Cleaning and Storing Paint Brushes

Proper care and cleaning of paint brushes will extend the life of your brush and enhance the finish that will be achieved with a properly cleaned, and cared for paint brush.

For many trade painters rule number one is to always segregate brushes that are used in different types of paint. For example many painters will have a range of paint brushes that are only ever used in water based paints and another range of paint brushes that are reserved for oil based paints only. It is even good practise to keep brushes used for staining and brushes that are to be used for applying clear polyurethanes and varnishes separate and only use a brush for each specific task.

It is usually recommended that a paint brush is rinsed in the solvent applicable to the paint that it will be used for before initial use. Hog bristle will absorb a massive amount of water and many trade painters will soak a dry hog bristle brush in water for a while before using water based paints. This can help avoid the water based paints drying too fast on the dry bristle located closer to the handle. Synthetic bristle brushes will not absorb very much liquid at all so soaking may not be as beneficial as with natural bristle.

Paint brushes that are going to be used again the following day do not always need to be completely washed clean every day, especially if there is no change in the colour and type of paint. Both oil based and water based paint brushes can be protected from drying out by covering the bristles with water, separately of course for water based and oil based brushes. This will stop the paint from drying out by eliminating air around the bristle. On return to work simply shake or spin all the excess water from the bristle and even brush out the paint brush on an area that is not important to remove any excess water. Of course this short term storage method will not work for catalysed coatings such as 2 pack epoxies and urethane's.

When is does come time to completely clean a used paint brush the following steps will help minimise time, cost and wastage and prepare the brush for longer term storage.

  • Remove as much of the coating from the bristles first by wiping the brush on the edge of the paint container.
  • Place the minimum amount of solvent needed to wet the bristles in a paint pot or other container. The solvent does not need to cover the bristles as by working the bristle back and forth in the solvent on the bottom of the container will have the effect of thinning the remaining paint in the bristles so it easily runs from the bristle when the brush is shaken or spun. Repeating this step several times will usually clean the brush faster and with less solvent as the clean solvent added each time does not need to remove as much of the remaining coating.
  • Once there is no more colour remaining in the bristles shake or spin the brush to remove as much of the solvent as possible.
  • Next wash the brush in warm water with a mild detergent or soap. This will help to remove any remaining coating.
  • Once the brush has been thoroughly washed in warm soapy water rinse in fresh clean water ready for storage.
  • There are 2 commonly used methods of storage for a cleaned paint brush. Many prefer to hang the brush with the bristles hanging vertically down below the handle. Others prefer to carefully wrap the bristles in newspaper which helps to reshape the bristles then store the brush lying flat in a dry area.

If a paint brush has a build up of dried paint especially near the ferrule a wire brush can be used to help remove this dried paint. Lacquer thinners, paint stripper or purpose packaged paint brush cleaning solvent will help soften and remove this build-up.

Never leave any type of paint brush sitting on its bristles in a container of solvent for extended periods. Eventually the bristles will bend and it will become difficult to straighten them again. This can happen to most types of bristle. Wooden handles will split and natural bristle will swell to a point where ferrules will stretch and become loose and bristle can even dislodge or break from the epoxy resin the brush has been set in.

Caring for a paint brush that is used for applying single pack coatings will extend the life of the brush and enhance the quality of finish each subsequent time the brush is used.

Sometimes using paint brushes in 2 part catalysed coatings needs to be evaluated to determine if the cost of cleaning a brush compared to the cost of simply replacing the brush each day is lower. There are often budget priced brushes that can make this approach cost effective.