There’s nothing I love more than a good DIY project, whether it’s flipping furniture I found at a yard sale or decorating my bedroom with a fresh touch of paint. The only part I dread is the cleaning. Somehow, I always make a mess that might give a young kid a chance to get their money back. That was the case, until my dad taught me his best cleaning tricks.
Like many people in their twenties, I recently found myself at home with my family among rental properties. One Sunday afternoon, my dad put me to work sanding and refinishing the front door. I’m happy to say I know my way around a paintbrush and a can of paint, but my dad seemed horrified when at the end of a weekend project, I simply shoved my paintbrushes into a jar of mineral spirits.
What I didn’t know was that these volatile solvents should only be used for oil-based paints and not water-based latex paints. Not only does it do a great job removing paint, but I’ve been badly damaging the bristles of my paintbrushes in the process. Since then, I’ve followed our cleaning instructions and now know how to make my brushes last a lifetime. This is what my dad taught me about holding the perfect paintbrush, plus his best self-cleaning tips I also learned along the way.
Lilith is an expert at following news and trends in the interior design world. She is committed to helping readers make the best choices in their homes by sharing practical tips and guides that make home renovation simple. In this piece, I’ve shared some of her dad’s best tips on how to clean paint brushes along with other expert hacks for your next DIY project.
1. Wash paint brushes with white vinegar
Let’s face it, none of us enjoy cleaning up after using paint. It’s messy and time consuming, and you’re probably pretty exhausted by this point. The easy solution for me when it came to paint brushes was to push them in a mineral spirits solution until the next morning.
Since my father witnessed my slow approach, I now know why paintbrush bristles tend to fall out while painting. “Mineral spirits are incredibly powerful,” he told me. This is why it works so well in thinning oil-based paints and varnishes. All it does if you use it for watercolor paints is damage the bristles, especially if you dip the brush up to the ferrule.
Even when using spirits in oil paints, all it takes is two swishes around the jar. Soaking does not have to be necessary. If the paint has hardened and has not dissolved in the solution, it is likely that the brush is too late to save.
So, how should I clean my brush instead? According to my dad, white vinegar is a great option for cleaning water-based paints, and it’s a safer and inexpensive option, too.
My father told me, “The best way to do this is to heat some white vinegar on the stove until it boils.” “Once it’s hot, pour it into an old bowl and put the brush in it.” To avoid mis-shaping the bristles, attach the brush with a bulldog clip so it doesn’t touch the bottom, then leave it to soak for a half hour or so. If stubborn dry paint remains, brush the brush with a nail brush.
I always make sure my bedding is well-cleaned these days and I avoid soaking them for too long. You have definitely noticed a difference! I no longer find stray hairs in my paint and it feels softer and smoother during application too.
2. Use mild soap and water
If your paint brushes are relatively new and are only used for a quick job, a warm water rinse with dish soap will do.
According to Mike Sherman, Paintbrush Expert and CEO of zebra paint brushes (Opens in a new tab)It is always best to clean the paintbrush immediately after use. “Use warm, soapy water and a brush comb, and hold the strands under water to wash off the remaining soap and paint,” they say. “Shake the brush by hitting the ferrule on the palm of your hand until most of the water in the strands is gone.” Of course, this depends on what kind of paint you are decorating with – you can only use soapy water for watercolor paints.
They also stress the importance of the brush comb. Explanation “It makes cleaning much easier, faster and gives you the best results.” “The brush comb separates the strands closest to the ferrule all the way to the bottom allowing the soapy water to penetrate and clean all the strands.”
3. Use fabric softener to keep bristles soft
My mom does the laundry, so you can understand my shock when I saw my dad using fabric softener after he cleaned our paint brushes. After a tough brushing, strands inevitably get less soft over time, but this neat trick helps maintain their suppleness for longer.
“In a large bowl of warm water, I add a cap full of fabric softener,” he explained. “You don’t need to soak for long, just a minute of moving the bristles around the jar.” As a surfactant, fabric softener will also help remove any remaining paint residue. After treating the brushes with fabric softener, dry the brush on some kitchen towels and make sure to reshape any stray bristles.
One of the most important steps I’ve always overlooked after painting a room is to dry my brushes properly. To do this, make sure it is either horizontal or vertical and never straight because this way water can run into the ferrule damaging the glue or causing the wooden handle to swell. When laying the brush horizontal, my dad places a clean brush handle under the handle of the brush he just cleaned to raise it up a bit and help the excess water run off the towel.
If you have holes in the handles of your paintbrush, Mike at Zibra recommends hanging them vertically on a hook to help them dry.
4. Use a brush to remove accidental paint spots
While I like to think I’m skilled with a paintbrush, my messy ways often lead to accidents. When painting my father’s front door, scrolling along the window with primer left a large white stain on the glass. I acted quickly and rubbed the dusting rag to remove it, but obviously a clean brush could work better.
My dad told me, “A bristle brush in a mixture of soapy water will help remove paint stains, but you need to act fast.” You’ll need stiff threads, so a packaged foil cutting brush works well. Wet it with soapy water and gently scrub off the paint.
I’ve since found that this trick works just as well on wooden doors and trim, and for more stubborn dry marks, steel wool can help, too. To reduce spills and stains in the first place, check out our clever ways on how to pour paint out of a can, too.
I can safely say that my weekend DIY projects are a lot less messy and my brushes are in much better shape these days, and so can your brushes! Be sure to use these hacks for your next DIY project — you can thank me later.
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