How to Clean Up After Painting – Beginner Friendly

Are you always disappointed with the mess that remains after painting and looking for a guide on how to clean up after painting?

Here is one…

In this article, you’ll learn how to properly dispose of unwanted paint, clean your paintbrushes, and rollers without all the mess.

Let’s start:

How to Clean Up After Painting – Beginner Friendly Guide

1. How to Dispose of Paint Properly

Wondering how to dispose of paint or recycle paint that you have leftover?

How to Clean Up After Painting

Paint storage of your leftover paint can easily be done by first sealing the can properly.

When you reseal a can of leftover paint, any paint residue that has collected in the rim can prevent an airtight seal. What’s more, it usually squishes out, making a mess.

To minimize the buildup, simply wipe the rim clean before you close the can.

To improve the seal, stretch a piece of plastic wrap over the rim. Then tap the lid into place, using light hammer strikes on alternate sides of the lid.

When you store leftover latex paint in its original can, you often get rust and paint flakes in the paint. To avoid this, pour the paint into a plastic bottle or a glass jar with a screw lid.

But don’t let any paint get on the threads of the lid or you won’t be able to reopen it. If you do get paint on the threads, rub a little petroleum jelly on them.

You can also keep leftover paint fresh by pouring it into a resealable plastic bag. Squeeze the air out before you seal the bag; then put the bag into the original paint can and tap the lid closed.

Avoiding the “Paint Skin”

Even if a can of leftover paint is sealed tight, a skin will form on the surface of the paint after a while. Removing the skin before you begin to paint is a messy job at best.

To avoid this floating paint skin, store the can upside down. Then when it’s time to open the can, turn it right side up. The skin will be on the bottom of the can, leaving the fresh paint on the top.

Oil-base Skin – Spreading a thin film of mineral spirits over the surface of oil-based paint before sealing the can will keep a skin from forming.

To apply the film, put the solvent in a small sprayer. Use very little – only 1 teaspoonful to a half-empty gallon of paint.

To keep the film intact as you seal and store the can, take care not to shake or agitate it accidentally.

Disposing of Paint

If the paint is too old, you should find out how to dispose of paint or recycle paint.

It’s very common now with cities and municipalities to have a designated place to drop off old paint cans for reuse and recycle paint.

This by far the easiest and safest method of disposing of paint.

In the case where you aren’t in an area where they provide a depot for drop-off, you can actually open the cans up and let them dry out completely.

This works well if there is very little paint left.

Otherwise, you can also buy something called a Waste Paint Hardener.

It’s basically a powder that you pour in and mix with the leftover paint and it will harden it so that you can then dispose of the paint can through the normal trash.

***Note: this will only work for Latex or water-based paints, NOT oil/alkyd paints. For oil paints, you need to call to find a local hazardous waste facility that would take them.

Hope this helps you know how to dispose of paint properly and save the environment 🙂


2. Bristle Brushes – Cleaning Oil Paint Brushes

Knowing how to clean paint brushes properly will make them last longer. A brand new brush is the ideal – clean looking and smooth working, but with these cleaning techniques, you can get some great life out of the brushes.

How to Clean Up After PaintingThese should be cleaned as soon as possible when work is finished. Use the same solvent recommended for thinning the paint you’re using.

The best way to clean paint brushes is to pour about a pint of thinner into each of three clean one-gallon buckets.

In the first bucket, dip the brush several times.

Then comb and wire brush the bristles. Spin the brush with the handle held between both hands, or use a “spinner”.

The spinner gives a greater spinning action, which helps eliminate any particles attached to the brush fibers.

Always hold the brush inside an empty bucket when you spin unless you want to paint on you and the room you’re in 🙂

Then dip the brush in the second bucket, rinse the bristles, and spin again. By the time you rinse your brush in the third bucket, it should be clean.

Test for remaining paint residue by dipping it in the thinner and squeezing the bristles.

The thinner that runs out should be clear. If not, repeat the procedure. Change the thinner frequently if you’re cleaning several brushes.

Use as many washes as needed to achieve a nice clean paint brush. Be careful to work the solvent into the center of the brush and down to the handle.

