Cleaning Water Based Paint Brushes

Making sure that you clean oil-based paint brushes without paint thinner can allow them to last you for years. A common appro a ch to cleaning oil paint brushes is the use of turpentine or other. Best trade practice has always been to regularly clean paint brushes used in water based paint. Working outside, brushes may need cleaning every couple of hours. Running water, under the tap, has been the primary way of cleaning brushes used in emulsion and water based woodwork paint, but that is going to change.

It’s a joy to live in the country, isn’t it? Um, except when you’ve just completed a painting project and it’s time for clean up.

Because the delicate balance of biological elements in your septic tank can be severely upset by paint, cleaning your brushes, rollers and even your hands in the sink is a no-no

Why Can’t I Do This?

Once you’ve finished painting, it’s now time to give your brushes and rollers a proper clean. First, scrape off as much paint as you can. If you’ve been using water-based paint, simply soak your brush or roller in warm water for about 2 hours. Dry with a clean cloth and store in a dry place for future use.

Both latex- and oil-based paints have chemicals in them that won’t break down in your septic tank. Those chemicals will also “stress or destroy the biological treatment taking place” in your tank, according to the EPA.

Cleaning paint brushes with vinegar

What Could Happen?

Surface and ground water could become contaminated. Not good. Your septic tank could get seriously damaged and need replacement. Also not good.

What Should I Do Instead?

Sometimes it’s a toss up. If you use disposable paintbrushes and rollers, you’re adding to the landfill. But reusable eco-friendly painting supplies need to be cleaned before being used again.

Maybe you could take that stuff to your mom (who lives in the city, of course) and have her give it a good cleaning.

Or not.

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Probably the best, and greenest, method is to cut back on the amount of clean up required. Squeeze every last drop from your paintbrush and roller tray. Use disposable liners for that tray. Try to get paint on the walls, instead of all over yourself.

The less clean up you need to do, the less hassle it is.

You may even need to think twice before repainting. Does it truly need to be done? Make a decision that’s environmentally responsible and still satisfies your redecorating tastes.

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Haven't any of you had any professional training at all?

I don't want to steal your thunder Kelly, but this is not Best Practice.

Don't ever put paint thinner into plastic. It will melt most kinds. Why risk a mistake? Old glass salsa jars exist for brush cleaning. label one, put some glass marbles like the flower arranging ones into the bottom to work the brush against. (Plain, not coated with shiny stuff. It'll dissolve) Trying to clean oil based paints out of brushes by just stirring them around doesn't work. If you're desperate a crumpled piece of window screen will work too but it's hard on bristles so this is not a default. Paint thinner is very flammable and an ugly toxin so you want to keep it stingy and the stuff needs to go to Hazardous Waste Disposal. Wipe those brushes really well!

If you're doing fine arts painting go buy a proper brush cleaning pot. A big size one would be good for pro house painters. Solvent sits in it for weeks and it has a sieve to work the bristles over. Paint solids drop below it. The top keeps fumes in and evaporation almost nill over weeks. Minimal exposure, clean brushes. Now wash them! I wash up to thirty brushes a day in the studio; it's just doing the dishes.

How Do You Clean Water Based Paint Brushes

Do NOT use a surfactant/ detergent 'soap'. Use a real soap, a chemically designated soap, with oil or fat in it. You can put it on a cellulose sponge and work the brushes across it to work up a lather, or just work them against your palm. If you use bar soap swipe the brushes across it. The soap cuts the oil, and the fat base conditions the bristles.If you wiped out the paint and rinsed in thinner properly there's very little to wash out. More like a post gym shower then wrestling gunk. You don't want paint in a sink drain or on the back patio. Rinse well. If you do this correctly you'll get to wear brushes out instead of throwing them away. And bristles are chosen for this exposure so they'll get better. It's just like washing your hair. Squeeze out the water and shape them, air dry.

This works for synthetic brushes too. Do not leave soap in the bristles as it will contaminate your paint next time and make a bad paint film. As for exotic paints like epoxy? Yes, use nitrile gloves and a respirator! Outside. But if the stuff is hydrocarbon based a fat soap should work too. Acetone on brushes will kill them fast, so make sure thats a really Best Practice. Again- a soap may work better. Most bristles need the conditioning.

If your brushes start to get that gunky icky feeling, soaking them in that inexpensive liquid oil soap from the grocery store (Also best for regular washing after painting) is like a spa treatment. Leave them in for two or three days. It's magic! Paint in the ferules is a ruined brush, but as regular maintenance this is amazing. I have ten year old mongoose thats still sweet. I also paint a lot.

Cleaning Water Based Paint Brushes

Cleaning Water Based Paint Brushes

Do not use soap on watercolor brushes. Just rinse.

Cleaning Paint Brushes In Sink

This is the method professional painters use; It keeps solvent use to an absolute minimum. Reusing a cup or 12 ounces of thinner instead of blowing through gallons of it reduces exposure and that stuff has lead in it. Among other scary things. Don't use it on skin either. Paint'll fall of in 48 hours if soap or olive oil doesn't get rid of it.

Clean Dried Water Based Paint Brushes

Even if you use a thinner only system like the guys who paint cars using industrial paints, a cleaning pot will use less thinner and reduce your chemical exposure. They can be used in series. You can eyeball them at the big online art supply stores, and I shop at industrial supply so don't think they don't interchange. ;-D I'll try to post instructions for the homemade version.