How to Clean and Care for your Mylar Stencils

Mylar is polyester

Mylar (polyester) stencils are lightweight and durable, but paint residue can build up over time, resulting in a blotchy or drippy application of paint. Fortunately, cleaning your mylar stencil is easy. Just follow these steps.

What You’ll Need

What you’ll need depends on what it is that you want to get off the stencil. Most stencils work with water-based acrylic paint. If that’s you, then gather the following items before beginning the cleaning process:

  • mild soap (for water-based acrylics)
  • a soft cloth or sponge
  • a soft-bristled brush

For cleaning up spray paint

Spray paint is super fast and convenient, and durable. But that makes it harder to clean off your mylar stencil. See below, you may not need to clean your spray paint stencils so often. But when you do, you’ll need to gear up a little.

  • a very flat tray (the flatter the tray, less acetone you’ll use)
  • acetone (8 oz or more)
  • butyl rubber gloves (not stretchy latex gloves, those will dissolve in acetone)
  • q-tips (cotton swabs for the small openings and corners)
  • industrial brush with soft bristles

Oil painting with stencils

If you’re using oil, then you can get the oil paint residue off your stencil by wiping it with a clean, dry cloth. Don’t let the stencil sit more than overnight, or it will become difficult to get clean. Don’t use solvents on a mylar stencil, because this will weaken or dissolve the stencil. And don’t use water to clean up oil paint, because you’ll end up with a big mess and nothing will be cleaner when you’re done. 🙂

Cleaning the Stencil

Start by prepping your stencil for cleaning. To do this, gently brush away any dust and debris that may have built up in the crevices of your stencil. Dip your cloth or sponge in water, then apply a few drops of mild soap to the cloth or sponge.

Once the soap is worked into the cloth or sponge, begin to scrub the stencil with the cloth or sponge. Using circular motions, dab the soapy cloth or sponge onto the stencil. Make sure you cover the entire surface of the stencil, including the margins.

When finished, rinse off the stencil with warm water and a clean cloth. This will help remove any soap residue that may be lingering on the mylar. Be sure to completely dry the stencil before putting it away.

Once it’s dry, you may want to flatten it between books or weights to make sure it’s nice and flat for the next use.

If the stencil is particularly dirty, you may need to use a soft-bristled brush to remove any stubborn dirt or debris. Be careful not to tear the bridges while using the brush; brushing along the bridges works better than brushing perpendicular to the bridges.

Tips to Preserve your Stencil

Following the basic cleaning protocol outlined above is important for preventing the buildup of paint, dirt and grime on your mylar stencil. However, there are also a few other things you can do to help ensure your stencil stays clean and crisp.

Flat and dry, away from heat and light. Whenever possible, store your stencil in a dry and ventilated area that is away from direct sunlight. This will help prevent discoloration caused by UV light and moisture buildup.

Clean hands and clean surfaces. Handle your stencil with clean hands, and let it rest on clean surfaces–especially when it’s still wet with paint. Avoid touching it directly with your fingertips and opt for wearing cotton gloves if possible. This will help keep dirt and oils from accumulating on your stencil.

Do I really need to clean the stencil?

What it really comes down to, is how many times do you want to use it? You can dab it a dozen times before any paint starts to accumulate in the cracks. Or you can spray it a few dozen times before you notice any difference in the applied image. So, if you only want to use it a few times you probably don’t need to clean it at all.

Also, each time you let it dry counts for more iterations, because if you let it dry before you use it again you have two layers of paint to get off that dried at different times.

Consider that a mylar stencil will live longer than you will–so it’s better to preserve it and pass it along through a service like this stencil trading group on Facebook.

Stencils cut from paper card stock

Don’t like to clean up? Stencils cut from paper card stock can also be used many times over, depending on factors like:

  • how thickly you apply paint (spraying doesn’t accumulate as fast as dabbing paint)
  • how uniform you need the stencil to be (for 100 applications on the living room wall, you’ll probably want a cleanable, durable mylar stencil)
  • how roughly you handle the stencil (card stock is tough, but you’ll lose bridges if you warp and bend it enough times)

So, if you can get by with a stencil cut from card stock, do it: it’s easier for you and better for the environment overall.