Perfecting your technique for cutting in along trim and carefully peeling off painter's tape is time wasted if your paint tools are in bad shape. Ragged brush bristles can turn a quick baluster touchup into a streaked mess. In the pursuit of clean lines and pro-level paint jobs, we asked three painting experts for their best cleaning and care tips for their tools. Once you determine what to keep (like a pro-favorite Purdy) or toss (like a foam brush), read on to learn how to maintain your supplies in tip-top shape for a paint job that looks Photoshopped.
Prepping new materials
First, understand that paint tools are investments. Mauro Henrique, owner of Mauro's Painting and a painting contractor featured on Ask This Old House, notes that you can expect a paintbrush or roller to last about three to six months with proper care.
Jenn Stimpson, owner of building plans blog Build Basic, has a few tricks for your prepping tools to improve performance. Break in a fresh brush with stiff bristles using a little finger work. "Pinch the end of the bristles, and then lightly pull away from the brush to remove any loose strands," she says. "If you're working with latex paints, dip the brush in a glass of water to remove lint."
For removing lint on new rollers: "Wrap a piece of painter's tape around your hand with the sticky side facing outward, and then roll it over a new roller cover to remove lint before painting," Stimpson says.
Storing during a project
You can save yourself some trouble by skipping mid-project cleaning. "Keep a used paintbrush or roller cover fresh between coats, or even overnight, by wrapping it in plastic wrap or heavy-duty aluminum foil," suggests Stimpson. If you plan on waiting more than 24 hours to use them, drop them in a airtight bag, squeeze out all of the air, and place them in your fridge to keep the paint fresh. Henrique prefers stashing brushes inside plastic sandwich bags during painting breaks.
Cleaning after a project
"Always clean your brushes and rollers immediately after your painting project is completed," advises Henrique. If you treat your paintbrushes right, they shouldn't be too difficult to clean, says Scott Burt, painting contractor and president of Vermont-based Topcoat Finishes. First, you must remove all excess paint from the brush, roller, paint tray, or roller frame. For paint trays, Burt recommends using the heavy plastic kind, brushing excess paint back into the can, and letting the final layer of paint dry instead of rinsing out.
Where you wash your tools with water may differ, given your septic system or municipality's restrictions. "Many municipalities are okay with waterborne paint waste, water coming off brushes and going down drains during cleaning, because it heads straight to a treatment center with all the other waste water," says Burt. However, he warns against this if you're on a private or shared septic system. He and his team prefer to clean brushes in a bucket and finish with a clean-water rinse before shaking them out.
Your rinsing method depends on the type of paint. For water-based paint, Henrique prefers warm water and about a teaspoon of soap. For a brush, use your fingers to push the paint through and out of the bristles, pressing them up against the base of the sink and scrubbing paint stuck to the outside of bristles with a scrub sponge. For a roller cover, run a 5-in-1 tool's curved blade down the cover to remove excess paint, pull the cover halfway off the frame and run it under warm water, working with your fingers to get the paint loose from fibers.
For oil-based paint, Henrique uses odorless mineral spirits. For a brush, pour solvent in a small container and swish the tool from side to side, using the edges of the container to push out paint. Then give it a rinse with clean mineral spirits. For a roller cover, remove excess paint with a 5-in-1, dip and roll it around in a paint tray filled with solvent, and do a final rinse with clean solvent.
Regardless of paint type, you can use a wire brush to get paint out from between brush bristles. Try 1831 Painter's Comb, about $9; Wooster Brush, Amazon). In a pinch, sub in an old fork for a wire brush.
See More: How to Clean a Paint Brush
There are a number of specialized products on the market to clean paint tools, including a recent This Old House magazine editors' favorite, The Paint Pirahna, (about $11 thepaintpiranha.com), which pulls paint off bristles and has a curved jaw for scraping roller covers clean.
Drying your tools is important, as well. Burt has seen old-timers knock a brush's metal band against their work boots to get a good shakeout, but today's brushes can't take that treatment. Henrique always gives brushes and roller covers a good spin with a spinner before storing. Try 5200 Professional Paint Brush & Roller Cleaner, about $23; Shur-Line, Amazon.
Maintaining after cleaning
Once your brush is clean and nearly dry, prep it for storage. Askew brush bristles don't put a tool out of commission. "If a brush's bristles are out of place, dip the brush in boiling water, and then comb the bristles with a wire comb to reform its shape," says Stimpson.
Fuzzy paint-roller covers can use the occasional trim. "Using scissors, carefully cut away dried paint flakes from the ends of a roller cover to prevent an unwanted texture along the border of each stroke," notes Stimpson.
Storing between projects
That hard work spent getting the last specks of paint out of investment tools will be wasted unless you take care to store them properly for the next use. Our experts agree that it's essential to store paintbrushes in their original protective covers. If you lose a cover, Stimpson recommends making your own using duct tape and cardboard with the cover of a similar-size brush as a guide.