The Perfect Cover-up:
A Well-kept Drop Cloth.
by Bent Mikkelsen
r the chore of helping mom fold sheets as they came off the clothesline. I can clearly remember those days. And I can also remember how important it was for Mom to be sure that each of the corners lined up nice and straight, with every fold followed by a nice tug on the sheet before we brought our ends together. As with any chore, I didn’t really like this job, but we always managed to have fun, especially when it came to tugging on either end.
As times changed and Mom found better ways to do the job by herself, I was happy to see the chore disappear. But it was much to my surprise when I became an apprentice in the paint-and-decorating trade and once again found myself with the chore of folding drop cloths. Instead of mom, however it was now a journeyman painter who insisted on keeping the corners straight. Oh yes, along with a tug before bringing our ends together.
Over time, I’ve realized that folding drops a certain way is not just a way to keep them organized and easy to identify. They’re also easier to carry, easier to store and most important, quicker to lay out at the start of another job.
Another important aspect of maintaining drop cloths is keeping various sizes of drops separated from one another — and keeping interior and exterior drop cloths separate as well. Customers appreciate this kind of organization, since no one likes seeing dirty, smelly drops laid out across expensive carpet in their living room. This became more apparent when my wife and I purchased our first home. Suddenly, the drop that had accumulated lots of overspray, spills and dirty footprints was banned from use inside on our nice new floors. The only drops acceptable for our interiors were nice clean new drops.
Having many good friends who also happen to be great painters, I’ve inherited some good tips. One, in particular, is maintaining a sizable inventory of large bed sheets. These are useful for covering up customers’ valuable possessions such as furniture, countertops, plants, artwork, banisters, etc. Even a couple sheets over cars in the driveway or garage will make homeowners particularly grateful for your attention to details. While plastic is another alternative, I try to use sheets as often as I can because they’re reusable.
Depending on the type of work you do, having enough drops on hand to cover all exposed surfaces — including a pathway to the work vehicle — is important.
However, a sizeable inventory of drops doesn’t come with a small price tag. And yes, there are varying levels of quality. So it should be stressed that heavier drops, which are normally more expensive, are always a better investment than cheaper ones. Cheaper drops are normally lightweight and thin, and will often allow paint spills to seep through onto surfaces you want to protect. In my opinion, it’s senseless to go cheap only to later find yourself down on your hands and knees, trying to remove paint residue from hardwood floors as a customer looks on.
As drop cloths age and accumulate spillage they actually get better. However, I wouldn’t relate them to a fine bottle of wine. For outdoor use, older drops actually become heavier and don’t easily get blown around on windy days. They lay flat and become less of a trip hazard. They do tend to become more brittle, which leads to tearing, but when this happens you can simply tear that old runner into a couple 4' by 4' squares. These are great for sliding under doors that need a new brush coat of enamel or varnish.
Lastly, it’s important to label two drops specifically for use at the location of your airless or other spray equipment: one to lay under the workstation and one to lay over any open containers as well as the spray equipment. Laying a drop over the workstation keeps potential sunlight off open containers and overspray off your equipment. These drops should be a minimum of 10' by 10' so that two people can easily “box” paint or recline on a couple “fivers” to enjoy a poor-boy sandwich at lunch hour.
And that’s the facts, Jack!