How To Fix Spray Paint Drips and Runs (Or Prevent Them Entirely)

I love spray painting because it is a quick and easy way to complete a project, and I don’t have to use my least favorite thing ever – paintbrushes. But, a lack of preparation and patience can lead to one of the biggest issues with spray paint – drips and runs.

Avoid spray paint drips and runs by painting on a horizontal surface, keeping the can 10-12 inches away from the surface you are painting, and using multiple quick, thin coats of paint. To fix spray paint drips or runs, you can carefully scrape them with a razor blade or lightly sand them with fine sandpaper. Wet drips can be wiped with a rag or cloth.

Read on to learn more about how to fix and prevent spray paint drips or runs to make your next project easier and faster!

What causes spray paint to drip?

Before you can learn how to spray paint without drips or runs, you need to understand why they happen in the first place.

There is really only one reason that spray paint will drip in the first place – there is too much paint. Now, ‘too much paint’ is a vague amount on purpose because you can use the exact same paint can and technique on two different surfaces and one might drip while the other doesn’t.

Why?

It’s because paint adheres to different surfaces in different ways. For instance, spray paint will soak into wood quickly while the same amount of paint might pool on top of a piece of plastic or glass. So, you’ll need to adjust your technique depending on what kind of surface you are working with.

Here is a quick table to illustrate my point:

Paint material or conditionAdjustment needed
Painting horizontal surfaceNormal coat
Real WoodHeavier coats
MetalLighter coats
PlasticLighter coats
Laminate or Veneer WoodLighter coats
GlassLighter coats
High temperatureLighter coats
Low temperatureLighter coats
High humidityLighter coats
Low humidityLighter coats
Surface not primedLighter coats
Painting vertical surfaceLighter coats
Adjustments for various materials and surface conditions while spray painting

Now, let’s look at how to fix them!

How to fix spray paint drips?

It is very common to get drips while spray painting, so it’s best to assume it’s going to happen and go into your project with a plan.

If you are me, then you should always assume that something will go wrong 😉

Keep in mind that fixing spray paint drips is much easier when they are still wet, so that’s where we’ll start.

Option #1 – Keep a lint-free cloth or towel handy while spray painting

You will likely be able to see any drips or runs develop while you spray paint because it usually happens shortly after you spray the paint.

remove spray paint drips with a brush, cloth, or towel
How to fix spray paint drips

Keep an eye out while you are painting and take quick breaks between every few passes to visually inspect your work and detect any drips before they dry. If you see a drip, go ahead and give it a quick wipe with your lint-free cloth or towel.

Note that I said LINT FREE cloth or towel – this is critical. Since the paint is still wet, you want to avoid rubbing lint into the paint at all costs because this will just cause an entirely new problem that is harder to fix. Be careful and only lightly dab or rub away the drip itself.

Once you’ve rubbed away the wet drip, allow the paint to dry and then hit it with another coat or two to cover up the bare spot. If the surface remains smooth, you’re good to go!

If the surface is a bit rough or has an imperfection around where you wiped it, you’ll need to move on to the next step.

Option #2 – Scrape off dry drips or runs with a razor blade or paint scraper

If you can’t get the drip when its still wet, you’ll have to wait until it is completely dry to avoid causing more work for yourself.

use a razor blade to remove spray paint drips or runs

Once the drip is dry, you can take a sharp razor or paint scraper (make sure it has a razor edge) and carefully scrape away the drip. Place the scraper on the flat, non-dripped part of the paint and lightly push, letting the flat surface remove just the drip and not the rest of the paint.

If all goes well, you’ll remove just the extra paint from the top, leaving the surface painted below.

If you push too hard with the blade, you risk scraping up other paint around the drip.

If you push too lightly, you won’t scrape the paint even with the surface of whatever you are painting.

use a paint scraper to remove spray paint drips

Note: this method can be a bit tricky if you are working on a curved surface or a project with a lot of angles or details. If this is you, remove the drip the best way you can and assume that you’ll need to do some touch-ups with sandpaper and another coat or two of paint.

