Spray Paint Rug Instructions and Mistakes to Avoid

Use Fabric Spray Paint for Small, Indoor Rugs

Tools and supplies needed to paint an area rug
Cheryl Simmons

Use this step-by-step guide to spray paint a striped rug. It includes common mistakes to avoid and what you should do instead.

Most people do not even know that painting a rug is even an option. But, if you look online, there are many beautiful DIY rug-painting projects. And, sometimes, you want the perfect little accent, but nothing in the stores will do. Grab some fabric paint, think up a pattern, and breathe new life into an old indoor rug. It's also a great way to hide an annoying area rug stain that you can't get out.

The following example is for a striped, 5-by-2-foot runner.

Materials Used in This Project

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

First Mistake

The first mistake is to use the wrong style of carpet. Rug painting works best with a short-pile or even looped carpet. Do not just go to the scrap pile of a carpet store (the odds and ends that are usually small off-cuts from jobs, that the customers do not wish to keep). In this case, an off-white ​Saxony was used even though the fibers were a little too long for the paint to really be effective.

The Prep Work

Come up with a pattern, in this case, a striped design for this rug (which is really a runner, since it is long and narrow). Calculate the length and figure out how many equal-sized stripes will fit. Do a dry run on graph paper. Then, measure out the stripes on the rug, and tape off the sections with regular painter’s tape. Be mindful when measuring your stripes and remember to allow for the width of the painter’s tape when measuring your next section.

Measuring tape and taped down rug prepped for stripe design
Measuring and taping the stripe pattern in the area rug. Cheryl Simmons

Pro Tips

  • When choosing your paint color, keep in mind that the paint can only cover a color lighter than the paint. So, for example, you can paint a white rug black, but you can not paint a black rug white. 
  • To minimize paint drips, you will need to spray paint beyond the rug. So, in this case, you should start spraying the paint beside the rug, spray it over the rug, and then keep spraying until you are off the rug again. 

Avoid This Mistake When Painting Stripes

The second mistake of the project is that one strip of painter’s tape is not enough protection from the overspray. The paint sprays far beyond a thin-strip tape border.

In this case, you need to double up on the painter’s tape by adding another strip alongside each existing piece. Add the extra strip on the inside of your tape borders, so that you are not covering up the parts of the carpet that would become the stripes.

Tape applied to an area rug to create a stripe design
Spray painting stripes on the area rug. Cheryl Simmons

First Coat

Continued painting until all stripes have been painted. If you notice that any paint has sprayed beyond your double-tape borders, blot the paint up while it is still wet to avoid any obvious paint between the stripes.

Leave the paint to dry overnight. Check the directions on the paint can to ensure that you can use the paint again the following day.

The next day, in this case, the paint had substantially lightened in color. The carpet fibers and carpet backing soaked up the paint. There was a lot of streaking where the paint was not applied evenly. So, this rug needed a second coat of paint. A second coat was added and again left to dry overnight.

Carpet runner with stipes of blue paint applied between tapelines
Painted stripes on carpet runner Cheryl Simmons

Shadow Stripes

Wait a full 24 hours before peeling off the tape. In this case, you can see how far the paint sprayed. The overspray is huge. The color extended way beyond the tape borders so that when the tape was peeled off, a new pattern was created with faint, shadow stripes.

DIY blue and white striped rug
DIY painted stripe area rug Cheryl Simmons

The Biggest Problem

Even though the stripes are pretty, what lies beneath is the biggest problem. Since this was truly the wrong style of carpet, 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 underneath is visible. The original carpet fibers are 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, it was not done).

The overall feel of the carpet was ruined by the spray paint. Although spray paint usually promises to leave the material soft, the painted areas of the carpet felt rough and stiff. This was likely due to the amount of paint that had to be used as the carpet absorbed much of it, but regardless, it was not pleasant to walk on.

Lessons Learned

The painted rug didn’t exactly turn out how it was intended, but valuable lessons were learned to make the next project a success. 

  • Use the right style of carpet—a pile that is short or looped
  • Fully cover all areas of the rug that you do not want to be 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)