Learning how to clean paint brushes, you should have a brush comb, which will help remove paint residue and will straighten the bristles so they dry straight.

Stick the teeth of the comb into the bristles right at the heel of the brush. Move the comb toward the end of the bristles.

But pull the comb up and out about 1/4″ before it reaches the end of the bristles to help prevent excessive wear on the ends.

Try to avoid the tips as much as possible when using the wire brush. When almost dry, put the brush back in its brush cover.

That reshapes the bristles so they look just like they did when new. This brush is now ready for the next paint job.

Nylon and Polyester Brushes

Paint BrushHow to clean paint brushes that are made of nylon/polyester?

These brushes are usually used for latex/water-based paints.

Actually, due to their denser design, they are harder to clean and will require more washes and rinses.

When cleaning a synthetic brush, follow the same procedure as for bristle brushes, but use warm water instead of paint thinner.

Use soap or detergent if necessary. Rinse repeatedly with clear water while using the wire brush.

Why It’s Important to Clean Your Paint Brushes

When a brush isn’t cleaned carefully after each use, dried paint accumulates at the heel where the filaments join the handle.

When that happens, the brush is said to be “heel hardened”. that results in something called “fingering” (the filaments form irregular groups instead of remaining in a uniform row), reduced flexibility, and uneven painting.

When a brush is heel hardened, rinse the nylon filaments with solvent until clean. Concentrate on the center of the brush, working solvent into the base of the heel.

A brush comb always helps. But combing is particularly effective for getting to filaments at the center of the heel. Use the comb to remove paint residue and straighten the filaments.

I hope this helps you to know how to clean paint brushes and can save some money on buying new ones frequently.


3. A Short Guide to Cleaning Paint Rollers

How to Clean Up After PaintingWhen you’re ready for cleaning paint rollers after a paint job, simply remove the cover from the frame and use the appropriate solvent to work out the paint from the roller.

Firstly though, you should get as much of the paint off the roller as possible.

This can be accomplished by running the curved edge of the painting comb across the roller over the paint can.

Do this a few times as much as you can afford.

Next for cleaning paint rollers is to work the paint out with your hands.

For latex paints, just use warm water, and for oil/alkyd paints, use mineral spirits or paint thinner.

This may take some time and of course uses quite a bit of water, etc. Sometimes you’ll need to weigh the benefit and cost of just disposing of the used roller or cleaning paint roller for re-use.

You’ll need to keep working the roller with your hands and rotating it 180 degrees until it runs clear of any paint. Finish with a detergent-and-water wash; then rinse.

Spin the sleeve dry with a spinning device from the hardware store, then let stand on end to dry.

Don’t forget to clean your roller frame too! 

Save your dirty thinner in a separate container, allow to settle for a few days then pour off the clean thinner on top and save for another day.

The remaining sludge in the bottom can be left open to dry out and then properly disposed of. Check local ordinances for regulations regarding proper disposal.

How to Clean Up After PaintingTIP: When your paint job lasts for a few days or so, you can simply wrap your roller in plastic handi-wrap tightly at the end of the day.

It will stay fresh for days this way and just clean it when you’re all finished with the job.

Below is a typical paint roller spinner tool that you can pick up at any home hardware store or paint outlet.

How to Clean Up After Painting

Cleaning Paint Pads

Similar to cleaning paint rollers, first blot out as much paint as possible on thick layers of newspaper. Then remove the pad from its holder.

Wash the pad in water if you were using water-base paint, or in paint thinner or mineral spirits if you were using oil-based paint. Wear rubber gloves in mineral spirits or paint thinner.

Do a final wash in detergent or soap and water. Detergents containing ammonia are particularly effective on oil paints.

Rinse the pad thoroughly under running water.

Blot or squeeze out all the excess water on old towels or newspapers, and leave the pad standing on edge to dry.

SUMMARY on How to Clean Up After Painting

These are just a few things you can do to properly clean up your tools after painting. There are lot more things you can clean and other techniques exist, but we want to make this beginner friendly. Learning how to clean up after painting shouldn’t be too complicated – so we’re keeping it simple!


Want more beginner guides? Check out our other guides:

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