Cleaning a paintbrush

Spending a lot for a tool is the best incentive for keeping that tool clean and sharp, and a paintbrush is no exception. But unlike a saw or a plane, all a paintbrush needs to keep it in shape is a good cleaning after each use. No matter what type of paint you've been using, the four steps for washing a brush are dissolving the paint and rinsing the brush, wire-brushing paint from bristles, combing clean bristles and replacing the brush in its wrapper.

Getting the paint out -- The first step, dissolving the paint, varies depending on whether you are washing water-soluble or oil-based finishes out of the brush. When cleaning water-soluble finishes such as latex or acrylic, put the brush directly under running water. Don't be afraid to squash the brush against the sink. Some brush companies recommend using a little soap if the brush isn't going to be used for a while.

The process for cleaning oil-based paint out of a brush is a little more involved than that of latex because a petroleum solvent is used to dissolve the paint instead of water. Working with a solvent is a more messy proposition, so people often just stick the brush in a can of solvent to let it soak overnight. A week later, their $15 brush either is stiff or has bristles bent permanently from standing in the can.

Cleaning a brush with solvent isn't that bad if you work deliberately and reuse the solvent. I prefer paint thinner (mineral spirits) because it's inexpensive, it doesn't leave an oily residue, and it isn't as strong smelling as some other solvents.

I keep thinner that's already been used for brush-cleaning in a specially marked container, and I begin every cleaning by pouring a couple of cupfuls of the used thinner into my cut bucket. Using the soiled brush as a scrub brush, I clean the inside of the bucket so that it is ready for future use. At the same time the paint in the brush is being dissolved. The cut-bucket contents are then returned to the used-thinner container.

Putting your brush to bed -- When most of the paint has been rinsed out, I set the brush on the edge of my cut bucket and scrape off any paint residue from the bristles with the wire brush. Then I give the brush a final rinse. With my latex brushes I rinse until the water from the brush runs clear. For my oil-paint brushes I hold the brush by the bristles over the used-thinner bucket and pour a little fresh thinner into bristles until the thinner running out of the brush is clear.

When the brush is clean, I shake out the excess water or solvent and run a brush comb through the bristles a few times. The final step is replacing the brush in its wrapper, which not only protects the bristles but also helps the brush to keep its shape.

Latex paints are cleaned with water. Don't be afraid to squeeze the brush against the sink under a stream of water to force the paint out.


Paint thinner cleans up oil-based paints. Thinner from past paintbrush cleanings is used first to clean the bucket and the paintbrush at the same time.


A wire brush removes paint residue. After most of the paint has been washed out of the brush, a wire brushing removes any hardened paint left on the bristles.


A final rinse removes the last of the paint. New thinner is poured into the bristles to remove the last oil-based paint. Water does the final rinse for latex paint.


A brush comb straightens out the bristles. When the brush is completely clean, comb the bristles to straighten them out before putting the brush in its wrapper.



The final step in brush cleaning is always putting the brush back in its wrapper. The wrapper protects the brush and helps it to maintain its shape.




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