How to Clean Paint Brushes

Paintbrushes are essential tools for any painting project. However, keeping your brushes clean is just as important as using them. Properly cleaning paint brushes after each use will prolong their lifespan and ensure you always have a brush ready to go for your next project. Here is a comprehensive guide on how to effectively clean both oil and latex paint brushes.

Supplies Needed for Cleaning Paint Brushes

Before cleaning your brushes, make sure you have the following supplies on hand:

  • Paintbrush cleaning solution – Either a commercial cleaner or DIY solution like warm soapy water or solvent like turpentine or mineral spirits for oil-based paints.
  • Two containers – One for your cleaning solution, and one for the rinse water.
  • Paper towels, rags, or newspaper – For drying and wiping off excess paint.
  • Apron or old clothes – Cleaning brushes can get messy.
  • Trash bag – For disposing of dirty paper towels or rags.
  • Gloves – To protect your hands from harsh cleaning solvents (optional).

Step-by-Step Guide for Cleaning Latex Paint Brushes

Cleaning brushes used with latex (water-based) paint is a quick and simple process. Here are the steps:

1. Remove Excess Paint

Before washing the brush, wipe off as much leftover paint as possible on the rim of the paint can. This will prevent the paint from drying on the brush.

2. Rinse Under Lukewarm Water

Run the brush under lukewarm water while gently massaging the bristles to loosen any remaining paint. Avoid using hot water as this can dry out the bristles.

3. Wash With Mild Soap

Work a small amount of mild soap or detergent into the bristles until the water runs clear. Dish soap works well for this purpose. Gently massage the bristles to lift all the paint out.

4. Rinse Again

Thoroughly rinse the brush under the water to remove all traces of the soap or cleaner. You may need to rinse for several minutes until there are no more paint or soap bubbles.

5. Dry and Store

Gently press the bristles into a paper towel or clean rag to remove excess moisture. Reshape the bristles before allowing the brush to completely air dry. Store upright or with the bristles suspended to maintain the shape of the brush.

Step-by-Step Guide For Cleaning Oil-Based Paint Brushes

Cleaning brushes used for oil-based paints and stains requires a few extra steps with solvents to break down the thick, oil-based paint. Here is the process:

1. Remove Excess Paint

First, wipe off as much excess paint as possible from the brush using a rag or paper towel. Getting rid of leftover paint will make the cleaning process easier.

2. Rinse With Paint Thinner

Pour some clean paint thinner or mineral spirits into a container. Swirl the brush around, massaging the bristles until the solvent runs clear. This helps loosen the remaining paint in the brush.

3. Wash With Brush Cleaner

Next, fill another container with a brush cleaning solution made for oil paints. Swirl the brush in the cleaner, gently working the product into the bristles to cut through the paint.

4. Rinse Again

Give the brush another rinse in some clean paint thinner or mineral spirits to remove any remaining cleaner.

5. Repeat as Needed

You may need to repeat steps 3-4 several times until all the paint is removed from the brush. If paint continues to come out, keep rinsing and cleaning until the solvent runs clear.

6. Dry and Store

Blot excess solvent from the brush using a clean rag or paper towel. Reshape and smooth out the bristles before allowing to fully air dry. Store upright or with the bristles suspended.

Tips for Cleaning Stubborn Paint Brushes

If you have let paint dry on your brush or have been using very thick paint, it can sometimes be difficult to clean out. Here are some tips for tackling stubborn brushes:

  • Soak the brush in the cleaning solution for 10-15 minutes before washing to soften hardened paint.
  • Use a brush comb to help loosen stuck paint from deeper in the bristles.
  • Try a cleaner with stronger solvents like turpentine for oil-based paints.
  • If needed, carefully scrape paint out of the brush with a wire brush or putty knife. Avoid damaging the bristles.
  • For latex paint, soak in ammonia or rubbing alcohol to help loosen dried paint.
  • Use a small wire brush to gently lift paint trapped near the metal ferrule.
  • Rinse under hot water to dissolve any remaining soap or residue after cleaning.

With some extra time and elbow grease, you can usually resuscitate even the most stubborn paint brushes. Just remember to be patient and gentle to avoid damaging the bristles.

