How to clean paint rollers in 5 easy steps

With this easy method we show you how to clean paint rollers, saving you money and reducing waste by protecting your decorating tools

Paint roller with green colour on painted wooden surface
(Image credit: tumsasedgars / Getty)

Knowing how to clean paint rollers is a must for any DIY decorator. While cleaning paint rollers may not be your top priority while completing a project, there are several (obvious) reasons you may choose to clean your rollers rather than chucking them in the trash can when you're done painting. 

First of all, some of the best paint rollers are actually quite expensive. Some feature extendable handles and high-tech materials, so you won't want to discard them after just one paint job. Throwing away paint rollers is also super bad for the environment as they can't be recycled. We hate waste, so here we explain how to clean them ready for reuse.

How to clean paint rollers

Fortunately, cleaning paint rollers 'isn’t hard', according to Laurence Mann, the Managing Director & product expert at Wood Finishes Direct (opens in new tab). However, it does take time and you need a few basic things to get started.

If you don't overload your roller, you should be able to finish your painting job with as little as possible left on it. Otherwise, roll off any excess paint on an old piece of carboard before you start to clean.

Home painter is painting walls with paint roller and paints during renovation

(Image credit: Grigorev_Vladimir / Getty)

You will need:

1. Scrape off as much paint as you can

Once the roller has dried a bit, use the sharp metal object to scrape off as much of the paint as you can. Be gentle (don’t ruin the roller) but firm enough to get rid of everything you can.

2. Rinse 

Thoroughly rinse the paint roller in the bucket filled with warm water and soap. Run it through as much as you can to soften the paint; try to get into every crevice. Be patient here: paint rollers have lots of fibers, so there will be more rinsing than you expected. 

3. Scrape some more

Try to scrape off any paint you haven’t been able to get rid of. Rollers are absorbent so you're unlikely to be able to get off all of the paint in one go.

4. Rinse again

Rinse the roller in just warm water, no soap now. This step is important as you want to get back to the original texture of your roller to be able to use it again in the future. Keep rinsing until the water runs clear. This can take some time and might need aiding with a bit more scraping and squeezing.

5. Let air dry

Now, let the roller dry out completely. Ideally, it should be standing upright as it dries. After this, it should be clean and ready to go for the next time you need it. Mann promises that 'if you soak, scrape, and clean it correctly, it should be almost like a new roller!'

Painting a wall using blue paint and a roller

(Image credit: Kontrec / Getty)

What is the easiest way to clean paint rollers?

If all of this sounds a bit time-consuming, there is another, quicker way, recommended to us by James Chapman, Director for Bella Bathrooms (opens in new tab). According to Chapman, 'to remove paint from the roller, you can use a solvent or paint thinner (opens in new tab). Let it sit for 20 minutes, then scrape off with a 5-in-1 tool (opens in new tab).' 

This is a great method if you already have solvent or paint thinner in the house, though it may not be worth buying solvent just for this purpose. If you're keen on DIY, though, there are many other uses for paint thinner; especially if you're undertaking a house renovation or refinishing a wood floor, you'll find it useful to have some handy. It can be used to clean paint brushes, too.

Just remember solvents like this can be hazardous so dispose of them responsibly,

Is it worth cleaning paint rollers?

Still not convinced whether it's worth cleaning your paint rollers? In Mann's view, it really is worth it: 'Supplies are expensive and, if you are painting regularly, you don’t want to buy a new roller every time. Take the time to clean them and re-use them a few times as needed!'

However, Chapman points out that 'if you're going to be using more than a few in a project, you should buy new ones—especially if you have some other task that would be more valuable to the time spent.' Always have a couple of spares in rotation while you clean and dry them.

Cleaning paint rollers is also not worthwhile 'if they are heavily soiled with paint.' Finally, 'it can be challenging to remove all of the paint, which means they may not perform as well as they did previously.'

All around, it is the best thing for the environment, so give it a go! 

Anna is Content Editor at Real Homes. She moved to the world of interiors from academic research in the field of English Literature and photography. She is the author of London Writing of the 1930s and has a passion for contemporary home decor and gardening. At Real Homes, she covers a range of topics, from practical advice to interior and garden design. 

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