Save Your Paintbrush in the Paint Can





Introduction: Save Your Paintbrush in the Paint Can

About: Tim Anderson is the author of the "Heirloom Technology" column in Make Magazine. He is co-founder of, manufacturers of "3D Printer" output devices. His detailed drawings of traditional Pacific...

The proper way to wash a brush is first with solvent if it's an oil-based paint or varnish, then with soap or shampoo and water.
It is hair after all.

No one actually does this. In practice people wrap the brush in a plastic bag and pretend they'll clean it tomorrow. Some time later they throw it away.

Here's a better method. Just leave the brush in the paint can. It'll stay good as long as the paint does.

This is what commercial painters do with their brushes, rollers, etc.



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    22 Discussions

    I have three relatives who are professional painters. I have never heard of this before.

    Just buy a good brush and wash it every time. It only takes a minute. Slap it against your (deck railing, faucet handle, small tree) to dry it, and hang it vertically to dry (that handy hole in the handle). My "lucky brush" (lucky not because it brought me luck, but because it survived over 5 years and the priming, painting and in a few occasions, repainting of several dozen rooms/ceilings plus trimwork) only died after my dear spouse forgot to clean it completely and it froze up. Average cost per use was pennies.

    3 replies

    I agree with you wash out your brush!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! if you can preferably with hot water

    if you buy a good brush it wont but if you buy crappy 10 for a dollar brushes you might as well throw them away, and the guy that painted murals for me washed his brushes in hot water. he has had the same brushes for 3 years, they cost him a lot of money but they have lasted 3 years!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Plastic wrap. Wrap around the brush tightly, but not causing the bristles to bend. You want as much air out as possible though. Leave enough plastic wrap hanging off the bristles to twist up and fold back towards the handle of the brush. A rubber band will keep it neatly folded.

    4 replies

    I've heard about this. Then you concealed it in your cell until it was hard, razor-sharp shiv, Then you jumped your enemy in a stairwell and stabbed him fifty times or so? And you've still got internet access, so I guess they didn't find out. For those unfamiliar with prison lingo, "J" means shiv or improvised dagger, Hence this commentator's email name.

    Dear readers, Thrustinj is totally innocent and a fine upstanding citizen. When the caffeine wore off and my mom scolded me, I realized how wrong it is to accuse innocent people of murder. His (or her) plastic wrap method will serve you and your brushes well. Deepest apologies, Tim

    Now I get it. Someone who gets his name on mucho Instructables and also knows prison lingo. Must be a connection. I'm waiting for the one on How to Unlock Your Jail Cell.

    Wrap it up air tight like you instruct. Then stick it in the freezer. It will keep for a long time. Al Toid.

    A better approach, and one that can be used for paint which doesn't happen to come in large cans, is to soak the brushes before use in water. Dry off the bristles. There will still be water in the root of the brush, preventing paint to enter there. The brush can now be cleaned more easily and will resemble a new unused brush the next time you use it, rather than one that is spreading it's bristles apart. Use turpentine and/or soap and water to clean. (I use only soap and water myself, even for oil-based paints). What we call white spirit here, which may have a different name outside of scandinavia, should never be used as it will cause the paint to coagulate (don't know the correct term in english) and form clumps. These will stick to the brush and most likely get into the paint the next time you use the brush. Store your brushes bristles up, never down, just like Mr. Weeks here say. Buy quality brushes and take good care of them rather than buying inexpensive brushes and throwing them away. And finally... never use water warmer than you can comfortably hold your hands under to clean your brushes. Many paint brushes have waxy materials in their bristle roots and these can easily melt and end up on the part of the brush that you are going to use, thereby making the brush unabsorbant to water based paints.


    12 years ago

    What do you do if the can is almost full? Having a brush covered all in paint isn't so nice... you'd still have to clean it before you can use it.

    1 reply

    the pros immerse their rollers in the can, usually after taking it off the handle.

    I've placed brushes used for varnish or polyurethane in a resealable plastic bag and popped it in the freezer. When you're ready to use it again, let it thaw for a half hour.... good as new. No more solvents or cleaning.... Just toss it when your done with the job.

    1 reply

    I'll put a brush used for epoxy in the freezer in a plastic bag if I'm doing layups. It'll be usable for a couple of hours. It will come out stiff but when you work it in the new batch it'll loosen up. Once a brush has been used for epoxy it's too much work to try to save it and the solvents wouldn't be nice.

    don't do that! the weight of the brush will bend all the bristles and they will keep this bend next time you use the brush. Don't be lazy. A good brush costs a bit of dough. Wash the thing off like a good boy or girl and when you're done use a conditioner on it. Store it flat after you have combed it out.

    A little plastic baggie over the top of the handle will save the handle, as long at the paint level isn't too high.


    12 years ago

    I'm sure you meant to say every brush needs it's own can. Even then, it depends on the size of the brush and can.