How to clean paint brushes – remove even dried on oil or water-based paints from brushes and rollers

How to clean paint brushes properly. Tackle fresh or dried on, oil or water-based paint whether on a brush or a roller

How to clean paint brushes
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Learn how to clean paint brushes to make them last longer, and to prevent your shed and garden storage getting paint all over it... Sure, removing either fresh or dried on paint off of your best paint brushes and rollers might not be the most fun task, but the results are rewarding and it will save you some cash on buy replacement tools too... Read on to find out how to get every last bit of gunk off your brushes.

How to clean water-based paint off brushes

Top tip

In the middle of a painting project and want to keep your brushes fresh overnight? Simply wrap the head of your paintbrushes and roller in cling film or secure in an airtight plastic bag. Seal around the handle with masking tape and store in a dry place for up to two days – Dulux

  • When you’ve finished painting, scrape as much paint as possible from the brushes into the tin using the edge of it. You can even work it into some scrap paper.
  • Get a bucket or bowl of soapy water and leave to soak for a couple of hours. Refill with soapy water and wash the brush or roller, working the paint out of the bristles with your fingers. Shake off the water and paint into the bucket.
  • Fill the bucket/bowl with water and rinse the brush/roller in it, again working any leftover paint out with your fingers. Shake off the excess. Repeat until the brushes look clean.
  • Dry the brushes on a clean cloth.

How to clean oil-based paint off brushes

  • If you’ve used a gloss paint, scrape as much of the brush and back into the tin as you can. Fill an old glass jar with white spirit and put the brush in, pressing it against the sides to work the liquid into the brush.
  • Leave to soak for a couple of hours. Refresh the jar if necessary and work the brush around again (use a fresh jar of white spirit if needed) until the brush is clean.
  • Remove and rinse the brushes under the tap. Dry with a clean cloth and store.
  • DON’T pour the left over white spirit down the sink. Leave it in the jar and allow the paint to settle in the bottom. Pour off the clear liquid into a container so it can be reused. Let the paint dry into a solid lump then dispose of it in the rubbish bin.

Can you save a dried paint brush?

Thankfully, yes. So don't go throwing away pricey DIY or arts paint brushes just yet. If you've been using latex paint you shouldn't need to resort to such harsh cleaning agents as the acrylic paints will soften in warm water and dish soap.

Prepare a soapy water mixture in a clean container and suspend the brush in it, submerging the bristles. Work the bristles and then suspend again and let it soak for a half hour or so. Use a stiff brush to rub along the lines of the bristles to remove the softened paint and rinse until the water runs clear. Repeat if necessary.

For stubborn dried on paint that is water-based you may have to resort to a paint thinner, followed by the warm soapy water method and it may take a couple of goes.  Be sure to take precautionary measures when using paint cleaners as the fumes and vapor are flammable. Soak the bristles directly in a small can of thinner, keeping it out of reach of children, and covering the can as your paint brush soaks. Do this in a well ventilated area for about thirty minutes or until you see the paint settle. 

Top tip: Keep the can of paint thinner to use on any future paint brush cleaning!

How to store clean paint brushes mid-DIY

We've seen all sorts of tips for storing paint brushes, from wrapping them in cling film (not very eco-friendly) to submerging them in solvent (works only if you're pausing a DIY job for a couple of days). The method we swear by is simply wrapping your paint brushes in old newspaper once they are completely dry, and securing with rubber bands. Now they're ready to be stored in your shed. 

DIY perfection 👌

Alison Jones
Alison Jones

Alison is Assistant Editor on Real Homes magazine. She previously worked on national newspapers, in later years as a film critic and has also written on property, fashion and lifestyle. Having recently purchased a Victorian property in severe need of some updating, much of her time is spent solving the usual issues renovators encounter.