Good paint brushes are worth the money, whether you're painting with latex, oil or shellac. Here's how the pros clean up their expensive paint brushes.
If you're like me, the last thing you want to do after a long day of painting is clean brushes. I used to avoid the chore by wrapping the brushes in a plastic bag and sticking them in the freezer. Out of sight, out of mind, right? Well, that lasted until my family noticed our frozen pizza was starting to taste like freshly painted woodwork.
A good brush, if kept clean, will last for dozens of painting jobs. My friend Kevin, who paints interiors for a living, has brushes that have outlasted many marriages. In this article, we'll show you the right way to clean a brush, no matter what kind of paint you use, and how to keep its shape once you've cleaned it. We'll even show you how to revive the hardened brush that you've been using for a doorstop.
NOTE: You can buy all the solvents and the brush comb from paint retailers or good hardware stores.
It sounds like one of Benjamin Franklin's maxims, but any pro will tell you the same thing: You get what you pay for. One expensive brush is way better than a handful of cheap brushes. Get a good nylon or polyester brush for painting with latex and a good natural (animal hair) bristle brush for oil paints.
Don't use a natural-bristle brush for water-based paints like latex. The natural fibers will swell, lose their shape and eventually lose their strength, too. If you can't get the buying information you need from a home center or hardware store, go to a retail paint store for assistance.
Use the rim of a can, then work the remaining paint onto newspaper.
In a pail of soapy water, work the paint free of the bristles with your hands and a brush comb.
Spin the brush in a pail.
Rinse the bristles in a pail of clean water. Work the bristles with your hand.
Wrap the brush with heavy paper. This retains the shape of the brush.
Follow these tips to get your brush completely free of paint and properly shaped for the next job. Even if you're not cleaning water-soluble paint, pay special attention to Step 5 immediately below; you'll need it no matter what kind of paint you need to clean out of your brush.
Spin flammable solvents only in well-ventilated areas away from furnaces, pilot lights and electrical devices of all kinds. Outdoors is best.
Rinse the brush thoroughly in paint thinner. Use a brush-and-roller spinner after nearly all the paint solids are out of the brush. Dip the brush into a clean container of paint thinner. Spin the brush again.
Dip the brush into a container of lacquer thinner. Lacquer thinner is extremely flammable—be sure to do this outside.
The process here is very similar to cleaning off latex paint except you'll use paint thinner (mineral spirits) instead of soapy water to rinse the brush clean. Again get the brush as free of paint as possible before cleaning. This is especially important with oil-based paints and varnishes so you can use less thinner and have fewer mess and disposal hassles.
Don't dump the paint thinner when you're finished. Let the paint solids settle to the bottom of the jar, then pour off the rest into a clean container. Let the solids dry outdoors and then dump them in the trash for landfill or hazardous waste. Call your local trash service for proper disposal.
Always work in a well-ventilated area when cleaning brushes in solvents such as paint thinner, lacquer thinner, alcohol and ammonia. In fact, it's best to work outside. Don't ever clean solvent-laden brushes around water heaters, stoves or any device with an open flame or potential electrical spark. Keep the solvents in proper, well-marked containers out of reach of children and pets.
Cleaning clear shellac varnish or pigmented shellac paints requires a different solvent than does latex and oil. You must use denatured alcohol or an ammonia household cleaner.
Cleaning clear shellac varnish or pigmented shellac paints requires a different solvent than does latex and oil. You must use denatured alcohol or an ammonia household cleaner.When using an ammonia solution, mix it with warm water at twice the strength recommended for cleaning floors. Then rinse the brush in lukewarm water, and spin and wrap it as shown above. When using denatured alcohol, follow the same steps as for the oil-based paint cleanup, but use the alcohol instead.
The solvent-based cleaner on the left is great for any brush (natural or synthetic), but the water-based cleaner on the right is only good for synthetic brushes.
Chances are you have some petrified brushes. Here's how you can revive them.
You can buy either of the brush cleaners shown above to dissolve the crusty hard paint on your brushes. However, choose carefully. The solvent-based cleaner on the left is great for any brush (natural or synthetic), but the water-based cleaner on the right is only good for synthetic brushes.
Both solvents will remove hardened latex and oil-based paint. The brushes must soak overnight (cover the container on the left with foil in a well-ventilated area). If the paint isn't softened after 24 hours, let the brushes soak another day. You must suspend the brushes as shown or the bristles will look like hockey sticks as they soften and settle into the bottom of the jar.
Once the bristles are supple, remove the brush and comb away any solids. If you're using the solvent-based cleaner on the left, soak the brush again for an hour in clean solution to remove any more solids, then follow the procedure for cleaning oil-based paint from brushes. If using the water-based cleaner, wash the brush in soapy water and follow the directions for cleaning latex paint from a brush.
Have the necessary tools for this DIY project lined up before you start—you’ll save time and frustration.
Avoid last-minute shopping trips by having all your materials ready ahead of time. Here's a list.