Done DIYing? Here’s How to Clean Up the Mess You Made

Successfully completing a DIY project on your own can be quite satisfying. Cleaning up the mess left behind is another story. Use these tips to manage the cleanup process.
Deirdre Mundorf Avatar
cleaning up after DIY black female carpenter


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DIY projects often involve cutting or sanding wood, painting, staining, and other actions that can leave behind a big mess. Once you’ve finished a DIY project, the mess left behind can sometimes make you question whether the project was worth it. Fortunately, there are several tips that can help simplify the task of cleaning up. Know the steps for cleaning up the most common messes you’ll encounter after a DIY project, including paint-stained clothing or flooring, epoxy residue on your skin, dust, grease, and more.

RELATED: 35 Tips for Easy Cleanup After Every DIY Project

1. Pick up large debris by hand.

cleaning up after DIY throwing away debris

The first thing you’ll want to do after completing a project is to pick up the large debris. Designate areas for trash, tools that need to be put away, and other materials that need to be returned to their home. You can sort things out as you go, putting everything into one of the piles. Once you’ve cleaned up all of these larger items from the floor or tables, take out the trash and return all the tools and supplies to their storage location.

2. Use magnets to pick up loose metal pieces.

cleaning up after DIY magnetic sweeper

Depending on the nature of your DIY project, there may be nails, screws, or metal shavings on the floor. If left behind, these could pose a safety hazard, so you’ll want to make sure they all get picked up. Rather than picking up all of these metal pieces by hand—or risking damage to your vacuum cleaner—use a magnetic sweeper, like this magnetic sweeper with wheels available on Amazon, to pick them up with ease.

RELATED: The 4 Messiest DIY Projects—And How to Make Cleanup a Breeze

3. Sweep then vacuum to remove smaller debris.

cleaning up after DIY sweeping debris.

Once you’re confident that all of the metal nails and screws have been removed from the floor, you can move on to cleaning up the smaller debris, such as wood chips or shavings, that are left behind after your project. Start with a broom and dustpan to pick up as much as possible. This will save your vacuum any potential damage that larger or sharp pieces can cause. After sweeping, use a powerful vacuum cleaner or a shop vac that’s intended to clean up project materials to suck up the remaining fine bits. For debris and dust, we like this Bissell bagless vacuum and this Craftsman 16-gallon wet/dry vac, both available on Amazon.

4. Clean up excess dust.

cleaning after DIY mopping

Some DIY construction projects can leave behind a lot of dust. Even after vacuuming, it’s likely there will still be residual dust to clean up. To protect yourself as you work, wear a dust mask and safety glasses with particle defense. We like this vented anti-fog pair by 3M available on Amazon, the top pick in our field-tested list of Best Safety Glasses. Use microfiber dusting cloths to wipe down the walls, ceilings, and ceiling fans. Remove the air vents from the walls or floors, and wipe them down too. Then, use a clean microfiber cloth to dust any other surfaces in the room, such as shelves or tables. Run the vacuum cleaner one more time to pick up any dust that was knocked to the floor, then finish the task by using a mop, like this clean rinse spin mop available on Amazon, to finish the floor.

5. Remove paint stains from clothing.

cleaning up after DIY paint stains

One of the most common questions after completing a DIY project is how to get paint out of clothes. Acting as quickly as possible—ideally when the paint is still wet—will yield the best results. After protecting the rest of the clothing from a paint transfer using clean rags, remove as much excess latex paint as possible using a butter knife, rinse the affected area, and blot it dry.

Next, for color-safe fabrics, apply liquid laundry detergent to the stain and use a clean cloth to work it up into a lather. Rinse and blot dry to check your progress, and repeat the above steps as needed. Once you have removed as much of the stain as possible, wash the garment as usual.

6. Get caulk out of clothing.

cleaning up after DIY caulk.

Caulk is another culprit that can get on clothing as you’re completing a DIY project. If you’re wondering how to get caulk out of clothes, it isn’t as difficult as you may think. Like paint, caulk will be easiest to remove when it is still wet, so act quickly when you realize you have caulk on your clothes. To remove water-based caulk, rinse the affected area under running water (choosing a water temperature based on the care instructions for the clothing item). Then, use a clean dry cloth to blot the stain and remove as much of the remaining caulk as possible. Dab rubbing alcohol over the stain to help loosen any remaining caulk. Finally, wash the garment according to the label’s instructions. Before placing the clothing in the dryer, check the previously stained area to confirm that the caulk is gone. If any remains, soak it in rubbing alcohol, blot out the excess, and re-wash the item.

