Imagine painting your house with a fresh coat of quality paint: you break for a well-deserved lunch and come back to a scene reminiscent of a horror movie - okay, not that bad, but you find your beautiful new paint is now covered in ugly, tobacco-stained streaks running down the side of the house. Carrie worthy. Yes, you are allowed to channel your inner scream queen and have a "moment". But let's talk about what's going on and how it's actually not the end of the world. It can happen to the best of paint jobs, both interior and exterior.
Recently my friend Philip Reno, owner of Philip's Perfect Colors, wrote a detailed article for C2 Paint about this streaky scenario. Philip has direct experience with this phenomenon known in the industry as Surfactant Leaching. He's done a great amount of work in San Francisco, home to that famous fog which is a perfect incubator to create Surfactant Leaching. Sounds pretty terrible, doesn't it, especially if you have ever been surprised by it. Well, Seattle is a close cousin to San Francisco when it comes to moist marine air, and the tricks it can play upon paint.
I thought I'd share with you his article, it's packed with information on what Surfactant Leaching is and what to do about it.
"Once again, with the onset of cooler weather, we are faced with the inevitable complaints regarding surfactant leaching. Ever since paint companies have increased the low range of temperatures that their products can be applied under (35 degrees Fahrenheit has become an industry standard), painters have been trying to push the envelope and extend their exterior painting season.
The results of this have been both a blessing and a curse. It’s great to be able to sell exterior products into late autumn and early winter, but many times these sales result in phone calls asking someone to come and look at a sticky ugly mess that many painters will swear they have never seen before. “I’ve never had this problem before...” or “When I use X-brand paint…There must be something wrong with your paint.” After all, who wants to take responsibility for something like this when they have just completed a project?
The truth is that all latex paints contain surfactants, both in the paint itself and in the colorants that are added to it. These necessary additives serve many functions, from allowing the paint to flow and level to helping the paint film to properly coalesce. Under normal circumstances these soap-like surfactants simply evaporate from the paint and dissipate into the atmosphere. They are never intended to be a part of the final paint film.
When latex paints are applied in cooler damp conditions, these surfactants are drawn out en mass, resulting in a streaky sticky mess, that can look like someone sprayed Coca-Cola on the side of the house. On darker colors, this phenomenon can also present itself as a lighter whitish color. In either case, the simplest solution is to do nothing, as the natural weathering cycle will in most cases eliminate the stain before too long. If you are not content waiting, you can hurry the process by rinsing the house with a garden hose. You'll see a soap-like substance bubble off when you do this. If you are able to use warm water this will help significantly (think about washing your hands in warm versus cold water).
The absolute worst thing you can do in the presence of surfactants is add to the problem by repainting over it right away. You will likely only exacerbate the problem by adding even more surfactants to the mix.
I come from the San Francisco Bay Area, and it is a virtual laboratory for surfactant leaching all year round. The heavy fog that blows in on an early summer afternoon can wreak havoc on a painter’s work. I have seen only one or two cases where the remedies laid out above did not work. In those situations after the paint had weathered through the winter rains, it did need to be repainted under better conditions. I stress that these were the most extreme cases and were not typical of the vast majority of what I witnessed.
Although all latex products contain surfactants it seems that they do not uniformly experience the same level of problems. Some people assume that darker colors with their heavier loads of colorant are more prone to surfactant leaching than are lighter less tinted colors. It has been my experience that light colors can be just as susceptible as darker ones. The other difficult thing to predict is that paint quality or cost seems to have no bearing on the degree or likelihood of surfactant leaching. Some of the worst cases I outlined earlier happened with the highest quality paints.
The most important thing to remember is that surfactant leaching is not a paint failure, and in no way compromises the longevity of the paint film that has been applied. It is ultimately the responsibility of the end user to apply latex exterior products under conditions that are reasonable enough for the film to dry and coalesce in the manner intended.
C2 Premium Exterior Paints have consistently passed the test of both a difficult environment (the San Francisco Bay Area), and applicator bad luck. Of all the brands of exterior paint I have sold, C2 Paint gave me the least amount of heartache when it came to surfactant leaching. However, this is not to say that it can’t or didn’t happen.
You can learn more by going to the Paint Quality Institute’s Problem Solver on this topic. They are not affiliated with any particular brand of paint, and you can access a lot of unbiased, educational information from them.
As I said earlier, I've spent an inordinate amount of my time researching and dealing with surfactant leaching in the San Francisco Bay Area. Ultimately, surfactant leaching is a regretable problem that nobody likes, but is also a reality when working with latex paints. Having the correct information about the cause and the solutions should at the very least put us in good standing with the customers we serve."
In conclusion, it's not necessarily the end of the world, but it can be very frustrating. Your best option is to wait. Or, wash it down with warm water (being careful not to dig into the still-curing paint film). Paint may be dry to the touch, but not fully cured for a number of weeks, so handle with care.
Know that you can always give us a call if you run into anything you are unsure of. We'll do our best to help you figure out, or maybe even avoid, those painting challenges.
Seattle: 206-633-4200 Eastside: 425-454-3093 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Robin Daly is the 3rd generation owner of Daly's Paint & Decorating stores. She is passionate about supporting people with their home improvement projects, loves how color can transform a space and knows a thing or two about how to get things done.