Cleaning Brushes: Water-Based and Oil-Based
What you need
Simple cleaning method
Eco-friendly cleaning method (our favourite)
Cleaning Alkyd/Oil-Based brushes
Is it worth it to clean brushes?
If you want professional results over time,
you need to use high-quality paintbrushes.
Good brushes aren’t cheap and should be carefully maintained to ensure the performance doesn’t degrade over time.
High-quality brushes can last for years if well-maintained.
The photo below shows one of our exterior brushes that is 3 years old.
What you need
Cleaning brushes is simple and doesn’t require any special tools.
For the simple method:
All you need is a water source and a rag.
The kitchen sink works fine for most.
Nothing else is essential, but there are a number of tools and common household items that can be helpful.
A stiff dish brush, scrub brush, or scouring pad are common household items that are useful for removing dried paint on the top of the bristles and ferrule (metal section of the paintbrush).
Specialty tools for cleaning brushes include wire brushes, brush combs, and other useful cleaning equipment.
For the eco-friendly cleaning method:
1-2 litres of water per brush, a small bucket or a container big enough for a paintbrush, and an empty paint can.
As with the simple method, various common household items and specialty tools are useful but unnecessary.
For Cleaning Alkyd/Oil-based Brushes:
An empty container for waste paint and excess paint thinner or mineral spirits.
A wire brush or brush comb is highly recommended for cleaning alkyd brushes as it tends to be harder to clean and is best to keep off the skin.
Simple Method for Cleaning Brushes
Start by scraping excess paint from your cut can or tray into the original paint container.
Remove as much paint as possible from the brush to speed up the process.
Rinse the brush under running water, pressing the brush into the bottom of the sink or working water into the brush with your hands.
After a few minutes, the water should be clear and the brush clean.
Simple as promised.
This method has a few downsides, and we recommend following our preferred method.
See the end of the blog for tips on storing brushes.
Our Preferred Method
Start by scraping excess paint from the brush and back into the paint can.
We will clean the brush by working water into the bristles to dilute the paint and then remove the dirty water, rinsing and repeating the process.
To remove the dirty water, spin the brush out, scrape it against the side of the bucket, or wipe it off with a dry rag.
You only need to use around 1 cup of water per rinse.
I prefer to spin the brushes unless I’m cleaning brushes anywhere that I don’t want to make a mess.
After that, it’s rinsed and repeated until the water in the bucket isn’t discoloured anymore.
After 4 or 5 passes, the water in the bucket should be clear and the brush clean.
This method drastically reduces the water required to clean each brush and allows us to collect and properly dispose of the dirty water.
The average kitchen sink has a flow rate of 2.2 - 2.5 gallons per minute.
Assuming it takes 2-3 minutes to clean a brush, that’s around 5-7 gallons of water per brush.
We clean 5-6 brushes a day, which, over time, saves an astonishing amount of water.
Containing the wastewater in buckets also allows us to collect and dispose of the dirty water.
Acrylic Latex paints are technically safe for sewage but aren’t recommended.
We collect dirty water in old paint cans for responsible recycling and disposal.
Cleaning Alkyd/Oil-Based Brushes
Cleaning alkyd/oil-based brushes is similar to our preferred method.
The difference is that it requires paint thinner or mineral spirits for the first few rinses.
The final couple passed can be done with soapy water to ensure the brushes are clean.
Collecting the waste material and paint thinner is essential with this method as it is unsafe to dispose of alkyd/oil-based waste materials and paint thinner irresponsibly.
It’s sometimes smarter to dispose of alkyd/oil-based brushes rather than cleaning them because they need paint thinner or mineral spirits.
Storing Paint Brushes
Before we store the brushes, we hang them upside down to dry.
If you don’t have anywhere to hang the brush, place it on a paper towel or a dry cloth.
Once the brush is fully dry, put it back in the original packaging, known as the keeper.
This prevents the bristles from getting damaged between uses.
Do not place the keeper on a brush that is still wet. It traps moisture and can get mouldy.
Following these practices for cleaning and storing brushes will help ensure your high-quality brushes last for years.