Or, you could move on to the next stop and avoid the razor altogether.

But first, here is an excellent, no-nonsense video demonstrating how to scrape off paint drips without damaging the paint!

Option #3 – Use fine sandpaper to lightly sand the drips or runs

You’ll need to move on to sanding for finely detailed surfaces, curved surfaces, or surfaces that you messed up using the first two methods.

Sanding is the last resort because it takes a bit longer and you’ll need to clean up the surface of your paint afterward to get rid of any paint dust. But, sanding will always fix drips or runs in your spray paint because it levels the paint to the surface of the material and you can always just remove all of the paint altogether and start over.

lightly sand away spray paint drips or runs

Of course, we don’t want to start over if we can help it.

So, always remove the minimum amount of paint – the drip itself and a little bit of paint surrounding it.

After sanding, you’ll need to wipe off the surface with a lint-free cloth to remove the dust and then apply another (thin) coat of paint or two. If you still see an imperfection in the paint after going through this process, you might need to go through it again to even it out.

Here is a great demonstration of using an aggressive sanding tool along with a fine sanding block to remove runs in a painted wall:

How to fix spray paint drips on plastic

Plastic is an easy material to spray paint but the incredibly smooth and glossy texture of its surface can make it easier for spray paint to run or drip, especially if the plastic is hot or you are painting a vertical surface.

To fix spray paint drips on plastic, you should scrape away the drip instead of sanding it because the paint will come up easily with a scraper and if you sand plastic the surface will become rough and jagged which will come through in the finished project.

Since paint doesn’t soak into plastic while painting, it should be easy to catch drips with a lint-free cloth, as well!

how to fix spray paint drips on plastic

How to fix spray paint drips on glass

Glass is an easy material to spray paint but, like plastic, it has an incredibly smooth and glossy surface texture. This texture can make it easier for spray paint to run or drip, especially if the glass is hot or you are painting a vertical surface.

To fix spray paint drips on glass, you should scrape away the drip because the paint will scrape away very easily. Avoid sanding glass surfaces as the sandpaper can etch or chip the glass, causing damage that isn’t easy to fix.

Similar to plastic, you should work to catch drips on glass before they dry!

how to fix spray paint drips on glass

How to fix spray paint drips on wood

Wood can be a great surface to spray paint because real wood usually absorbs a bit of the paint as you go. The upside is that the absorption reduces the likelihood of runs or drips. The downside is that real wood often takes more coats of paint to fully cover.

To fix spray paint drips on wood, we recommend only painting wooden surfaces that have been primed first and then using light sanding to smooth out the imperfection. After sanding, be sure to clean up the surface of your wood and remove any paint dust before applying additional coats of paint.

Wiping up drips on wood works great because you can usually just wipe the drip INTO the wood rather than smearing it around.

how to fix spray paint drips on wood

How to fix spray paint drips on metal

Metal is typically a super easy surface to paint as long as it isn’t too hot or cold.

To fix spray paint drips on metal, you should use a scraper first but you can also use fine sandpaper because you are unlikely to scratch or damage the metal unless you are working with something very fragile. Just be sure to remove any paint dust before applying a second coat. If you are painting exterior metal, we always recommend an all-weather primer first.

Always keep a lint-free cloth at the ready when spray painting metal to avoid most of the drips and runs.

how to fix spray paint drips on metal

How to spray paint without dripping or running

There are a few things you can do to help prevent spray paint drips in the first place.

I always say that I would rather do a little extra work beforehand than a lot of extra work afterward!

Here are the best ways to avoid drips and runs while spray painting:

  • Use high-quality spray paint
  • Use a primer
  • Hold the spray paint can 10-12 inches away
  • Keep the spray can moving continuously
  • Apply more thin coats instead of fewer thick coats