Best Way to Clean Paint Brushes

My grandpa taught me the best way to clean paint brushes! Now I’m sharing his proven tips for effortlessly washing latex paint off paint brushes with you.

My grandpa taught me the best way to clean paint brushes! Now I'm sharing his proven tips for effortlessly washing latex paint off paint brushes with you.

Best Way to Clean Paint Brushes

Are you tired of wasting money on paint brushes? Sick of throwing them away after only a few uses? Today I’m sharing my grandfather’s best paint brush tips and tricks with you. We’ll learn how to clean paint brushes so you’ll never have to throw away another brush again!

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Paint Runs in My Blood

For as long as I can remember my grandparents owned a six-family apartment building. My grandfather was the landlord and “Mr. Fixit”. He did all the maintenance from electrical work to prepping apartments for new tenants.

Prepping an apartment for a new tenant meant giving each room a fresh coat of paint. And there were LOTS of rooms. Each flat had a parlor, living room, kitchen, pantry, bathroom, four bedrooms and a back kitchen or laundry room. As soon as I had my driver’s license I was enlisted to help with the painting duties. I’m not saying I’m an expert painter, but I have A LOT of painting experience.

Unlike corporate apartment complexes where every room is the same color, my grandfather would paint each room a different color. I practically needed a spreadsheet to know which color went with which room! “Mojave Beige” goes on the walls in the second bedroom with “Arctic White” trim. “Thyme Leaves” green goes in the pantry with “Root Beer” brown trim. I once asked if it would be easier to use one color for all the rooms. My grandfather didn’t really have an answer lol

My grandfather loved a variety of paint colors, and he LOVED his paintbrushes. He took pride in saying he owned his collection of brushes for years. My grandfather’s advice was if you learn how to clean paint brushes they’ll last forever. Over the years he taught me the best way to clean paint brushes and today I’m sharing the tips I learned with you.

Before we get into the best way to clean paint brushes, be sure to click the subscribe button at the bottom of this page to sign up for my FREE weekly newsletter loaded with helpful pocket hole tricks, space-saving workshop ideas, clever DIY tips and more!

1. Best Way to Clean Paint Brushes: Start with a Quality Brush

My grandfather’s first tip was to start with a quality brush. A quality paint brush will apply a smoother finish and will be easier to clean.

My favorite brush is this Purdy XL Cub. It has a stubby handle which means it weighs less than a comparable long-handled brush. And for me, this makes my carpal tunnel wrist and tendinitis hand much happier.

Even better than weighing less, the stubby handle gives you better control of the brush. 

I use the Purdy XL Cub to cut in around windows, doors, ceilings and floor trim. I also use it to paint trim, window screen frames, wood storm windows, doors, screen doors, small furniture projects and more.

The best way to clean paint brushes is to start with a quality brush like this stubby handle paint brush

2. Best Way to Clean Paint Brushes: Keep Paint Out of the Ferrule

Before we go any further with our look at the best way to clean paint brushes we need a quick lesson in paint brush anatomy. The bristles apply the paint and the metal part or ferrule connects the bristles to the handle. We want paint on the bristles NOT in the ferrule. 

Keeping paint out of the metal ferrule is the best way to clean paint brushes

If we take a new brush and press the bristles against our hand we’ll notice the bristles are very flexible. This flexibility is what allows the brush to lay down a smooth coat of paint.

The bristles will become less flexible if we allow paint to collect and dry in the ferrule. When the bristles become stiff and lose their flexibility it can affect the way the brush applies paint. Not only that but cleaning paint out of the ferrule can be difficult.

Preventing paint from collecting in the ferrule will make it easier for us to clean our brushes. Plus, it will make our brushes last much longer.

Showing flexibility of paint brush bristles. Washing latex paint out of a brush helps maintain its flexibility.

