how to clean and store stencils

How to clean and store stencils

With care, a good quality mylar stencil will last for a long time, but it is important to clean and care for your stencil properly between uses. Leftover paint on the edges will interfere with the quality of the stencil graphic, and not storing the stencil correctly can bend or crease intricate pieces of the stencil, so it may not lay flat.  

Don’t worry if the paint dries on the stencil before you get to wash the stencil. Acrylic is forgiving when dried on mylar, and will come off with a soak and light scrub.

Simple Stencil Cleaning

Run the stencil under warm water and lightly scrub with a dish brush. Mostly, pay attention to the paint around the edge of the graphic.

If the paint is caked on or the paint has fully dried, soak the stencil in warm soapy water, or latex cleaning solution, for an hour (or overnight). After, lightly scrubbed with a dish brush, and remove the paint.

soaking stencils to clean

A cookie tray, a medium plastic container, or wrapping in a plastic bag to soak will work; as long as the liquid covers the stencil lays flat.

With a dry paper towel, blot the stencil dry, and let it air dry completely.

Paint:  water-based, acrylic, or latex.

Deep Stencil Cleaning

Sometimes cleaning the stencil requires a little elbow grease to get the paint off.  The trick is pre-soaking the stencil with a commercial water-based paint cleaner, or using one of the cleaning recipes from our how to stencil post.

how to clean stencil


  • Spray bottle
  • Latex paint cleaner
  • Dish brush


  1. Generously spray the front of the stencil with the spray cleaner.
  2. Place inside a plastic bag and close securely.
  3. Wait, a few hours or overnight.
  4. Remove stencil from the plastic bag, and scrub lightly with the dish brush.
  5. Rinse with water.
  6. Blot the stencil with a paper towel and let it air dry completely.

Paint:  water-based, acrylic, or latex.

Oil Based Paint

Oil-based paints are more durable than acrylic, making it a good choice for high traffic areas. Oil paint dries slower, and it stinks like crazy, but is more resistant to scratches and chips. 

Mineral spirits or turpentine are used to clean the stencils after using oil-based paint.  It may require a pre-soak like the Deep Clean method, but don’t worry. Mylar is strong, and it won’t ruin the stencil.

Oil paint and the cleaners for oil-based paint smell strong and can be potentially toxic. Save your lungs and escape a headache by wearing a mask; this will prevent inhaling most of the fumes.

Storing Stencils

Always store stencils flat. A plastic under bed storage container works great - using paper between each stencil. Or, our favorite method: use a clothing hanger!  The multiple clip hangers are lovely, and can hold quite a few stencils per hanger. Hang in a closet, or if you have a craft room, they display beautifully on a pegboard or on the wall. 

how to store stencils

Happy stencilling!

Previous article How to Stencil Like a Pro: A Beginner's Guide


Kat - October 10, 2022

I am using a stencil on two different stools but using two different colors. Not my first time stenciling but I’m a newbie. I am going to wash a stencil and dry it before I use it again on the other stool.

RB Boulkam - November 29, 2021

this may seem like such a stupid question, if you have one stencil and you want to repeat a pattern, do you wash it in between repeats?

Pat - November 29, 2021

I do a lot of stenciling for my business, and I have found that using Dawn or Murphy’s Oil Soap helps when cleaning stencils.

Daniel Yeboah - May 3, 2021

I’m a newbie to creating stencils. Can anyone please help me because I have a lot of question on what to do to starting stenciling a wall.🙏

William James - April 28, 2021

Thank you for sharing this amazing article, i really liked your way of presenting the article.

Meg - August 27, 2020

I have a rather large stencil – which is being used on a long narrow board. It’s very difficult to work around the board when the stencil overhangs the edge. Can I cut the stencil into 3 smaller pieces?
I don’t want to separate each design – just make them less cumbersome to work with.


John Bryant - June 25, 2020

Will be stenciling a newly built piece of furniture. Will be clear coating the pine boards for protection and durability. This will not affect the stencil assuming proper drying time, right?

Krista McPhee - March 13, 2020

Hi Julie,

Assuming you used repositional spray adhesive – you can clean it by using: Goo Gone, Rubbing Alcohol, or rubbing oil ( vegetable oil) and scraping off.

That should do the trick!

Julie - March 13, 2020

After using my stencil with the adhesif spray, it doesnt come off. What do I do?

Krista McPhee - February 15, 2020

Hey there,

Measure the width of the open stencil area – and mark the measurement on the item you are stenciling to space correctly.

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