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How to Clean Paint Brushes (Wet and Dry Bristles)

three dirty paintbrushes being washed in a bucket of waterWhen it comes to DIY paint projects, the quality and condition of your paint brushes are so important! In order to achieve that perfect paint finish, you need your paint brushes to be in perfect condition. This means cleaning the bristles between project days, and washing them thoroughly before long-term storage. 

Failure to clean and maintain wall paint brushes in a timely manner will make it that much harder to restore them to their original condition or, even worse, they may become unusable altogether. So, if you want to make sure that your wall paint brushes serve you well for more than just the one time, carry out the necessary measures below to keep them clean and ready for your next paint project!

Step One: Rinse Off Excess Wet Paint

woman wearing white blouse wiping three dirty paint brushes with white rag

If you are an experienced painter, whether by profession or as a do-it-yourselfer, you should know that the proper way to dip a paint brush into a tin of paint is by wetting approximately two inches of the bristles only. This keeps the brush from becoming messy while the ferrule also stays clean. If you have been following this practice, it shouldn’t be much of a problem to remove excess wet paint when it’s time to clean the paint brush thoroughly. 

Start by rubbing the sides of the paint brush against the rim of the tin to remove as much paint from the bristles as possible. While this will help take off quite a bit of excess paint from the outer bristles, a good tip for removing paint from the centre of the brush is by combing it out with a painter’s comb or brush comb. Alternatively, you can use a wide tooth hair comb; however, these combs generally have finer teeth than a professional painter’s comb and therefore, must be used slowly and gently to avoid straining the bristles at the ferrule. As an additional measure to remove excess paint from the paint brush, stroke it against an old, clean cloth or towel.

Step Two: Clean With a Solution or Solvent

short blonde haired woman washing paintbrush under sink tap

The type of paint being used will dictate the type of cleaning the paint brush requires at this stage. For oil-based wall paints, cleaning with turpentine or mineral spirits is advised in order to break down the resin content in the paint. To do this, fill up a plastic bowl with the solvent of your choice; make sure that there is enough to fully submerge the bristles of the paint brush. Stir the brush around clockwise and counter-clockwise for at least 30 seconds before rubbing both sides of the paint brush against the rim of the bowl. Repeat this process multiple times until all of the paint has been removed from the bristles. 

For water-based paints such as latex and acrylic, cleaning off the bristles of the paint brush is much easier. You don’t need any special solvents but rather a simple cleaning solution made with 1-2 cups of warm water and 1 teaspoon of dishwashing liquid. Similar to cleaning paint brushes covered in oil-based paints, make the cleaning solution in a bowl and swish the brush around repeatedly until the bristles are clean.

Step Three: Rinse With Clean Water

short blonde haired woman with back to camera washing paintbrush under sink tap

There is likely to be some paint left on the bristles after the first two steps are complete, however, they would have loosened the grip of the paint on the brush, thus making it relatively easy to wash off under running water. Moreover, the paint brush will need to be rinsed off thoroughly in order to remove the solvent or solution used to clean it. 

If you have cleaned the paint brush with a solvent, you will require a soapy solution to remove any residue left on the bristles before rinsing with plain water. This can be done in the same manner as cleaning bristles covered in acrylic or latex paint. Thereafter, rinse off the paint brush in a bowl of clean, lukewarm water. You can also do this under warm, running water; however, it is important to hold the brush downward so that water doesn’t flow down the ferrule. It also helps to gently massage the bristles while rinsing them to thoroughly remove paint from the centre of the brush.

How to Clean Paint Brushes With Dried Paint

person washing paintbrushes and painting utensils in a large orange bucket

When dealing with dried paint on your paint brushes, it might seem near impossible to turn the hardened bristles clean and soft again but not if you use this method from Maid For You! Although it may take longer and require more effort, it is well-worth it if it saves you the cost of springing for new paint brushes. 

Explained below in clear, concise instructions are the steps to follow to clean paint-hardened brushes:

  • Pour undiluted vinegar in a plastic bowl or container, and place the paint brush inside so that the bristles are submerged. Soak the brush for an hour before checking if the bristles have softened; if not, leave it to soak for 1 more hour or so.
  • If the brush requires more soaking time after this, consider filling a pot with a fresh batch of vinegar, submerging the bristles in it, and placing the pot on the stove until the vinegar comes to a boil. Thereafter, switch off the stove and leave the vinegar to cool down. 
  • Remove the paint brush from the pot of vinegar. Make sure that the bristles are cool to touch before going further. 
  • Use a painter’s comb or a wide-tooth comb to comb out paint from the bristles. Rinse out the bristles at intervals while you continue combing through them.
  • After you have removed the hardened bits of dry paint from the paint brush, proceed to clean the bristles thoroughly using the three-step method shared earlier. 

How to Dry & Store Paint Brushes Properly

three different sized paintbrushes next to each other

There are a few key tips to keep in mind when drying your paint brushes to ensure that it is done safely and correctly. This is a crucial step in completing the entire process of cleaning and restoring paint brushes to their original condition as prolonged dampness, especially when stored damp, will weaken the bristles and encourage mould/mildew growth.

To dry your washed paint brushes before storing them away, follow the quick steps below:

  • Hold the paint brush by the handle and shake off as much water as you can.
  • Run your fingers over the bristles back and forth while holding the brush in a downward position; this will remove water that has collected at the tips.
  • Gently dab the brush on a dry towel or paper towels to soak up moisture. 
  • To dry the bristles completely, hang the brush upside down, or place it flat on a rack to air-dry completely.
  • Always store your wall paint brushes in a cool, dry cabinet by either laying them flat down or hanging them by their handles. 

Whether it’s wet or dry paint that you are dealing with, knowing the proper way to clean paint brushes is your best bet if you want to keep them in mint condition, and achieve the perfect finish for your next paint project!

Adriana Aziz is the operations manager at MaidForYou. With over 6 years of experience managing cleaning operations, she knows all the best hacks when it comes to cleaning residential and commercial buildings. With expert experience in managing house cleaning operations, interior design and logistics. She spends her free time with her family and as a freelance food critic.

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