Repainting walls and furniture can instantly transform the look of a space, but cleanup can be a bummer. After painting, moving drop cloths, relocating furniture, and wiping up spills and smudges, the last thing you'll want to do is clean brushes.
Still, it's an essential step—skipping paintbrush cleanup can damage otherwise good brushes and increase the budget of your next project. Regularly cleaning and maintaining your paintbrushes saves time and money and ensures you're prepared for whatever comes next.
The first rule of paintbrush maintenance is to clean your brushes after every use. Avoid making a mess by using up any paint remaining on the bristles.
To begin with, squeeze the excess color from the bristles, pressing the used brush against the inside of the paint can and moving it up and over the can's edge. Next, find a newspaper or a piece of cardboard with a wide surface area, and paint away the last of the color until the bristles are almost dry.
If you're working with a paint roller, use a brush comb with a roller cleaner to remove as much paint from the roller as possible. A brush comb usually has metal prongs or wire bristles for cleaning paint out of bushes. A roller cleaner is a semicircle scoop cut from the edge of a cleaner's tool. Scrape this edge against the roller to squeeze out any remaining paint. Don't forget to clean the roller frame with soapy water and a bristle brush too.
To remove dried lacquer from brush bristles, you'll need a solvent. Solvents help to loosen the paint, making it easier to clean with a brush comb. Inspect the label on your paint can to find if your paint or stain is water- or oil-based. Water-based paints clean up with warm soapy water, while oil paints and stains require a chemical solvent such as mineral spirits. Using the incorrect solvent could make cleanup a bigger mess than you started with.
Hardware stores usually offer three solvents for cleaning paint from surfaces: turpentine, paint thinner, and mineral spirits. Turpentine is effective but known for its strong odor and hazardous fumes.
Paint thinner and mineral spirits are both petroleum-based, but mineral spirits are more refined. That means reduced odor and toxicity and less chance of eye and throat irritation, dizziness, and headaches. All of these solvents are somewhat flammable and toxic, so use them with caution.
To remove oil paint from brushes and rollers, fill a container with mineral spirits and dip the tool in the solvent. Move the brush up and down, pressing it against the sides of the container to release the paint from the bristles. Use a paint comb to scrape away bits of dried and lodged color from the brush and handle. When the brush is clean, blot the excess mineral spirits on a clean rag and set it out to air dry.
Water-based paints and stains are much easier to clean after a paint job but dry much faster than oil-based colors. Keep cleanup a breeze by filling a bucket with warm, soapy water immediately at the end of the workday. Dip your painting tools in the water and use your fingers or a brush comb to work the paint from the bristles. Rinse the brush with clean water to remove all color, then blot with a rag and air dry.
One of Bob Ross' most famous bits was quickly slapping his paintbrush against the side of a ladder to extract as much water as possible after a rinse. While this move is tried and true, some DIY painters prefer a brush and roller spinner. This tool connects to your painting instrument of choice and spins it very fast to fling water or solvents from the bristles.
Over time, a spinner saves wear and tear on your brushes, so it's a worthy investment for frequent DIYers.
You don't have to wash your brushes or rollers just to take a break or wait for a coat of paint to dry. Keep your tools in good condition during a project by wrapping them up. Place wet paintbrushes and rollers in a plastic grocery bag and seal the open end. By keeping the air out, the paint will stay damp and be ready for you to pick up where you left off.
Don't be afraid to wrap your entire paint tray in a garbage bag, too, if necessary.
Cleaning your brushes immediately and thoroughly after each use is the first step in preserving your tools. Keep up the effort by storing your brushes safely in their original packaging to maintain their shape and quality. If you don't have a brush or roller cover, make one by folding some heavy paper around the bristles and securing it with tape or string.
If you have the space, use a pegboard to hang paintbrushes between uses.
Resist the temptation to leave brushes sitting in wet paint—doing this doesn't prevent the lacquer from drying on the brush. Also, work in a well-ventilated area when using solvents, and avoid locations around the water heater, outdoor stove, or electrical devices.
Don't pour solvents down the drain when you've finished cleaning. Allow paint solids to settle to the bottom, then filter the spirits into a clean jar for reuse. When you do dispose of your solvents, take them to hazardous waste disposal sites where you know they'll be handled in keeping with health and safety standards.