This method for cleaning paint tools uses supplies you probably already have around the house. Learn our best tips for cleaning and drying paintbrushes.
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Taking care of paintbrushes, rollers, and pads will save you time, energy, and money. With proper cleaning, painting tools can last for many uses and help you achieve a beautiful finish. But if you put off cleaning after you finish painting, you might need to throw them away and buy new ones for every project. Although learning how to clean paintbrushes and other tools isn't difficult, it requires a bit more effort than simply tossing them in a bucket or sink and expecting them to clean themselves. Follow the steps below to learn how to maintain the quality of your paintbrushes. While working with water-based paint, you should plan to clean your paintbrushes every two hours and at the end of your project. You can use these same steps to clean paint rollers and pads as well. This simple cleaning solution uses supplies you likely have around the house to easily wash away paint.

four open paint cans with paintbrush on top
Credit: Blaine Moats

How to Clean Paintbrushes

This technique works best for painting tools that were used to apply water-based formulas, such as acrylic or latex paints. Check the paint can label for specific cleaning instructions before you begin.

What You Need

  • 5-in-1 tool or brush-cleaning tool
  • 5-gallon bucket
  • Warm water
  • Fabric softener
  • Paintbrush spinner
  • Plastic bucket with lid
  • Trash bag
  • Towel
combing paint out of brush
Credit: Jacob Fox

Step 1: Remove excess paint.

Rid your paintbrush or paint pad of any excess paint by scraping it with the edge of a 5-in-1 tool ($6, The Home Depot) or the teeth of a brush-cleaning tool ($5, The Home Depot). For extra small brushes, you can also use a fine-tooth hair comb. Scrape the side of the tool on the bucket or paint tray in between passes to remove the collected paint.

measuring fabric softener
Credit: Jacob Fox

Step 2: Make paint remover solution.

Mix up several gallons of this paint cleaning solution in a 5-gallon bucket: For every gallon of warm water, add 1/2 cup of fabric softener. The fabric softener is a surfactant, which actually makes the water wetter, so it can more easily dissolve the paint. This DIY version will save you the money and trouble of heading to the store for a commercial brush cleaner.

Contrary to popular belief, you shouldn't clean paintbrushes with dish soap; it will gum up the ferrule and bristles. And there's no need to rinse the tool in fresh water. The more often you clean it with the softener solution, the better it gets. Fabric softener coats the handle, ferrule, and bristles, allowing paint to flow effortlessly off the tool. You'll see the life of your paintbrushes expand greatly with this trick!

stirring brush in fabric softener mixture
Credit: Jacob Fox

Step 3: Clean paintbrushes.

Dip your brush into the mixture, swish briskly through the water, and count to 10. The paint will release from the bristles and settle to the bottom of the bucket. If your solution reaches the top of your bucket, be careful not to mix too forcefully and cause spills.

Rollers take a little more time (about 30 seconds) and they might need to be dipped multiple times. They also may require more time to dry after cleaning.

stirring brush in water
Credit: Jacob Fox

Step 4: Dry brush.

To dry your paintbrush quickly, use a paintbrush spinner ($9, The Home Depot) to fling water from the brush. We recommend doing this over a spare bucket that you don't mind getting dirty. You can also spin the brush in a wet waste bucket. To make one, start with an empty 5-gallon plastic bucket with a lid. Cut an 8-inch hole in the center of the lid. Place a plastic trash bag in the bucket and snap on the lid. The lid keeps the splatter inside the bucket; toss the bag when finished. Rub the tool dry with a small towel. Spinning does not work with a roller, so let those air dry while sitting on an open surface.

detail hand paintbrush solvent paint thinner cleaning oil-based
Credit: Jay Wilde

How to Clean Paintbrushes with Oil-Based Paints

The fabric softener trick unfortunately only works for water-based paint. Oil-based paint including stains or varnishes should be treated differently. The paint can's label will likely tell you what kind of solvent is best for the product; most recommend paint thinner or mineral spirits. Clean the brush as noted above, but swap the fabric softener solution for the oil-based solvent, following the manufacturer's instructions. Let dry and run a brush comb through the bristles one last time to make sure no paint chips remain.


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