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Painting Tips & Tricks: Cleaning Paint Tools

Cleaning Paint ToolsGood paint brushes aren’t cheap, and cheap ones shouldn’t be used. If you followed my advice and purchased good quality paint brushes, give them a proper cleaning and they’ll last for years. First remove as much paint as possible prior to cleaning. Do this by pressing the brush along the edge of the paint pail and pulling upwards, allowing the excess to drain back into the bucket.

Brushes that have been used in latex or water-based paint can easily be cleaned by holding them under a running faucet and massaging them with your fingers. Don’t hold the brush upside down under the faucet; you’ll distort the bristles. When most of the paint is gone, insert the brush into a bucket of water into which you’ve mixed a few ounces of fabric softener and continue to work the bristles with your fingers until clean. Use a brush comb to spread the bristles and help remove excess paint. You may have to repeat the rinsing process several times to remove all the paint. Once the rinse water is completely clear of paint, shake out the excess water, pull the bristles into shape with your fingers, and THIS IS KEY, wrap the brush in a clean, dry paper towel or newspaper, and it will hold its shape as it dries. If you’ve kept the original cardboard wrapper, use it to store the brushes.

Paint rollers that have been used in latex can be cleaned by holding them in front of the spray from a garden hose nozzle. Before beginning, remove as much paint as possible by scraping with the curved section of the 5- in-1 tool I recommend in the section, “Tools of the Trade.” Begin the cleaning process by adjusting the hose nozzle to a hard spray and spraying along the outer edge of the roller. This will cause the roller to spin and will remove all paint. Hold it at arm’s length, away from your body, but be prepared to get a good dousing with spray. If you’re wearing a watch, remove it, as your arm will be coated with paint spray.

It is possible to wash roller covers by hand under running water, but it takes longer, uses more water, and leaves the roller more matted than the above method. After cleaning rollers, stand them on end to dry.

Brushes that have been used in oil/alkyd paint must be cleaned with a solvent, for most paints, mineral spirits or paint thinner. Read the label to determine the solvent required. Clean brushes in the same fashion as with water, only using the appropriate solvent instead. Don’t press the brush down hard, bending the bristles, just work it back and forth in a small bucket with only one or two inches of solvent. Keep working back and forth, changing the solvent as necessary until the bristles are clean. Make certain no paint residue remains in the bristles or you’ll have an unusable brush once it dries. I use an old cloth to wrap the brushes I’ve used in oil, and then store them either standing on their handles or lying flat. Some choose to suspend brushes on wires run through the hole in the handle.

Make the commitment to spend a few extra minutes at the end of each painting job in cleaning your tools. A proper cleaning of your brushers and rollers will prepare them for years of service.

While some manufacturers offer brush cleaner that is touted to clean “paint-hardened” bristles, I don’t use the stuff. It’s expensive, environmentally harmful, and, in many cases, doesn’t perform as advertised. The best method is to properly clean your brushes after each use and then protect them in a wrapper or the original cardboard sleeve.


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