This special method for cleaning paint tools uses supplies you likely already have around the house. Learn our best tips for cleaning and drying paintbrushes.

By Brian Santos and Hannah Bruneman
February 19, 2016
pink yellow purple blue green paint on paintbrushes

Taking care of paintbrushes, rollers, and pads will save you time, energy, and money. Don't throw your tools in a bucket or sink and expect them to clean themselves; they'll be ruined, and you'll end up throwing them away and buying new ones. Luckily, it's no pain to maintain. Clean your paintbrushes every two hours while working with water-based paint and at the end of your project. Read below for tips on maintaining the quality of your paintbrushes. You can use these same steps to clean paint rollers and pads as well. You’ll love our secret paint cleaning solution with fabric softener!

Remove Excess Paint

combing paint out of brush

Rid your brush or pad of any excess paint by scraping it with the edge of a 5-in-1 tool or the teeth of a brush-cleaning tool. 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.

Make Solution

measuring fabric softener

It doesn’t take much to make your own paint remover solution. Mix up several gallons of this magic potion in a 5-gallon bucket: For every gallon of warm water, add 1/2 cup of fabric softener. The fabric softener is a surfactant—it actually makes the water wetter, so it can more easily dissolve paint. This DIY version will save you the money and trouble of heading to the store.

Contrary to popular belief, don’t clean the brush 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!

Clean Brush

stirring brush in fabric softener mixture

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 require to be dipped multiple times. They also may require more time to dry after cleaning.

Dry Brush

stirring brush in water

To dry your paintbrush quickly, use a paintbrush spinner 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 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 the brush does not work with a roller, so let those air dry while sitting on an open surface.

Oil-Based Paints

person painting clear stain on piece of wood

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


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