If you are going to be tackling any home improvement projects that involve painting, you’re going to have to know how to go about cleaning a paint brush. If you don’t do it properly, the paint will dry in the bristles of the brush and it will quickly become hard and unusable. In this case, you might just as well throw the brush away
So if you are not conscientious about cleaning up after DIY jobs, don’t go buying the most expensive tools available. Rather buy cheap, special-offer brushes that you can discard after a few times of use. The only problem with most of the cheaper brushes is that the bristles tend to come away from the brush, or shed, more easily. If finish is really important (which it usually is for any top coat) or if you are going to be using a specialist paint brush, for example an expensive genuine badger brush, for a paint technique, then there will be no getting away from the cleaning process.
So What’s Involved in Cleaning a Paint Brush?
First of all you need to consider what paint you are using. Whatever is needed to clean brushes and other painting tools like rollers, will be the same ingredient you will use if you need to dilute the paint prior to using it.
Generally, paints are either water-based (emulsions and acrylics) or solvent-based (for example enamels and alkyds). Water is the easy one, although be warned that water-based paints dry a lot more quickly than solvent-based paints do, so they also wreck brushes more easily.
If you are going to opt for a solvent-based type, make sure you know what solvent is required. Most solvent-based paints are designed to work with ordinary mineral turpentine. Thinners is another solvent, for example that is used for most lacquers, but only use it if the manufacturer’s instructions tell you too. Try cleaning a paint brush you have used for emulsion paint with thinners and you’ll end up with a globular mess. Some paints are designed to be used with a specific solvent made by the same manufacturer. Don’t mess about experimenting with other solvents, just buy the correct product in the first place, or choose a different type of paint.
If you are going to be using more than one type of paint, for example an acrylic paint for a wall and enamel for the skirting board, then use different paint brushes. Apart from the solvent factor, you will need a narrow brush for a skirting and a much wider one for the wall. Even though it takes longer to paint a wall with a brush, rather than a roller, there are people (including me) who prefer using a brush. It’s easier to control where you put the paint and doesn’t normally result in paint spatters all over your head and face!
Before you start any paint job, always make sure that you have all the tools and equipment you need. This includes rags for mopping up any spills, and for cleaning at the end of the project. You can buy rolls of cloth for this purpose at paint and hardware stores, or use an old tee-shirt that you might otherwise throw away.
Using water to clean your brushes
When you have finished your paint project, wipe as much of the paint out of the brush as possible. There will usually be some part of the surface that you painted first that will be dry. Often you can wipe any leftover paint over the dry surface. Then hold the brush under cold running water and use a scrubbing brush to brush out any paint that is still sticking to the bristles. You will find that paint has a nasty habit of gathering at the base of the bristles, so continue this process until the water runs clear.
Once the brush is clean, with absolutely no trace of paint, go outside and shake the brush to get rid of excess water. Then lay it flat where it can dry.
Many paint projects involve two or more coats of paint, but don’t be tempted to leave cleaning until the project is complete. Remember that while you’re waiting for the first coat of paint to dry, it will dry on your brush as well. Leaving the brush in water for this time is a possible solution, but you’ll still need to get rid of the excess before you start work again. Otherwise what happens is the water that collects in the bristles has a tendency to dribble down your hand when you start painting again.
Using solvents to clean your brushes
The process you will use with solvents is similar to the one you follow with water, except that you can’t use running liquid for the cleaning process. Instead, having wiped off as much excess paint as possible using a rag, put the brush into a container that you have filled with the solvent, an old but clean tin or a jar for example. Old paint cans are a good idea because they have a larger neck than many other containers. Just be sure the can is clean before you use it. Be careful not to use plastic containers because chemical solvents will melt the material and you’ll end up with a slushy mess.
Then you need to work the paint out of the brush. It sometimes helps to use a second, smaller brush to do this. Don’t use a scrubbing brush unless you wear gloves because solvents can damage your skin. Once you have removed all the paint and as much of the solvent as possible, you can either use the brush again straight away, or soak for a while in warm, soapy water, rinse, shake out the water, and lay it flat to dry.
If you find it difficult to get your brush properly clean after you have used it to paint with enamels, an excellent solution is to use a degreaser.
Using degreasers to clean your brushes
Some paint manufacturers make these products and market them especially for cleaning brushes. They may also be used to get rid of motor oil and other greasy spillages on garage or workroom floors, or even on brick paved surfaces.
Degreasers are extremely powerful solvents, and the way they work is to convert the grease into a form that can be rinsed off with water. So if you are cleaning a paint brush using a degreaser, you first wipe as much excess paint off it as possible. Then you put a small amount of the liquid into a container and dip the brush into it. Push the bristles into the liquid, working the paint out the same as you do with ordinary solvents. Be sure to be thorough otherwise when you rinse with water you won’t get all the paint out. That’s why it is usually best to use a solvent like turpentine first, and then complete the process with a degreaser.
The last part of the process is to run the brush under cold running water, which will become cloudy as it comes into contact with the residue. Make sure you get rid of all residue. Then soak in warm soapy water, rinse, shake and leave to dry.
Always wear gloves when you work with degreasers because they can do a lot of skin damage.
TIP: If you’re cleaning a badger brush, use a hair conditioner on it after you’ve cleaned it. They are expensive tools and it pays to look after them.