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How To Clean & Maintain A Paint Brush

Two items determine the quality of your painting project. The quality of the brush and/or roller and the quality of the paint chosen. One of the most common mistakes made by the home handyman is to choose a high quality paint and then purchase the least expensive applicators possible.

Disposable brushes foam, Figure 1, and synthetic bristle, as shown in Figure 2, that are inexpensive work well for some projects.

Disposable foam paint brushes

Figure 1 - Disposable foam paint brushes

Disposable bristle paint brush

Figure 2 - Disposable bristle paint brush

However, painting moldings, house trim, sashes and other detail finishing pieces requires a high quality applicator that matches the quality and type of paint. A quality paint brush can last for years if it is properly cleaned and maintained.

How To Commence Proper Paint Brush Care:

Believe it or not, proper paint brush cleaning starts before you put the brush in the paint. If you want the paint brush to be easy to clean and last for years this is what you should do:

  • Dampen the paint brush with the solvent or thinner of the paint that you are planning on using prior to putting the brush in the paint. This technique allows thinner to permeate into the ferrule of the paint brush which prevents paint from drying in the upper part of the brush while you are painting. This will also prevent the paint from forming clumps during application.
  • You may notice, during a long application, that the paint is beginning to dry on the paint brush. If this begins to happen you should find a convenient spot to stop the project and clean the paint brush.

Paint Brush Cleaning:

The type of paint, determines the solvent or thinner that must be used to clean the paint brush. Read the paint manufacturer's instructions on the container, and follow their recommendations.

  1. Place the thinner or solvent in a container that is at least a 1/2 inch wider than the paint brush. Hold the paint brush in the thinner or solvent to the level of the ferrule (Figure 3). Using a spinning or twirling action saturate the bristles. Using the spiked side of the brush comb, work the solvent or thinner into the bristles. Take the paint brush out of the container.
  2. Paint brush ferrule

    Figure 3 - Paint brush ferrule
  3. Using an empty container use the brush side of the brush comb to remove the paint and thinner or solvent and then twirl the brush to remove the balance of the thinner or solvent.
  4. Place the paint brush in a clean container of thinner or solvent to the ferrule. Using the brush side of the brush comb take any paint that is still on the brushes bristles. Using the previous empty container twirl the brush.
  5. If you have a natural bristle paint brush you should wash the solvent or thinner from the brush using a quality hair shampoo. Just as it does to your own hair, a quality shampoo will revitalize the follicles in the bristles. With other types of bristles use warm soapy water. In both cases complete the cleaning by rinsing the paint brush in warm water, ensuring that all soap or shampoo has been removed.
  6. Use paper towels to dry the paint brush bristles. Using the spike side of the brush comb straighten the bristles to the original position.
  7. It is best to store your paint brush in the supplied packaging. If the supplied packaging is not available, use brown paper to make a sleeve around the bristles and use tape to fasten the paper.
  8. The proper method of storing a paint brush is to hang it bristles down or lay it on a flat surface.

Caring For Your Paint Brush Tips:

Always use a paint brush that is meant for the type of paint that you have chosen:

  • For water based paints use synthetic bristle paint brushes.
  • For oil based paints use natural bristles or synthetic bristle paint brushes that are made for use with water based or oil based paints.
  • A sure method of destroying a paint brushes' bristles is to soak it the cleaning agent, whether it is water, solvent or thinner, never allow paint brushes to soak!
  • Do not store paint brushes in a manner where the paint brush is resting on the end of it bristles.
  • Use the correct size paint brush for each project. A paint brush that is to large will have its bristles damaged as you paint. To small a paint brush creates excess ware and tear on the paint brush and the painter!
  • Dip your brush in the paint to a level never greater than 3/4 inch from the base of the ferrule. The higher the paint on the paint brush the more difficult it is to clean properly.
  • Placing to much paint on the paint brush while painting will cause paint to climb into the ferrule.
  • Do not try to paint the paint brush dry. This will destroy the paint brush bristles.
  • Clean the brush immediately after use.