Proper cleaning helps keep brushes like new

The Baltimore Sun

I am having trouble cleaning paintbrushes. My high-quality brushes are stiff halfway up from the tips, even though I have been using latex paint and washing them with warm water immediately after each use. How do you clean paintbrushes so they last for years?

It is time for some tough love. The expensive brushes are being ruined because you are not cleaning them properly. It took me a few years of experimentation to figure out one good way to clean paintbrushes, whether they're synthetic fiber for latex paint or natural fiber used for oil paints. Believe it or not, I have a few paintbrushes I have used more than 100 times.

The process of cleaning a paintbrush starts at the beginning of the paint day. All too often I see people take a new brush or a dry one and dip it directly in the paint. On hot, dry days the paint on the outside of the brushes up near the handle can harden within an hour or two.

You can prevent this, or slow the hardening of the paint, by getting the brush wet before using it.

Use water when applying latex or water-based paint. If you are painting with oil paint, dip the brush in paint thinner before getting paint on the brush. Lightly shake out any excess water or paint thinner before dipping the brush for the first time into the paint.

If you take breaks during painting, you need to get the brush out of the sun, and it needs to be wrapped with a damp rag if you are using latex paint. The rag stops the evaporation of water and other chemicals from the paint. It keeps the paint on and in the brush fresh. Use a rag soaked in paint thinner if you are applying oil-based paint. If painting outdoors, I will actually clean my brush if I stop to eat lunch.

I have seen people ruin a brand new paintbrush the first time they clean it. They turn on the sink faucet and turn the brush upside down to get the water stream to shoot straight into the tips of the bristles. Never do this. Another bad idea is pushing down on the bristles and bending them at a 90-degree angle to squeeze out the paint. This stresses the bristles.

The best way I have found to clean latex or water-based paint out of brushes is to rinse as much of it out as possible with warm water flowing over the outside of the bristles. Then take an old paint can that has been cleaned of all paint and fill it halfway with warm, soapy water. Two tablespoons of common liquid dish soap works well in a half-gallon of water.

Dip the brush into the soapy water and rapidly move it back and forth, making sure the bristles do not touch the bottom of the can. Twenty seconds of back-and-forth motion will remove 95 percent of the paint from the brush.

Refill the can halfway with just clear warm water and repeat the process until the water remains clear. If there is hardened paint on the handle, use a stiff nylon brush to clean off this paint.

Expert home builder and remodeling contractor Tim Carter has 20 years of hands-on experience in the home industry. He is a licensed master plumber, master carpenter, master roof cutter and real estate broker. If you have a question, go to and click on "Ask Tim."

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