If you are a painter like me, the last thing you will want to do after the paint is clean up the paintbrushes.
I used to be like a lazy painter and avoid doing that by simply slipping my brush into a plastic bag and putting it into a freezer.
Well, the technique would work if you want to use your expensive paintbrush again within a day or two.
But a good cleanup is essential if you are not using it for a week or more.
If you do not, the paint dries quickly making the bristles to get stiffen.
It would be then difficult for you to use your brush again for your future projects.
7 Environmentally Friendly Tips to Clean Paint Brushes
Keeping your paint brushes clean is no easy task. Even if you use a latex paint which cleans up with water.
This is especially true if you want to use environmentally or eco-friendly products to do the work.
Traditional chemicals used in paint thinner products are quite effective in removing the paint but disposing of the thinner can be problematic.
What follows are five tips that will help clean your paint brushes, so they last for a long time.
1- Use as Much Paint as Possible on the Brush
When you are finishing up with your painting, rub the brush on the surface as much as possible.
If you no longer want to add paint to the surface, then rub the brush on the lip of the can to remove as much of it as possible.
The paint is easier to remove while it is still wet, so do as much as possible to use all you can before going to the next step.
2- Wrap & Store
If you are planning on painting the next day and using the same paint, you can wrap it in plastic wrap which will keep the paint moist on the brush for at least one day.
This means that you do not have to clean the brush until after the job is completed.
If it’s going to be more than a day before you can paint again with the same paint, then wrap the brush and put it in the freezer.
This will keep it ready to go for up to two weeks.
While the brush is still wet, use a paint brush comb to remove as much paint as possible.
Brush combs are inexpensive and fairly effective at removing most of the paint that remains.
If you dip the paint brush in soapy water, the comb maybe even more effective.
However, with oil-based paints in particular it may not be 100%.
4- Use Water
Water is certainly Eco-friendly and can be used to remove latex paint from brushes.
Instead of using running water, fill a bucket with water and add a dash of dish soap.
This will break up the surface tension of the water and allow it to clean the brush properly.
A better way is to use water in an ultrasonic cleaning device. This can make the process faster as well as easier.
It will work on latex paints, but it is less effective on oil-based paints. You will need a proper paint thinner for that job.
5- Use Baby Oil
You may wonder but baby oil can work.
In fact, it’s one good alternative way when you want to clean oil-based paint brushes without using the paint thinner.
Using soap and water may not work alone for cleaning the paint brushes when you have worked with oil-based paints.
This is because of the oil which will naturally repel the water.
Baby oil therefore can work for cleaning the brush and bristles. Make sure that you do not use it with water.
6- Use Linseed Oil
Linseed oil (also called flaxseed oil) is used as a base for many paints, stains, and varnishes.
And this can work very effectively for cleaning your oil paint brushes too.
Soak the stained brush in the linseed oil for about 10-15 minutes making sure that all the bristles are completely dipped.
If the paint is dried and too tough, you can soak the brush for an hour to remove the paint completely.
7- Less Toxic Paint Thinners
There are paint thinner products that use considerably fewer toxic properties than traditional paint thinners of the past.
Many paint and hardware stores advertise eco-friendly paint thinners because they are becoming more popular.
However, you should always look at the ingredients or properties to ensure that they are truly less toxic.
You may find that a combination of methods will work best in cleaning your paint brushes.
A brush comb combined with soap and water may be the most eco-friendly solution, especially for latex-based paints.
However, do not discount paint thinners that have far fewer toxic properties as they work quite well while doing far less damage to the environment.
Paint Brush Spinner: Does It Work?
Paintbrush spinners (both manual and drill attachment) work great to clean the paintbrush in an environmentally friendly way for many professionals.
In fact, there are paint brush spinners manufactured by brands like Sherwin Williams (Purdy) that are the best selling on the market.
But personally, I do not like using them for cleaning my bristle brushes.
I feel these spinners are just for drying the brushes and not for cleaning.
The reason I say so is, you will anyhow need to remove all the paint and rinse the brush with water – before you can use these spinners.
