How to Clean Paint Rollers Correctly

paint roller placed on a stepladder

Paint rollers are a painter’s best friend. They cover more area more quickly than a paint brush, making it easy to paint large surfaces. However, cleaning them can be a hassle, and tossing them out after every use can take a bite out of your wallet. In this article, we’ll teach you how to clean paint rollers correctly.

The Importance of Cleaning Paint Rollers

Painting is one of the least expensive ways to make your home more attractive. But to ensure a high-quality paint job, you’ll need to buy the best tools and materials and ensure they last a long time. Paint rollers are no exception.

There are several reasons to clean paint rollers:

  1. Extends their lifespan: Proper cleaning and maintenance ensures your paint roller has a long lifespan. As a result, you won’t need to buy another one from the store, and you save money.
  2. Creates a smooth paint job: A clean paint roller creates a smoother, more even finish.
  3. Prevents contamination: Any paint still on the roller contaminates the new coat, leading to a less colorful and vibrant paint job.

What You Need

Paint rollers are made for two types of paints: oil-based and water-based (aka latex). The cleaning process differs slightly between them, but you’ll need the following tools regardless of the paint:

  • 5-in-1 tool or putty knife
  • Bucket
  • Rubber gloves
  • Safety glasses
  • Material spirits
  • Warm water
  • Dish soap
  • Stiff-bristled brush
  • Brush comb
  • Paper towel or rag
  • Newspaper
  • Disposable plastic bottles

Step 1: Wash Roller Frames

a painter painting a wall with a paint roller
Photo Credit: primipil / Canva Pro / License

Put on your rubber gloves and safety glasses before starting work, as they’ll protect your hands and eyes from harmful materials.

Remove Excess Paint

A paint roller absorbs excess paint like a sponge, so the first step is to remove as much as possible. 

Hold the roller over the can opening. Use your 5-in-1 tool or putty knife to gently scrape the extra paint back into the can. Don’t scrape too hard or you will damage the nap of the roller. Then blot the roller on newspaper.

Pro Tip: Consider buying a paint roller spinner to speed up the process. It spins the roller rapidly to remove the excess paint and water. To use it:

  1. Scrape off the excess paint.
  2. Attach the roller to the spinner and hold it over a bucket or sink.
  3. Pull the handle on the spinner to spin the brush, removing the remaining paint and water from it.

Clean the Frame (Latex/Water-based Paints)

Always clean the roller frame immediately after you’re done painting, as it’s easier to clean while the paint is still wet.

  1. Remove the roller cover from the frame and set it aside. 
  2. Fill a bucket with warm water and some dish soap.
  3. Dip the frame into the bucket.
  4. Wipe the paint off the frame and handle with a stiff-bristled brush.
  5. Rinse the paint roller in the sink to remove what’s left.
  6. Leave it out to air dry.

Clean the Frame (Oil-Based Paints)

Unlike water-based paints, you’ll need mineral spirits to remove oil-based paints from your roller frames, as oil and water don’t mix. Short-term contact with solvents like mineral spirits or turpentine can cause mild to moderate skin irritation, so we strongly recommend using rubber gloves or nitrile gloves and safety glasses.

  1. Dampen a cloth with water.
  2. Dip the cloth in mineral spirits.
  3. Wipe off any paint on the frame and handle.

Alternative: Place the paint roller in a small container and pour in enough mineral spirits to cover the paint roller. Let it sit for a few minutes. The solvent will remove the paint.

Step 2: Wash Roller Covers

Latex/Water-Based Paints

  1. Fill a bucket halfway with water and soap.
  2. Submerge the roller cover in the bucket.
  3. Squeeze the paint out of the roller cover. It’ll take several minutes.
  4. Rinse the cover with clean water until the water becomes clear.
  5. Shake the rest of the water out and leave it to dry.

Oil-Based Paints

  1. Fill a container with mineral spirits, but not fully, as you’ll place your roller cover in it, and you don’t want the spirits to spill out.
  2. Place the cover in the spirits. Rub the paint out of it with your gloved hands. This should take 5 to 7 minutes.
  3. Remove the cover from the bucket carefully to ensure the mineral spirits drip into the bucket and nowhere else.
  4. Put it in the sink and let it dry for a few minutes.
  5. Wash the cover in the sink with soap and water.
  6. Rinse it out until the water becomes clear.

Pro Tip: Don’t lay the roller cover flat to dry; doing so will crush the fibers on one side, keeping it from rolling correctly the next time you paint with it. Instead, place some string through the center of the roller cover and hang it somewhere.

Step 3: Clean the Paint Trays

paint roller and brush on a tray
Photo Credit: Pexels

Here’s how to clean your paint tray so you can use it again.

  • Water/Latex Paint: Let the paint dry and peel it off. Use your 5-in-1 tool or stiff-bristled brush to remove any dried paint stuck on the edges. Or, if the paint is still wet, wash it with soapy water and rinse thoroughly.
  • Oil-Based Paint: Pour any excess paint back into the container, then wipe the tray with paper towels. Put some mineral spirits on the rag and wipe away any remaining paint. Finish by washing it with warm, soapy water.

Cleaning Up

Once you’re done cleaning your roller, the paint is next. The cleaning method differs depending on the paint.

  • Water/Latex Paint: Never pour paint down a storm sewer. Instead, pour it down a sink that leads to a water treatment facility.
  • Oil-Based Paint: Don’t pour mineral spirits down a sink; it’ll contaminate the pipes and groundwater. Instead, pour them into a disposable bottle and wait for the paint solids to settle. Once they do, pour the solvent into a new bottle. Let the spirits and paint solids in the old bottle evaporate outside, then take the bottle to your municipality’s hazardous waste collection facility.

To learn more, read our detailed guide on how to dispose of paint safely.

The Easy Way Out

If you don’t have much time, you can always use this simple trick: Put a paint roller in a plastic bag and store it in the freezer to keep the paint from drying. Take it out, let it thaw, and it’ll be ready to use again.

Frequently Asked Questions

How often should I clean my paint roller?

Clean your paint roller after every painting session. Don’t forget to clean the roller frame and paint tray as well.

What if I need to take a break during painting?

Put your paint roller in a large plastic bag and tie it shut. Do the same with the paint tray but in a separate bag to prevent the paint from drying during your break.

How can I remove dried-on paint from a roller?

Soak the roller in a solvent like paint thinner or rubbing alcohol to soften the dried paint. Then scrub it gently with a brush or brush comb until the paint loosens, and rinse it with water.

DIY vs. Hiring a Pro

Correctly cleaning your paint rollers will extend their lifespan and effectiveness for future projects. If you don’t feel comfortable handling chemicals, contact a painting pro for a free quote.

Main Image Credit: nitimongkolchai / Canva Pro / License

Stuart Kushner

Stuart Kushner is a writer and aspiring product designer based in New York City. When he isn’t writing about home improvement projects, Stuart enjoys heavy metal music, exercise, and trying new food and drinks.