Best Practices for Cleaning Paint Brushes

Follow these tips whenever washing paint brushes to make the process quick and efficient:

  • Clean paint brushes immediately after painting, don’t let paint dry on the brush.
  • Fill sinks or containers with just enough water or solvent to submerge the brush bristles.
  • Use lukewarm water for latex paints to avoid damaging bristles. Hot water can cause bristles to flag or curl permanently.
  • Gently massage paint out starting from the base of the bristles near the ferrule. Never bend or squash bristles.
  • Repeat steps until the water runs clear and no more paint comes out. This prevents paint from drying inside the brush.
  • Avoid getting water or solvent on the wooden brush handle to prevent cracking.
  • Reshape and smooth bristles before drying flat or upright.
  • Never store brushes upright while wet for longer periods or the bristles may deform.
  • Dispose of used solvents properly. Let settle and pour off clean solvent on top to reuse.

Alternative Cleaning Methods

While solvents are the most thorough way to clean oil paint brushes, there are some alternative DIY methods using common household products.

Baking Soda and Vinegar

Make a paste by mixing 2 tablespoons of baking soda with 1 tablespoon of white vinegar. Gently scrub into the bristles and let sit for 10-15 minutes before rinsing clean. The chemical reaction helps break down the oil paint.

Lavender Oil and Dish Soap

Mix a few drops of lavender essential oil into a bowl of warm soapy water. The lavender oil helps cut through grease while the dish soap lifts paint. Gently swirl and massage the brush clean.

Orange Oil

Orange oil works similarly to other solvents. Gently massage a small amount of orange oil into the bristles until the paint is lifted. Rinse and shampoo as needed with dish soap.

While not as heavy duty as commercial cleaners and thinners, these homemade recipes can effectively clean brushes in a pinch.

How to Clean Paint Brushes Used for Stain

Stain brushes are very similar to those used for oil paints and varnishes. Follow the same cleaning steps outlined above using mineral spirits or paint thinner as a solvent. Here are some additional tips for cleaning brushes used for wood stain:

  • Be extra thorough when rinsing to remove all traces of stain. Remaining particles can dry and ruin the finish on your next project.
  • Use a brush comb or wire brush to remove any lingering stain deep in the bristles.
  • Soak the brush in thinner for 10-15 minutes before washing to soften the stain.
  • Try a cleaning solution specifically formulated for stain brushes to efficiently cut through wood particles.
  • Remove dried stain on ferrules with fine grit sandpaper. Avoid scratching the bristles.

With stain brushes, prevention is key. Always promptly and thoroughly clean brushes after use to maintain their shape and keep the bristles soft.

How to Clean Paint Brush Rollers

Paint roller sleeves can be reused if properly cleaned after painting. Here’s how to clean acrylic and oil-based paint from roller covers:

For Latex Paint Rollers:

  • Rinse under running water while spinning the roller to remove excess paint.
  • Squirt a small amount of mild detergent or soap onto the roller and scrub the fibers by rubbing against a brush.
  • Rinse under clean running water, spinning to remove all soap.
  • Wrap a rag around the roller and spin dry by hand. Air dry thoroughly before storing.

For Oil-Based Rollers:

  • Spin off excess paint back into the roller tray first, to save paint.
  • Rinse the fibers under mineral spirits while spinning to loosen paint.
  • Scrub gently with a wire brush to remove any dried bits of paint.
  • Rinse again in clean mineral spirits until no more paint comes out.
  • Blot dry with an old rag before allowing to fully air dry.

With both oil and latex rollers, avoid excess water or solvent that can loosen the adhesive and cause shedding. With proper cleaning, roller covers can be reused up to a few times before needing replacement.

How to Clean Paint Brush Handles

For optimal brush performance, paint and finish residue should also be cleaned from the brush handle. Avoid soaking wood handles in water or solvents. Here are some tips:

  • Scrape off thick globs of paint with a palette knife before washing.
  • For latex paint, wipe the handle clean with a damp rag and mild detergent. Rinse and dry thoroughly.
  • For oil-based paints, carefully wipe the handle with a rag dampened with mineral spirits.
  • Use fine grit sandpaper to gently remove stubborn drips or paint from the handle.
  • Apply a conditioning oil like lemon or tung oil to hydrate the wood after cleaning, if needed.
  • Seal paint under ferrules with an adhesive glue to prevent moisture damage to wood handles.
  • Consider wrapping handles in plastic or tape to prevent paint build up and drying on handles.