Therefore, instead of using the paintbrush spinners for drying my foam and bristle brush, I prefer getting the brushes dried naturally in the air.
How to Soften Paintbrushes After Cleanup?
Irrespective of how careful you are while cleaning a paintbrush, sometimes some paint gets dried between the bristles, making it rigid and tough to move.
The best remedy to soften these dried paintbrushes is to soak the brush in a solvent suitable for the original paint. This can bring it to use once again.
But remember, loosening the stiff paint on the brushes will more or less also depend on the kind of paint you have used.
So, based on the type of paints here are a few more tips you can make use of…
In case, the paint making the bristles stiff is latex-based or ecofriendly paint, just dip the brush in hot water or run it under hot flowing water.
Next, rub the bristles back and forth with your fingers to loosen the stiffness of paint on the brush.
If there are hardened paint clumps on the bristles, run a fork through it to loosen the rigidity and then rinse or soak the brush.
Use a lukewarm soapy solution to wash the brush and rinse it again.
If your brush has traces of lacquer paint, then just dip it in lacquer thinner for half-n-hour, in an open area.
Flex the brush in the thinner and then rinse it under warm water a number of times so that all the remaining lacquer paint and thinner gets removed.
Use soapy solution and warm water to wash and rinse the brush again to make it completely free from paint, thinner, and soap.
Paint thinner or turpentine softens the bristles of paintbrushes that have oil-based paint.
You can also use the two solvents to soften brushes hardened by enamel paint or varnish.
Soak the brush for half an hour in an open area then rinse under hot water.
Wash the brush again in soapy water and rinse it again thoroughly to remove all the unwanted stuff.
A better alternative home remedy…
White vinegar is a good alternative solution to get rid of harsh chemical-based oil solvents when you do not want to use other solvents like thinners and turps.
In fact, this natural remedy can do a great task for you if you feel the soapy water is not enough to keep paint brushes from getting hard.
Just heat the vinegar in a cup in a microwave for a minute or till the container feels hot.
Soak the paint-stained brush in it for 20 to 30 minutes and then wash it with a soapy solution and water.
Finally, rinse the vinegar and the paint remnant completely.
How to Straighten the Paintbrush Bristles that are Bent?
If you don’t have the habit of cleaning your paintbrushes immediately after use or you keep them in a clogged toolbox then you may also end up getting your brush bristles out of shape.
You cannot paint with such a brush because you will get unwanted brush strokes and also have higher chances of dripping paint while brushing.
Luckily, you can bring your bristles back to their original shape with a simple and quick method.
Just follow this remedy and you will never have to throw another brush because of out-of-shape bristles.
Put the brush under hot tap water till it gets fully soaked and sloppy.
Then fill a container big enough to hold brushes with hot water and put your damaged brushes in it.
Once you have placed all the damaged brushes here, make sure the bristles are fully submerged. Keep them soaked for 10 minutes at least.
Now take the brushes out and place them on a flat surface.
In case you have several brushes, place them in a row and make sure that all bristles point in one direction together.
Place the edge of a baking paper on the bristles of each of the brushes.
Place something heavy (say a packed food can) on the baking paper to add weight.
Allow the brushes to fully dry.
Once you check the brushes out, the bristles will be straight and back to position and original shape.
The bottom line
Good paintbrushes do not come cheap (either foam or a bristle type). And for a pro painter owning them is a proud feeling.
No matter you are using latex, oil, or shellac, it’s important that you consider cleaning them as a crucial step after completing your project.
Hopefully, the above ways, that I listed above, can help you clean latex and oil paint off your paintbrushes without solvent or turpentine.
Making use of these environmentally friendly ways not only saves you a good amount of money but also keeps your brushes durable and precise for long-term usage without worrying about hardening and shedding.
Jack Luis is a semi-retired painter who loved painting his clients’ ideas on their walls.
He had worked as a painter for over a decade serving customers in areas such as Charleston, Mount Pleasant, Beaufort, and Georgetown, SC (South Carolina). Today in his free time, he likes to read and write about the newer techniques implemented in his profession. You may read more about him here or get in touch with him here.