When most people decide to do a major painting job, they spend quite a bit on painting tools. Good paint brushes are an expensive, but worthwhile expense, especially since they can be reused over and over again if they are cared for properly. Cleaning paint brushes is a fairly simple job if it is done right away.
If you are painting with water based paint, cleaning brushes is easy, even if you’ve let them sit awhile. Of course, it is easier if you clean them right away. First, remove excess paint that is still on the brush by wiping it on a rag. Then, run cool or slightly warm water over the brush until the water dripping from the brush is clear. Gently press the brush bristles against the side of the sink or other hard surface to remove excess water. Allow the brush to dry.
Latex paint can also be cleaned with water, as long as you don’t put off the job until the paint has dried. Put a bit of soap in a bucket of water and clean the brush in the bucket. (Please avoid washing the paint down your sink if you have a septic system. The chemicals in the paint can really do some damage to your system and could get absorbed into groundwater, contaminating your well.)
If you have waited until the paint dried to clean your brushes, you will need to use a special solvent that was formulated to remove latex paint. A painter mentioned recently that he uses rubbing alcohol to clean up dried latex paint. I have yet to try it on my brushes, though.
Oil based paint simply will not wash out with water. It is basic science – oil and water don’t mix and the oil just repels the water. You will have to use a chemical based product, such as paint thinner, to clean your brushes. Make sure you wear protective gloves and have plenty of ventilation before you start.
You will need a metal container, such as an old coffee can, the paint thinner or other solvent and a rag. Put a few inches of paint thinner in the coffee can, dip the brush in and move it around a bit to make sure the thinner removes the paint. Make sure you get rid of any solvent on the brush before you pull it out of the container. Wiping the brush on the edge of the can is a good way to do this. When the brush seems clean, wipe it on the rag to get rid of any left over solvent residue. Keep in mind that the paint thinner is toxic and flammable, so you can’t just toss the used thinner in the trash or pour it down the drain. Check your area’s waste disposal guidelines to find out how to get rid of the leftover thinner.
To be sure your paint brushes are ready for the next big painting job, you should take the time to store them properly after they are cleaned. Years of sitting with their bristles pressed against a surface can make brushes uneven. Instead, hang your brushes so that the bristles aren’t pressing up against anything or store them on their sides on a flat surface.