How to Clean Paint Brushes and Rollers, the Easy Way

Plus, how to hit pause on your paint project without destroying your brushes.

Paint Roller Against Colored Background
Photo: Getty Images

Buying the right painting tools isn't cheap, but a high-quality paintbrush can make all the difference for how your project turns out. After investing in painting supplies, it makes sense that you'd want your gear to live to paint another day. However, if you don't clean your paint brushes and rollers properly (or if you allow paint to dry on them), you could be destining them straight for the trash—or, at the very least, compromising the quality of any future paint projects.

To help ensure you not only grab the right gear, but also take care of it like a true pro, we went straight to the source, tapping experts from some of the biggest paint brands in the industry to learn exactly how to clean paint brushes and rollers the right way.

Step One: Invest In Quality Painting Tools

A general rule of thumb: Good quality tools will go a long way in making you look the part of a paint-savvy pro. Not only will high-quality paint brushes and rollers help you obtain a smoother, more professional finish on your walls, but they'll last longer, too. "Always use quality tools and quality paint," says Rick Watson, the director of product information and technical services at Sherwin-Williams. "That will make a huge difference not only in the finish of your paint job but also in the ease of painting and the longevity of your tools."

Watson recommends choosing a brush with a wooden handle and metal ferrule (the part that connects the bristles to the handle), as plastic parts are more likely to fall apart with frequent use. "When it comes to bristles, it sounds counterintuitive, but you want to look for flagged bristles, meaning the ends are split or fuzzy and feel soft to the touch," he explains. "This results in a smoother texture and sharper lines when cutting in." Watson suggests a brand like Purdy, which also features densely-packed bristles made from a blend of nylon and polyester, which team together for excellent durability and shape retention.

When it comes to rollers, the trick lies in pairing the right nap length with the texture of the wall you're painting. Extremely smooth surfaces can handle a short nap (usually ⅛-inch to ¼-inch), while more textured surfaces (like brick) need a longer nap of ¾-inches. You should also invest in a durable paint tray that's sturdy and ribbed on the bottom to help evenly distribute paint onto the roller.

Step Two: Prep Your Tools For Success

According to Mike Mundwiller, an end-user product experience manager at Benjamin Moore, there are a few things you can do before painting to ensure you're getting the most out of your quality tools. He suggests running your hands over the bristles of your brush a few times to dislodge any stray hairs that could get into your paint, as well as lining your paint tray with a plastic liner or wrap to make cleanup a breeze. Another pro trick? Painter's tape—but not the way you think. "Before your first application with a new roller, wrap the entire roller with blue painter's tape, then pull it off," says Mundwiller. "This will 'defuzz' your roller prior to painting, ensuring you don't have any fibers deposited into your paint or onto your walls once you get going."

Step Three: Pause Properly

If you need to take a break, you shouldn't simply leave your paint brush or roller behind in a puddle of paint. For homeowners using a roller and paint tray, Watson suggests trashing the whole thing—but not literally. "If I'm using a roller tray, I will get a standard garbage bag and put everything in that—tray, roller handle with roller and brushes," he says. "Be sure to close it tightly to keep the air out."

Both pros suggest painters can also prepare for brief breaks (think: an hour or two) by storing used brushes and rollers in plastic bags or tightly-wrapped plastic wrap, ensuring that all air is away from the surface of the paint. "If you are ending for the day and you want to pick it back up in the morning, wrap your tools and store them in a refrigerator," suggests Mundwiller. "Just make sure that prior to starting the next day, you let the tools warm up to room temperature before painting with them."

Step Four: Clean Paint Brushes and Rollers Quickly

This might not be what you want to hear, but it's best to clean up ASAP post-painting. We get it—you're exhausted and all you want right now is an iced coffee and Netflix binge—but muscle through to check the final task of cleaning your paint brushes and rollers off the list. Paint is infinitely harder to clean once it has begun to dry, and you could risk ruining your tools altogether if you wait until hours later to complete the job. "Proper cleaning and storage of all your paint tools is important," says Watson. "I try to wash my brushes after each use as soon as I'm done."

How to clean paint brushes:

  1. Use warm water and a bit of mild dish soap to clean the paint from your brushes, gently working the soap through the bristles until the water runs clear.
  2. Grab a paint brush scraper to help remove all of the paint more quickly, including dislodging any dried paint bits near the ferrule. Run the scraper through the bristles, then rinse under warm water and repeat.
  3. Both Watson and Mundwiller suggest investing in Purdy's Brush and Roller Spinner, which spins paint brushes and roller covers above a container, helping to remove all of the paint and water more quickly. Just make sure the area and your clothing are protected against flying paint first.
  4. Once clean, allow paint brushes and rollers to air-dry completely before either reusing them or storing them. "Keep the original cover your brushes came with when you purchased them," says Watson. "They're great for keeping bristles intact and helping the brush maintain its original form."

How to clean paint rollers:

  1. Using a metal multi-tool with a curved edge or a putty knife, scrape excess paint off the roller, either back into the paint can or over a garbage can.
  2. Remove the roller cover from the paint roller frame and rinse it with warm water. If needed, you can add a bit of mild dish soap, just be sure to rinse thoroughly so your next paint project doesn't start to suds up. The roller is clean once the water runs clear.
  3. Let the roller air-dry completely, ideally standing it upright so one side doesn't get flattened.
  4. To clean the paint roller frame, use soapy water and a sturdy scrub brush (one that you don't use for dishes or anything food-related), to remove any dried-on paint. Rinse thoroughly, then let the frame air-dry.
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