Your Next DIY Job Will Be Easier When You Learn How To Clean Paint Rollers

When you’re at the hardware store buying paint and supplies, the paint rollers don’t seem like much of an expense when you toss some extras into your cart. It’s a different story, however, if you’re painting multiple rooms, using various colors or have a multiple-day project. Tossing out used paint rollers is not only a waste of materials and bad for the environment, but it’s also a waste of money. Learning how to clean paint rollers will let you reuse the same one, saving money and the planet at the same time.

how to clean paint rollers

There’s no way to sugarcoat the fact that properly painting a room is a chore. By the time you’re finished with the project, it can be hard to summon the enthusiasm to clean paint rollers instead of tossing them in the garbage. As we already said, it’s a job well worth doing: The best painting results come from using quality brushes and rollers, which obviously cost more, so you’ll want to reuse them.

All paint rollers need to be cleaned immediately after use. Once the paint dries, at that point there’s no way to clean them and you’ll be forced to toss them! The point we’re making is that if you know what to do, it’s not difficult to clean paint rollers.

What Kind of Paint Are You Using?

You might not think it matters, but the type of paint that you are using will determine how to clean paint rollers. In either case, the glossier the paint, the more challenging the cleaning job.

What Kind of Paint Are You Using?

Water-Based Paint

This is hands down the easiest kind of paint to clean from your equipment and rollers. All it takes is soap and warm water – and a putty knife for scraping.

Oil-Based Paint

For oil-based paints, you have to use a solvent to remove the paint from the roller and the solvent will require some special considerations.

What Tools Do I Need to Clean Paint Rollers?

  • Bucket
  • Firm-bristle brush
  • Putty knife
  • Rubber gloves
  • Safety glasses
  • Dish detergent
  • Disposable plastic bottles
  • Mineral spirits/Turpentine
  • Newspaper
  • Rags
  • Warm water
Oil-Based Paint

Scrape Out Excess Paint

To get that nice, even coat of paint across the wall, a paint roller has to suck up a good amount of paint and then redistribute it. It then should be no surprise that when you’re finished, there’s quite a bit of paint left in the roller. Scraping out this extra paint is an essential step in how to clean paint rollers, but it also gives you some extra paint for later touch-ups, especially if you’ve used up all the cans you purchased for the project.

Simply hold the roller over the can or paint tray and use a putty knife to scrape the roller vertically, allowing the excess paint to run off. This works best when you use long strokes from one end of the roller to the other.

Scrape Out Excess Paint

Roll Off the Rest

After you’ve scraped off as much paint as possible, rolling off any remainder will make washing the roller easier. You can do this on the wall you just painted or on some newspaper. Just roll the roller over an area that looks a little thin until it’s not depositing any more paint. You can do this on newspaper on the floor as another option.

Cleaning Paint Rollers

This is where the type of paint you’re using comes into play. No matter which method of washing out the roller you’re going to use, pull the roller off and clean the frame first before you tackle the roller itself.

Water-based (Latex) Paint

Fill a bucket with warm water and a little dish soap. Dunk the roller into the soapy water and start rubbing the roller with your hands to work the paint out of the nap. Rinse the roller either in a bucket of clean water or under running water. If there’s still a lot of paint coming out of the roller, you can repeat the washing step. If there’s an area where the paint is not coming out easily, you can use a small brush that has firm bristles to loosen it while you wash.

Once the water runs clear, shake off the excess water and set it aside to dry. Don’t set the roller down so it rests on the nap: Stand it on end or suspend it on a string or wire hanger that has been cut. This will keep the nap from being compressed and affecting your next paint job.

Water-based (Latex) Paint

Oil-Based Paint

As we already mentioned, how to clean paint rollers that were used with oil-based paints requires a solvent. The most commonly used types are commercial paint thinner, mineral spirits or turpentine. If you’ve been painting with shellac, however, you’ll need to use ammonia or denature alcohol. When using any solvent, be sure to wear rubber gloves and eye protection.

With solvents, you want to use the least amount possible, so pick the smallest container in which you can submerge your roller. Don your rubber gloves, put the roller in the container and fill it with solvent. Once it’s submerged, let it soak for a few minutes and then start rubbing the nap with your hands to release the paint. After rubbing it for about 5 minutes, lift it out and squeeze the excess out of the nap, letting it drip back into the container. Stand the roller on its end and let it dry in a well-ventilated space for a few minutes. Then, wash it in warm water with a bit of dish soap, rinse it and then stand it back up to dry.

Don’t dump out the solvent or throw it away! Let the container of used solvent sit and the paint settle at the bottom of the container. Then, pour off the liquid above the settled solids into a closeable jar or bottle and save it for the next time. The dirty container with paint solids should be left for the solvent to evaporate and then disposed of in the trash.

If you need to clean up any random drips or spills, use a little solvent on a rag to remove the paint and then rinse the surface or wipe it with a clean, damp rag.

Some Extra Tips for Cleaning Paint Rollers

  • If you’re pressed for time or are feeling super lazy, the cheater’s method for how to clean paint rollers that were used with water-based paint is to scrape them and leave them soaking in water for a day or so. Make sure that you submerge the roller vertically so that all the paint drifts out and sinks to the bottom of the bucket. Note: This only works with quality rollers, not the cheap ones that have a cardboard core. While this means you can use your roller again, it does shorten its life because it doesn’t thoroughly clean a paint roller.
  • If you have to break for the day and you’re not done with the job, you can save your paint roller without having to wash it. Simply wrap it in aluminum foil or a plastic bag and keep it in the refrigerator., which prevents the paint from drying. Be sure to take it out of the refrigerator and leave it at room temperature, wrapped, for at least two hours. Then, you’re ready to resume painting.
  • If you happen to have any small bits of dried paint that are stuck to an otherwise clean paint roller, you can carefully trim them off with scissors. Just don’t cut too much off the roller or it will affect how smoothly it applies the paint next time you use it.

Knowing how to clean paint rollers might not be the most enjoyable part of the painting process, but it certainly is useful. Because you want to buy quality painting tools, it’s important to know how to take care of them so they’ll last through multiple painting projects and save you time as well as money.