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Paintbrushes Buying Guide

Your finished paint job is only as good as the paintbrush you use—and a good-quality brush can make the work go a lot more smoothly.

Types of Paintbrushes

Types of Paintbrushes

Paintbrushes are easy to hold and waste less paint than other paint applicators. They're available with natural bristles and synthetic bristles; which type you choose will depend on the type of paint you are using. Most brushes can be used over and over again (and can last for years with good care), but disposable brushes are also available. You may want to buy several brushes of various sizes to handle both detailed trim work and large, flat areas—or combine traditional paintbrushes with paint pads or paint rollers. Here's a look at the most common types of brushes available.

Natural-Bristle Brushes

These paintbrushes are made of animal hair and include brushes labeled as black china, white china, or ox hair blend brushes. They feature softer bristles than brushes made with synthetic materials and work well for oil-base paints. However, they should not be used with water-base paints because they will absorb the water in latex paints and become limp.

Synthetic-Bristle Brushes

Featuring bristles made from synthetic materials such as nylon, polyester, or a combination, these brushes can be used for both oil-base and water-base paints.

Disposable Brushes

These paintbrushes are designed to be used once and then thrown away. Their quality is not as good as many other brushes designed to be used multiple times, but they are inexpensive and can greatly simplify cleanup tasks.

Specialty Brushes

You'll find a few other types of brushes designed for specific applications, such as radiator brushes for painting old-fashioned cast-iron radiators and stucco brushes.

Paint Pads

Foam pads with handles are available in a variety of shapes and sizes, and they can be used to apply both oil-base and water-base paints. Paint pads have more surface area than regular paintbrushes and can allow you to more easily get into hard-to-reach places, such as behind a radiator or in corners. Some feature tracking wheels to guide you if you are painting next to trim or an adjoining wall or ceiling.

Purchase Considerations

Purchase Considerations

To select the best paintbrush or brushes for your job, consider what surfaces you'll be painting and how large an area you need to cover. Specific brushes are designed for specific tasks, so be sure to choose the size and shape that matches your project. Also consider quality. When it comes to paintbrushes, you generally get what you pay for. Cheap paintbrushes will likely lose their bristles faster, whereas high-quality paintbrushes will hold more paint, give a better finish, and last longer. You'll be better off if you're willing to spend a little more for a good-quality brush.

Size and Shape

Paintbrushes can feature a straight edge or an angled edge to help you get into corners and create precise edges around molding or cabinets. They also come in a variety of sizes. Smaller brushes are best for detail work, while larger brushes can cover more surface area faster. For most jobs, you'll want to have a few brushes of various sizes and shapes on hand. Use 1- to 2-inch brushes for small spaces and trim work; 3-inch brushes for cabinets, doors, beams, and fences; and 4-inch brushes for large surfaces such as walls, floors, and ceilings.

Quality

Look for a paintbrush that has bristles with tapered or chiseled ends rather than flat. A good natural-bristle brush will have split ends on the tips, and a synthetic brush will feature fuzzy-looking tips. Tap the metal band (called the ferrule) and make sure no bristles fall out. The ferrule should be noncorrosive and attached to the brush with screws or rivets, instead of a slip-on style.

Care and Maintenance

Unless you buy a disposable paintbrush, it's essential that you take proper care of the brush to ensure high-quality results. After painting, promptly clean the brush in warm, soapy water (for water-base paints) or solvent (for oil-base paints). Don't soak the brush, or the bristles could bend. Store paintbrushes in their original packaging to help retain their shape. If possible, hang the brushes when they're not in use; otherwise lay them flat.

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