How to Take Care of Your Paint Brushes 

A clean used paint brush

Painting can be time-consuming and tedious, so cleaning your brushes may be the last thing you want to do after spending hours or days on your project. But if you don’t take a few extra moments to care for your paint brushes properly, you’re going to discover that they’re stiff, damaged, and useless next time you pull them out.

This article will explain how to clean and store your paint brushes so they are ready to go next time you need them.


Before you begin, take a moment to decide where you’re going to clean your brushes and rollers. You don’t need much – just a source of water and a surface on which to lay your brushes and cleaning supplies. 

Many homes have a utility sink in their laundry room, which is ideal if you’re cleaning latex paint. Or, you can clean your brush under an outdoor faucet. 

For oil-based paint, we strongly recommend cleaning your brushes in the garage, work shed, or even outdoors where you are less likely to splatter paint or solvents on a delicate household surface like a countertop.

Cleaning Latex Paint From Brushes

Black paint in a sink
Photo Credit: Bri / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

The nice thing about latex paint is that it’s water soluble, so it comes off with soap and water provided you don’t wait too long. Once it dries, however, you’re out of luck. So be sure to clean your brushes, rollers, paint pans, and any paint splatter or drips while the paint is still wet. 

Here are the steps for cleaning latex paint from brushes:

1. Scrape Off Excess Paint

When you finish painting, scrape the bristles gently against the inside edge of the paint can to remove excess paint. Then flip the brush and repeat on the other side. Don’t skip this step. The actual process of cleaning the brush is easier and less messy if you get rid of the excess paint.

2. Flush With Water

Run the brush under the faucet to rinse off the paint. It will take a few minutes to get all the paint out, so be patient. As you’re rinsing it, press the brush against the floor of the sink to squeeze paint residue from between the bristles. Alternatively, you can also squeeze the bristles repeatedly with your hand as you rinse the brush. After a couple of minutes, the water should become milky and then mostly clear.

3. Wash With Soap

Dish soap is a great cleaner and degreaser. Squirt some in a bucket and add warm water, then swirl the brush in the water and knead it with your hand to work out the remaining paint. Rinse thoroughly to remove any remaining paint and soap.

4. Inspect

Check your brush. Does any paint remain on the ferrule? Examine the bristles. Are they clean, or are there tiny flecks of paint still clinging to them? Gently pull the bristles apart and look in between. Is any paint still lodged between them? If you still see paint, wash the brush again.

5. Dry Thoroughly

Use a soft cloth or towel to dry the bristles, then allow the brush to air dry for a few hours as well.

Cleaning Oil-Based Paint From Brushes

Oil-based paints won’t clean up well with soap and water. For these, you’ll need turpentine or mineral spirits to break down the oils.

Things you’ll need:

  • Paint solvent
  • A bucket
  • Soap and water
  • A soft cloth
  • Sterile plastic gloves to protect your hands

Note: Short-term contact with solvents can cause mild to moderate skin irritation, so we strongly recommend using nitrile gloves. 

Here are the steps for cleaning oil-based paint from brushes:

1. Choose Your Solvent

Check the paint can for directions about what solvent works best with your particular paint. Generally, mineral spirits or turpentine work well for all oil-based paints.

2. Scrape Off the Excess Paint

Just as with latex paint, you should remove as much excess paint as you can before you start cleaning the brush.

3. Swirl the Brush in the Solvent

Pour some solvent in a bucket. You don’t need a lot. Dip the brush in the solvent and swirl it around. Press the brush against the bottom or side of the bucket to squeeze the paint out. You can also knead the brush with your hand.

4. Wash With Soap and Water

Squirt some soap in a bucket and add warm water, then swirl the brush in the water and knead it with your hand. Or, you can apply the soap directly to the bristles and work it in to clean off the remaining solvent. Rinse thoroughly to remove any remaining solvent and soap.

5. Inspect

Check your brush. Does any paint remain on the ferrule? Examine the bristles. Are they clean, or are there tiny flecks of paint still clinging to them? You can run a comb gently through the bristles to remove any flecks of paint that remain.

6. Dry Thoroughly

Take your brush outside, away from your house and shake it back and forth vigorously to remove excess water. You can also hold the handle between your palms and rub it back and forth to rotate the brush quickly, the way you would if you were trying to start a fire with a stick. Then use a soft cloth or towel to pat the bristles dry, and allow the brush to air dry for a few hours.

IMPORTANT: Do not pour the solvent down the sink or stormwater drain. Solvents are classified as hazardous waste and should be disposed of safely at your county or municipal hazardous waste collection site.

Storing Your Brushes

After all this work, the worst thing you can do is just throw the clean brushes in a drawer or on a shelf to gather dust. Wrap them carefully in a soft cloth and lay them flat, or place them in sealable plastic bags.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I use a disposable paint brush?

Yes, but only for small jobs like touching up painted surfaces. Disposable brushes tend to be of lower quality and may leave streaks or may drip paint because their bristles are not tightly packed. A good, high-quality paint brush will cost a few dollars more but is well worth the extra money.

How can I tell a quality brush from a cheap brush?

A good paint brush will have:

  • Smooth Tip: The bristles should be smooth and soft and have varying lengths around the toe to achieve a slim tip. 
  • Good Bend Recovery: Pull the bristles to one side with your hand and release to check the bend recovery. Solid bristles spring back when you bend at the base, but cheap, hollow bristles crimp. 
  • High Bristle Density: Hold the brush up and look inside the bristles. They should be densely packed and not have a filler strip in the middle. If bristles aren’t tightly packed, your brush will have voids that will fill with paint and drip when you paint. 

How do I clean paint rollers?

To clean a paint roller, you’ll need to wash the frame and the cover with soap and water or a paint solvent. Check out our paint roller cleaning guide for detailed, step-by-step instructions.

When to Hire a Pro

Painting isn’t that difficult when you get the hang of the technique, but it is still time-consuming and can be messy. If you’d prefer to leave the work to someone else, Paint Gnome can pair you with a professional who will do the job right the first time.

Main Photo Credit: La Miko / Pexels / License

Whitney Lehnecker

A native of Ohio, Whitney Lehnecker is a career journalist and newspaper designer. She now lives in Central Florida with her husband and two pups, Goose and Bindi.