How to Clean Paintbrushes: Latex and Oil-Based

The steps to cleaning paintbrushes depend on the type of paint you use.

If you’re tired of buying paint brushes over and over, save yourself money by learning how to clean them. While cleaning paint brushes is simple, the solvent you’ll need depends on your paint type.

How to Clean Paintbrushes (Interior Paint, Latex Paint)

How to Clean Paintbrushes

The most common type of paint, and what you’ve used if you’ve just finished painting the interior of your home, is latex paint. Latex paint is water-based, which means you can clean your brushes with water.

Here’s how to clean your paintbrushes.

Step 1: Use Up Excess Paint on the Brush

If your brush has paint loaded on it, swipe it on the wall or a piece of newspaper until color no longer comes off.

Step 2: Wash the Brush with Water

If your brush is fresh (it doesn’t have dried paint), run water and hold the bristles under the stream. Use your fingers to break up any stuck-on pigment and ensure the water is rinsing all bristles.

When the water runs clear, you can squeeze out excess moisture and prepare your brush for drying.

For older, stuck-on paint: If you weren’t quick to wash your paintbrush, you’ll need to take an extra step. Fill a small bucket or a large cup with hot water and a couple of drops of dish soap. Place the brush in the cup, bristles down. Swirl the brush around and let it soak for ten minutes. Then run it under a stream of water, using your fingers to break up chunks of paint.

Step 3: Dry the Brush

After rinsing the brush, squeeze out excess moisture and blot on a paper towel. Then lay the brush flat to dry, flipping it over after an hour or so.

Make sure the brush is dry before you store it.

If you have a brush and roller spinner (most DIYers don’t), you can use it to dry your brush.

How to Clean Paintbrushes (Oil-based Paint)

Because of their harsh fumes, oil-based paints are often used only for exterior and craft projects. You can check if your paint is oil-based by looking at the can.

Since water is ineffective in breaking down oil, you’ll need to use a solvent such as turpentine or mineral spirits to clean your brush. Here’s what to do.

Step 1: Use Up Excess Paint

Swipe your brush on newspaper or scrap cardboard to use up all excess paint.

Step 2: Swirl with a Solvent

Fill a cup or small bucket with enough mineral spirits or turpentine to cover your brushes’ bristles. Then dip the brush in the solvent and swirl it around, pushing it against the side of the cup to dislodge the paint.

Put on a pair of nitrile gloves and use your fingers to work through the bristles. Keep swirling until you’ve removed all the paint.

Step 3: Rinse Well

After removing all paint, hold the brush under a stream of running water and rinse well. 

Step 4: Dry the Brush

After rinsing, use your fingers to squeeze out excess moisture. Then dab the brush on a towel. Lay the brush flat, flipping it over after about an hour.

Once dry, you can store the brush.

Should You Clean Paint Brushes with Vinegar?

While many claim vinegar cleans everything, it does little to clean paintbrushes. Water or mild soap is all you need to clean latex brushes.

While some experts recommend soaking petrified brushes in vinegar, we tried it, and it didn’t work well. The bristles remained stiff, rendering the brush useless.

Tips for Keeping Your Brushes in the Best Shape

To keep your brushes working well for longer, follow these tips:

  • Rinse your brush after painting. By washing directly after your paint job, your bristles will remain soft, and you won’t have to scrape dried paint off the brush.
  • Store your brush in the fridge if you need a break but aren’t painting. When you’re tackling an extensive paint job and need a break, place your unwashed paintbrush in a Ziploc bag and put it in your fridge. It will keep the bristle fresh and like new.
  • Store your brush the right way. To prevent uneven bristles, lay your brush flat or hang it between uses.