3. Best Way to Clean Paint Brushes: Don’t Overload the Brush

Now we know that we don’t want the paint to reach the ferrule, but how do we prevent this from happening? The short answer is to properly load the brush. We only need about the width of two to two-and-half fingers when loading the brush with paint.

Loading more paint than necessary increases the chances of the paint wicking into the ferrule. And we know the brush will be more difficult to clean if we allow paint to collect in the ferrule.

Loading the brush with about the width of two-and-half fingers helps to prevent getting paint in the ferrule. Keeping paint out of the ferrule makes the brush easier to clean.

Remove Excess Paint

We need to scrape off the excess paint before we begin to paint with the brush. We should have poured our paint into a HANDy Paint Pail or similar container. We can use the edge of the pail to scrape off the excess paint. Scraping excess paint against the rim of the paint can may introduce dried paint chunks and debris into our paint supply. That said, I don’t follow my own suggestion here. I scrape my paintbrush against the paint can!

Stand the Brush Upright

We shouldn’t lay the brush flat if we need to grab a glass of water or take a quick potty break. Laying the brush flat increases the chances that the paint in the bristles could wick up into the ferrule. Instead, stand the brush upright. Again, the HANDy Paint Pail is a great option for this. It has a magnet inside the cup which holds the brush upright.

Stand your paint brush upright when not in use

4. Best Way to Clean Paint Brushes: Clean Immediately

Allowing paint to dry on our paint brush is bad. I think dried paint is the number one enemy of our paint brush. My paint brushes are so much easier to clean as long as I keep the brush constantly loaded with wet paint.

As soon as that paint begins to dry the brush becomes more difficult to clean. That’s why it’s important to wash the brush as soon as we finish our painting project.

Many times we’ll be painting with water-based latex paint, so I’ve geared this paintbrush cleaning procedure for cleaning a paint brush used for painting latex paint.

Can You Clean Paint Brushes in the Sink?

Yes, we can clean our paint brushes in the sink. That’s where my grandfather taught me to clean them. And I still wash my latex paint brushes in the sink today.

We’ll start by cleaning our paint brush with hot water. We need to use the hottest water our hands can tolerate. Hot water practically melts latex paint off the brush. Flex and pounce the paint brush against the bottom of the sink allowing the hot water to flood the bristles. Most of the paint should just run right out of the brush.

How to clean paint brushes - hot water from a faucet practically melts latex paint off of a paintbrush

What Can I use to Clean My Paint Brushes?

The best way to clean paint brushes is with original Dawn Dish Soap. You know, the Dawn dish soap they use to rescue wildlife from oil spills. If it’s good enough for animals it’s good enough for my paint brushes.

I add a couple drops of Dawn to the brush and massage the soap into the bristles. I start near the ferrule and work my way towards the ends of the bristles. Again, we’ll flex and pounce the paintbrush against the bottom of the sink allowing the hot water to flood the bristles.

How to clean paint brushes - massage Dawn dish soap into the bristles of the brush

Use a Painter’s Comb

The last step to cleaning our paint brush is to use the brush side of a painter’s comb to brush the soap and any remaining paint out of the brush. I use this time to really inspect the brush. If I notice any dried paint on the bristles I’ll scrape it off with my fingernail.

Once again, we’ll flex and pounce the paintbrush against the bottom of the sink allowing the hot water to flood the bristles. The brush is totally clean when the water runs clear from the brush.

Using a painter's comb is the best way to clean paint brushes and remove any remaining paint from the brush

5. Best Way to Clean Paint Brushes: Comb the Bristles

Now that our paint brush is totally clean it’s time to prep the brush for storage. First, we’ll flick the brush into the sink to remove any remaining water. Don’t put away that painter’s comb just yet. We’ll use the comb to straighten any stray bristles.

Using a painter's comb is the best way to clean paint brushes and to straighten any stray bristles

6. Best Way to Clean Paint Brushes: How to Store Paint Brushes

My grandfather taught me the best way to clean paint brushes and how to store paint brushes. He said the best way to store a paint brush is in its original cardboard wrapper. Oftentimes the cardboard wrapper gets tossed. In that case, I do the next best thing. I to wrap my paint brushes in paper towel.

