Switch-plates, Outlet, Vent, and Heater Cover Refresh

One of the easiest, cheapest ways to give a house some polish is to refresh some of the simplest, utilitarian items in one’s house. Since we are sticking to a budget (and have a few must-have luxuries on our list!), we decided to keep all the outlet/heater/switch covers.

Though they are 1990’s almond, not white to match our new wood trim, they are serviceable and in good condition. But, heavens, were they dirty! That could be dealt with much more reasonably than replacing all the plugs and switches to match white covers. We estimated it would cost $500 (and a fair amount of time) to make the switch to whites. For now, we want to channel those funds toward a cooktop that pumps out some serious BTU’s, bidet toilets, and maybe a hot tub. Cool things; fun stuff. Yeah, almond-colored switch plate covers will do for now–but they’ve gotta be sparkling clean!

Removing switch plates with a power drill

Before painting, we removed everything we could, including switch plates and other coverings. Note that I’m using a power drill to remove them; when putting them back up, we used good old-fashioned hand-powered screwdrivers instead to avoid over-tightening (and thus breaking) the covers.

Without the covers in the way, painting around outlets and vents and such is a breeze. One of my pet peeves is when people paint the outlet covers or, heaven forbid, the outlets themselves, with wall paint. For goodness’ sake, PUH-lease don’t do that! It may look great when ya brush on the color, but the paint you put on walls is not formulated to stick to plastic, so within a few months it’ll chip and crack. Very un-chic…not the look we’re lookin’ for.

Much to our consternation, the previous residents did a paint job without masking off or (arghhh) taking a few extra minutes to remove covers, plates, and vents. However, since the hardware itself wasn’t damaged, we soaked all the plastics in hot, soapy water overnight to loosen the old dirt and paint. A good scrubbing made them look brand new.

While the switch plates and outlet covers were soaking we scrubbed the switches and outlets themselves. Before delving into this project, we threw the main electric breaker to the OFF position, because nothing impedes the progress of any project quite like electrocution. Yikes.

We used a degreaser sprayed onto the scrub brush, rather than onto outlets themselves, to avoid getting excess moisture on them. We used dry rags to polish them up, then let them dry overnight before turning the electricity back on, just to be safe. They may have been installed in 1993, but when clean, they look as if the electrician was just here putting ’em in last week.


Before putting the (scrupulously clean) bathroom vent covers back on, we decided to paint them white to match the ceilings throughout the house. It’s important to choose the correct paint–something designed to bond to plastic–if you want to change colors. We decided that since the ceiling vents will not often be bumped or scratched, it was safe to change the color without risk of chipping.

When using any paint, it’s best to use enough to cover, but never be tempted to overdo it in the first pass. One light coat can be touched up, but drips are monsters that are rather more difficult to deal with. Go light, spray it again (and again after that if you must), rather than globbing on the paint in the false hope of saving time.

We ended up with switch and fixture covers that looked as good as new, and saved a bundle that we can put toward the home features we really want right now!

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