Q&A / 

How to Clean Paint Brushes Like a Pro

I’ve seen far too many great paint brushes meet an early demise because they were mistreated both before, during and after the painting process. High-quality paint brushes produce far superior results and you work less when you use one. They’re expensive so you should take the extra time to clean a great brush.

Believe it or not, some professionals have brushes they’ve used weekly for a year or two, sometimes longer. The biggest reason they get so much use from a brush is they take the time to clean it the right way so the bristles don’t get clogged with paint.

Watch a video of me showing how to clean a paint brush. You’ll discover it’s not hard and it just takes a few minutes.

Degree of Difficulty: hammer-1-5

Step One: The first step to clean a paint brush is to get the bristles wet before you start to paint. If using water-based paint, you dip the brush in clear water or run it under a faucet. Lightly shake the brush to remove excess water. If painting with oil paint, dip the brush in paint thinner or mineral spirits and salvage the excess in the brush.

Step Two: If you’re painting with the brush for long periods of time, you may want to partially clean the brush during the day instead of waiting until the end of the day. When you take a break or stop work for more than five minutes, wrap the brush in plastic or aluminum foil and get it out of the sun.  

Step Three: NEVER turn a paint brush upside down in a stream of running water to get paint from the bristles. This is the biggest mistake most rookies or homeowners make. This drives the paint up into the heel of the brush where the bristles disappear beneath the metal ferrule. Once up in this area, it’s very hard to remove paint, although it’s possible. Turning the brush upside down in a stream of water also bends and stresses the bristles getting them out of shape.

Step Four: Prior to cleaning, try to get as much paint as possible from the brush. Brush the paint onto a piece of cardboard or some other scrap of lumber. Don’t press so hard that you put excessive pressure or bend the bristles.

Step Five: Mix up some warm soapy water in a bucket if you’re cleaning a brush with latex or water-based paint. Fill the bucket with about 6 inches of water. Use paint thinner or mineral spirits if working with oil based paint. Pour the thinner or spirits into a smaller container that’s slightly larger than the width of the paint brush. Used tin cans work great for this.

Step Six: Swish the brush sideways back and forth in the water or the paint thinner. The paint should immediately start to cloud the liquid. Do not rub the brush on the bottom of the bucket or try to bend the bristles. There’s no need to do this. NEVER drop a paint brush into a bucket of water and allow it to soak. This will cause the bristles to bend permanently

Step Seven: Change the soapy water frequently. If using paint thinner, do NOT throw it away. Pour the thinner in a clear container so you can see the paint solids separate from the thinner. Once separated in a few days, you can pour off the clear thinner and reuse it.

If your house has a septic system NEVER discard this paint water into your septic tank. Pour it outside into a bed of sand so the sand captures the paint solids. Continue to swish the brush in soapy water or clear water until the water stays clear. This is a sign that a vast majority of the paint if out of the brush.

To remove all of the paint from the brush, you need to do one final step. Once the cleaning water or thinner is clear, you need to suspend the brush in the clear water or paint thinner. The bristles can’t touch the bottom of the container and the liquid level should be just at the bottom of the ferrule. Suspend the brush from a stick that’s resting on two overturned empty buckets or cardboard boxes.

After several hours you’ll notice paint pigment collecting on the bottom of the soaking bucket. It’s magical how the paint is extracted from the bristles up in the heel and under the ferrule.

Step Eight: Use a comb with fine teeth to remove any excess paint from the heel of the brush. Light pressure from a wire brush works well too. Comb the paint brush bristles with the comb to straighten them like the brush was new. Hang the brush up on a wall to dry.

Summary:  While it seems hard to clean a paint brush this way, you’ll discover using the rapid back and forth motion you can get ninety-eight percent of the paint from a brush in just a few minutes. You’ll be a pro at cleaning brushes in no time.

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