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7. Remove epoxy from your skin.

cleaning up after DIY spreading epoxy on floor

Epoxy makes a wonderful adhesive for many DIY projects, but it can also get stuck to your skin. If you forgot to wear a pair of disposable gloves while working with epoxy, or some of it got smeared onto your arm, don’t fret. Learning how to get epoxy from skin isn’t too challenging, particularly if it hasn’t cured. Begin by soaking a clean white cloth in vinegar. Rubbing the vinegar-soaked cloth on the skin will soften the epoxy and make it easier to peel off. If vinegar doesn’t work, you can follow the same process using an acetone-based nail polish remover. Just take care to work in a well-ventilated area due to the flammable nature of acetone.

8. Clean up sweat stains.

cleaning up after DIY sweat stains

Many DIY projects are a lot of work and can, unfortunately, leave yellow sweat stains behind on your clothing. The steps for how to remove sweat stains are pretty straightforward. Begin by placing the stained shirt in a laundry basin, like this collapsible tub available on Amazon. Pour boiling water over the yellow stains (or cold water if the shirt is made with spandex). Then, mix equal parts baking soda and hydrogen peroxide, and scoop some of the mixture over each stain. Let the solution sit for about 5 minutes, then rub a scrub brush, like this soft bristle fabric brush available on Amazon, over the stain. Rinse the shirt and wash it as you normally do. If necessary, repeat the steps above before drying the shirt.

9. Remove grease stains.

cleaning up after DIY grease stained clothing

After completing a DIY project, you may look down at your shirt or pants and realize that they’re stained with grease from the tools or equipment you were working with. The same dish soap designed to cut through grease on pots and pans can help you remove grease from garments. Lay the clothing item flat with a piece of cardboard under the grease stain. Squirt a little dish soap directly on the stain, and use a clean, soft cloth to rub the detergent over the entire stained area. Allow the soap to sit on the stain for four to five minutes, then launder the item as normal.

RELATED: How to Make a Homemade Degreaser to Conquer Kitchen Grime

10. Get paint off of flooring.

cleaning up after DIY paint stained carpet

Spilled paint or splatters of paint on your floors aren’t the end of the world. Use the tips below to remove paint from various types of flooring:

Carpet: Use dry paper towels to blot the paint from the carpet before it dries. Use a little bit of glycerin, like this vegetable glycerin available on Amazon, to help loosen the paint. Try acetone-based nail polish remover or white vinegar if needed.

Vinyl: Use warm water and dish soap to blot up as much paint as you can. You can use a plastic scraper to help release stuck-on spots. For tougher-to-remove spills, try mineral spirits or rubbing alcohol, but perform a test in an inconspicuous spot first to make sure the solution doesn’t negatively affect the floor’s finish.

Hardwood: To remove latex paint from hardwood floors, work carefully using denatured alcohol and a clean rag.

RELATED: 17 Clever Household Uses for Rubbing Alcohol

11. Change your air filter.

cleaning up after DIY changing air filter

After you’ve completed a DIY project, particularly one that sent a lot of dust and debris into the air, it’s a good idea to change the air filter for your HVAC unit. The old air filter is likely clogged with a lot of dust, which can impact the circulation and quality of air through your home. If you’re working over multiple days, consider changing the air filter more than once over the duration of the project to reduce filter build-up.

12. Keep your space functional while DIYing.

cleaning up after DIY workspace

Many DIY projects take multiple days to complete. Many people don’t have a workshop or garage space where they can leave their project set out. If this describes you, then it’s likely you’re working in the middle of a living space in your home that still needs to function during the times when you’re not actively working on the project.

To keep the space functional, try to set up your workspace in a corner of the room where it can sit uninterrupted during other times of the day. You can help contain t

he mess by laying a tarp, like this waterproof tarp available on Amazon, under your workspace or covering furniture with tarps or blankets while you work. Once you’re done for the day, do a quick sweep of the area to clean up loose debris, cover your workspace (if possible), and uncover the furniture in the room.