Storing paint brushes in the original wrapper or paper towel helps to maintain the shape of the freshly combed brush. The paper towel prevents those pesky bristles on the outside edge from winging out. Plus, wrapping the paint brush prevents dust from collecting on the brush while it’s in storage. Once our brush is wrapped we can hang it to dry until our next project.

My grandfather told me how to store paint brushes. He said to store paint brushes in their original wrapper or wrap in paper towel as shown here

Bonus Tip: Keep it Cool

There might be a time while we’re painting when we need to take an extended break. If we’re using latex paint we can wrap our brush in plastic wrap and store it in the fridge. The plastic wrap and cool temp slows the paint drying process.

If you're taking an extended break wrap your paint brush in plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator

We need to stand the brush upright and not resting on the bristles. Resting the brush on the bristles can change the shape or bend the bristles. We want our bristles straight so we’ll use painter’s tape to attach the brush to an orange juice container or anything else we have in our fridge. And remember, this is for short breaks only. We don’t want to leave our brush in the fridge for days.

Final Thoughts

My grandfather taught me the best way to clean paint brushes. And now you know how to clean paint brushes too! And we learned a few other paint brush tips along the way.

Thank you for stopping by. If you found this information helpful, would you please pin it to Pinterest? Other DIYers would appreciate it and I would too! Thank you – Scott

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  1. I have used your points for sometime. I want to add one if you have brush with dried paint try WD 40 on it, massage the WD40 into the entire brush, add more if needed then clean as usual with water and soap. It worked for me on some old brushes. Also have paint on your hands WD40 into palm and work it all over your hands, wipe clean with paper towel. If entering house get a clean paper towel to open the door handle, that stuff is slick. Ask me how I know!

    1. Hey John – I’ve never hear of using WD 40 on paintbrushes… I will have to give it try! Thank you!

  2. Thank you for the useful tips.
    I usually don’t have a problem keeping my paintbrushes clean when using water based paints. However, I hate oil/solvent based paints and polyurethane. I usually use cheap paint brushes for this purpose and throw them after each use. Although I’d love to use quality brushes for quality results.. but maintaining them is a real pain in the back!

    1. Thank you – I’m glad you found it useful! I agree, cleaning oil-based products off of brushes is one of my least favorite chores.

      1. I used to paint as a summer job and we did little in way of cleaning oil brushes. We just left them in paint thinner until they were needed again. If it was more than a few days then the paint would actually congeal and you could just remove it. These days, I leave the brush a few days in mineral spirits, and once it congeals I remove it, spin the brush, and then dry it off with a rag. I know the manufactures don’t like this, but I’ve had brushes that lasted for years doing this.

        I actually find latex paint to be a far bigger pain in the neck as it often dries so quickly that it takes a long time to comb out the dried paint, and I can never seem to get it as clean as an oil brush.

  3. Great instructions, I did the same with my paint brushes. Plus I spray the bristles with “orange cleaner”…..From the dollar stores as it makes my clean up even faster (it’s also just great for all kinds of general cleaning……especially where oil/grease is involved). I spray with the orange spray first & wait about 5 minutes (it losses any paint that has become a little tacky) then I come back & apply the Dawn & clean as you instructed.

  4. You missed perhaps the most important tip for both using and cleaning brushes for latex paint: Wet the brush before using it. Simply wet the brush under a faucet and then remove excess water by quickly slapping bristles back and forth against an object — aka: Bob Ross style. This pre-moistens the inside bristles so that they do not suck the moisture out of the paint — thus hastening the hardening of the paint on the inside bristles. By pre-wetting, the brush works better and certainly cleans much easier.

  5. Thanks. I never thought of using a brass bristle brush. I had one on the shelf and found it worked much better than the comb.


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