Washing and Cleaning Your Paint Brushes and Rollers

Paint roller and brush being cleaned in a sink under running water.
Did you know that not all paints should be washed out of brushes and rollers with soap and water? Knowing how to wash paint brushes is important to prevent damage and prolong the lifespan of your painting supplies. Following these tips from your local Five Star Painting pros can help you learn how to clean different types of paint out of your brushes, rollers, and even hardened paint brushes. 

The Best Way to Clean Paint Brushes 

To keep your brushes soft and usable for the next project, keep them consistently damp. If you must take a break, wrap the brush in a damp paper towel to maintain moisture. You’ll also want to clean it immediately after each use—the cleanup job is significantly easier before the paint hardens into the bristles.  

For the best results, follow these steps for how to wash paint brushes: 

  1. Choose the correct solvent. There is no one specific solvent to clean every paint type out of all kinds of brushes. Look at the manufacturer's directions to know what to use for your type of paint. In general, oil-based paints and lacquers wash away well with paint thinner or mineral spirits. Shellacs respond better to denatured alcohol or ammonia. Water-based paints can be cleaned with soap and warm water. 

  1. Use a clean container instead of washing paint down the sink. Can you wash paint brushes in the sink? We wouldn’t advise it. Between potentially clogging your plumbing system, exposing yourself to heavy fumes, and pouring flammable liquid down the drain, cleaning your brushes in the sink can be problematic. Instead, fill a clean, small container with the solvent. This allows you to change out the solvent with minimal waste while cleaning the brush. Seal and reuse this solvent later, or let it completely evaporate in a safe location—like your garage—before disposing of it.  

  1. Agitate the paint out of the brush. Dip the paintbrush in the solvent and use a brushing motion to work the color out of the bristles. Avoid twisting or pressing down directly on the bristles or pushing them back into the handle, potentially damaging the brush.  

  1. Clean and clean again. Wash the brush until the solvent comes out clean. Thorough cleaning is essential because the smallest amount of paint in your brushes can cause them to harden. 

  1. Dry. Once your brush is clean, use a paper towel to press the excess water out gently. Any color left on the paper towel indicates the brush needs more cleaning. Once clean, allow the brush to finish drying on a flat surface. 

Related Content: Should I Sand Between Coats of Paint? 

What About Paint Rollers—Should You Clean Them or Throw Them Away? 

Paintbrushes can be cleaned and used again, but are you supposed to clean paint rollers or throw them away? Rollers can be reused, but proper cleaning is essential to achieve smooth paint application when using them for future projects.  

Follow these steps for how to wash paint rollers: 

  1. Roll in cleaning solution. Add the solvent for the type of paint you are using to a clean roller pan; then roll the paint roller in the solution to loosen up the paint. If you use a harsher chemical like ammonia, wear gloves to protect your hands and be careful of splashes that could hurt your skin or ruin your clothes.  

  1. Scrub until solvent runs clear. After rolling out as much as you can, pop the roller off the handle so you can continue to massage the paint out of the roller with gloved hands. 

  1. Use a putty knife to dislodge paint. When paint gets in between the roller and the handle, it crusts up. The putty knife can help you dislodge the chunks before they harden further to ensure a smooth roll for the next time. 

  1. Dry on a string or dowel. To dry evenly, place the roller on a string or dowel instead of laying it on one side or letting it stand on one end. 

  1. Store in a dust-free cabinet. A dusty roller means dirt in your next paint job; store it in a clean, dry place so it will be ready when you need it. 

Related Topic: Dos and Don’ts of Storing Paint Brushes 

Cleaning Hardened Paint Brushes 

What if you don’t clean the brushes right away? It’s easy to set the brush aside with good intentions of cleaning it soon, only to find it weeks later hardened like a rock. Is it too late, or can you salvage the crusty brush?  

Before you toss them in the trash, try these methods to clean hardened paint brushes:

  • Clean the brush with solvent. As long as you know which type of paint is hardened on the brush, you can match it with the appropriate solvent. Pour some solvent into a clean container and swirl the brush in the liquid, softening the paint. After the brush is clean, rinse with water. Dry with a paper towel and reshape the brush before finishing the drying on a flat surface. 
  • Use vinegar to clean paint brushes. Bring vinegar to a simmer in a pan on the stove, remove from heat, and set the hardened brush in the hot liquid for 20 minutes. After the soak, wash with soap and warm water, working out the remaining bits of paint. Pat with a paper towel and finish drying flat.
  • Soften the bristles with fabric softener. Add fabric softener to warm water and massage the paint out of the hardened bristles. Rinse in clean water after removing all of the paint. Dry flat to avoid water running back into the handle and damaging the brush.   

Skip the Paint Brush Cleaning—Hire a Local Expert 

Cleaning paint off brushes and rollers effectively will differ depending on the type of paint you use and whether you’re cleaning a brush or a roller. But is the brush and/or roller cleaning process even worth it? Many homeowners don’t have the cleaning solutions on hand, which means a trip to the store. Then there's the time it takes to clean your painting supplies. You’ll also have to find a place to store it all safely. So, you may be staring down at a set of hardened paint brushes and rollers and thinking, “there must be a better way.” 

Instead of jumping through hoops to get it all done, let the service pros at your local Five Star Painting beautify your home with a fresh coat of paint and handle the cleanup too! We offer interior painting and exterior painting services to help beautify your home inside and out so you can get the look you want without dealing with any of the cleanup and mess. To get started, call us at (888) 261-3633 or schedule an estimate online today.