Proper care of the entire paint brush, bristles, and handle will maximize the life of your quality brushes.

Signs It’s Time to Replace a Paint Brush

While cleaning paint brushes should extend their lifespan, there will come a time when brushes need replacement. Here are some signs a paint brush should be thrown out:

  • Bristles are permanently deformed, melted or curling. Proper cleaning can’t reshape them.
  • Metal ferrule is bent, rusting or coming loose from the handle.
  • Bristles are falling out, shedding excessively or won’t come clean.
  • Brush stops holding paint or leaves visible brush marks in the finish.
  • Wood handle is warped, cracked or shows damage from solvents.
  • Overall paint brush is worn and you need to apply excessive pressure to paint smoothly.

Investing in quality brushes means you’ll paint with better results and won’t need to replace them as often. But with regular use, expect to need new brushes after 1-2 years.

Storing Paint Brushes Between Uses

To maintain your clean brushes in optimal shape, be sure to store them properly between uses:

  • Allow brushes to fully air dry before storage to prevent mildew and deformation of bristles.
  • Store brushes upright with the bristles facing up, or hang them with the bristles suspended. Don’t leave sitting on the ferrule.
  • Wrap the bristles in plastic wrap or slip on a hair elastic to protect the shape.
  • Keep brushes in a dry, room temperature area away from heat, humidity or cold.
  • Some brushes come with protective plastic cases or sleeves to store the shaped bristles.
  • Lay the brush on a flat surface and reshape bristles before storing long term or for an extended time.

Proper brush storage will keep the bristles supple and ready for your next paint job. Investing in quality brushes and maintaining them well will save you time and money in the long run.

Frequently Asked Questions About Cleaning Paintbrushes

How do I get dried latex paint out of a brush?

Soak the brush in warm soapy water to soften the dried paint. Gently massage paint thinner or rubbing alcohol into the bristles. Use a wire brush to help loosen stuck paint near the ferrule. Repeat washing in mild detergent until clean.

What is the best way to clean roller covers?

Rinse acrylic roller covers under running water while spinning to remove excess paint. Scrub with detergent and rinse again. For oil-based paint, rinse in mineral spirits before scrubbing with a wire brush. Thoroughly rinse in clean thinner before drying.

Can I use coconut oil to clean oil-based paint brushes?

Yes, coconut oil can be used to break down and lift oil-based paint. Gently massage the oil into the bristles until the paint is removed. Follow up with dish soap and warm water to remove any remaining residue.

How do you soften hard paint brushes?

Soak the stiff brush in hot vinegar for 15-30 minutes. The vinegar will help loosen dried paint in the bristles. Gently bend and massage the bristles under running water. Repeat the soaking and rinsing until the bristles are soft.

Should you wash paint brushes with cold or hot water?

Always use lukewarm water when washing latex paint brushes. Hot water can damage and curl the bristles. Reserve hot water for a final rinse to flush out any soap residue after washing.

How often do you need to replace paintbrushes?

With proper cleaning and storage, high-quality natural bristle brushes can last 1-2 years with regular use. Inexpensive brushes may need replacing every 6 months to a year. Replace any brush with bent, damaged, or shedding bristles.

Can you reuse paint thinner for brush cleaning?

Yes, avoid throwing out dirty thinner. Let the paint pigment settle and then pour off the clean thinner from the top to reuse. Add a paint brush cleaning product to help extend the life of the thinner.


Regularly cleaning paintbrushes is simple and ensures you’ll always have a quality brush ready for your next project. For latex paint, wash immediately in mild soap and water. Oil-based paint requires a solvent like mineral spirits to cut through the thicker paint. Take time to thoroughly rinse out all paint and properly shape and dry brushes before storage. Investing some effort into brush care will boost your painting skills and results. With the right techniques, you can keep quality paintbrushes in service for years.