 05

    Painting Stripes

    Spray painting stripes on the area rug.
    Cheryl Simmons

    My Second Mistake

    Armed with the can of paint, a small amount of know-how and a large amount of enthusiasm, I began painting. That’s when I noticed my second mistake of the project. One strip of painter’s tape is not enough protection from the overspray. The paint sprayed far beyond the tape borders I had so carefully measured and placed.

    At this point, I set the paint aside, and doubled up on my painter’s tape by adding another strip alongside each existing piece. I remembered to add the extra strip on the inside of my tape borders, so that I wasn’t covering up the parts of the carpet that would become the stripes.

    Continue to 4 of 5 below.
  • 04 of 05

    First Coat

    Painted stripes on carpet runner
    Cheryl Simmons

    I then continued painting, until all of the stripes had been painted. And I realized that the paint still sprayed beyond my double-tape borders. Fortunately, I was able to blot the paint up while it was still wet, to avoid any obvious blue paint between the stripes.

    I left the paint to dry overnight, and followed the directions on the paint can to ensure that I would be able to use the paint again the following day.

    By the next day, the paint had substantially lightened in color. This probably occurred as a result of the carpet fibers and carpet backing soaking up the paint. I also noticed a lot of streaking, where I had obviously not applied the paint as evenly as I should have. So, the rug definitely needed a second coat of paint.

    Following the same method as the day before, I applied another coat of paint to the stripes, and then left the rug to dry overnight.

    Continue to 5 of 5 below.
  • 05 of 05

    Shadow Stripes

    DIY painted stripe area rug
    Cheryl Simmons

    I waited a full 24 hours before peeling off the tape, which is when I noticed just how far the paint sprayed. The overspray is huge. As you can see, the color extended way beyond my tape borders, so that when the tape was peeled off, a new pattern was created. Actually, I really like the way the pattern turned out, however unintentional it was.

    The Biggest Problem

    Even though the stripes are pretty, what lies beneath is the biggest problem. As mentioned before, this was truly the wrong style of carpet on which to use this product. It coated only the tips of the fibers, leaving the rest of the strand the original carpet color. So, when the fibers are moved a bit (such as will happen when the rug is walked on) the off-white color shines through. It is also visible along the edges of the rug. This could have likely been covered by binding or serging the edges of the rug, but since the experiment was less than successful, I didn’t bother to find out.

    In addition to the appearance of the rug, the feel of it was ruined by the spray paint. Although the paint promises to leave the material soft, the painted areas of the carpet felt rough and stiff. It may be due to the amount of paint that had to be used as the carpet absorbed much of it, but regardless, it would not be pleasant to walk on.

    Lessons Learned

    So, as you can see, my painted rug didn’t exactly turn out how I wanted it to. To summarize the important lessons from my rug-painting fail:

    • Use the right style of carpet – something short or looped
    • Fully cover all areas of the rug that you do not want painted, due to the large overspray
    • Apply the paint evenly to avoid streaking
    • Take the rug to a carpet retailer to have it professionally finished around the edges
    • Because this product may make the fibers stiff, it is probably best used on rugs that will not be walked on barefoot (such as under a dining room table)

    I have chalked it up to a learning experience, one that I hope you can learn from as well!