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How to clean paint brushes used in water based paint – update

Listed under Blog, brushes, cleaning, hildering, krudkutter, posterous Posted Oct 26 2014

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. Water based paint might be nicer to use than oil, but it certainly isn’t “clean”.

So what is the best approach to cleaning out brushes?

Deep clean There has always been a bucket of water to dangle your brushes in overnight, but it is hard to deep clean your brushes. There are citrus cleaners like Krud Kutter now to get all the paint out.

Not cleaning In the last few years, the market has developed for brush keepers for water based paint. These are the equivalents of the Brushmate vapour box for oil brushes, no vapour but same principle – they keep brushes fresh, to the point we may not need to clean some paint brushes at all! No, not throwaways, far from it.

Keep brushes clean during the day We all need a break, so what to do with brushes at break time, or when you finish at the end of the day but have more of the same colour to do in the morning. Answer, keep them safe and out the air.

Options I know for cleaning emulsion brushes

Do you really need to clean paint brushes used in emulsion every single night? Or rollers? Clearly not, but let’s run through the options for caring for a wet emulsion brush.

Starting with the least useful option!

When it comes to cleaning best SYNTHETIC paint brushes I can confirm:

Running water and a sink is more useful than a bucket of water, if brushes are going off.

Water and Fairy Liquid is better at cleaning than just water.

Chemical Polycell brush cleaner is better than Fairy Liquid, but isn’t very user friendly.

Krudkutter seems better than any of the above in terms of effective cleaning and user-friendliness.


Update (Krudkutter was discontinued in the UK and then relaunched. The replacement is Fluxaf Pro Clean, which comes a concentrate and can be diluted to suit the task. Full story here.)

Brush wash is one of their products aimed not surprisingly at painters, and has become a permanent fixture next to my sink.

Stand the synthetic bristle brush in a solution of Krud kutter up to the metal ferrule for a few minutes or suspend if storing overnight. Under a cold water tap, the rinsing process seems to be not only quicker but deeper than any other method. It creates a soapy sort of residue under cold water, which you can squeeze and wash out, leaving a very clean undamaged synthetic bristle. It’s great and you need it now!

Wrap your cleaned brush in a paper towel laid flat overnight. Before painting next day, give it a quick flick out to remove any surplus water and the bristles should be nicely moist and ready for dunking and charging to the max with paint. If it has dried out, before dipping in paint, don’t forget to dunk your bristles in water and flick out so they are moist but not sodden.

Reduce cleaning

Time is money cleaning brushes; cleaning brushes adds a bit of wear and tear to bristles; cleaning creates waste.

Instead of cleaning brushes daily, consider storing them short term in a Brush Vest. These were my initial thoughts, and these were the findings after some good use. They work.

For longer periods, store brushes in a * Paint Brush Cover. Good for long periods in the same colour, keep your brush in your pocket on a break if working on a busy site, Blogging Painters guys liked the Paint Brush Cover a lot.

Reduced cleaning with Clean and Go

There are several painters using the Go! Paint Clean and Go system in combination with KrudKutter, as mentioned here by Simon Verrall Other environmentally friendly Brush Wash products will work perfectly too.

As Jop Timmers the designer pointed out:

The good thing is that with this cleaning system, you can keep using the brush wash for a longer period, as the paint particles fall through the grid and remain in the filter bag, which can then be lifted out of the system as required.

It can also be used in tandem with plain water for water based paints and plain white spirit for the solvent based paints although better for your health not to, if you can avoid it.

To reduce cleaning by a huge degree, store an emulsion paint brush in a Store and Go gel for up to a year, . read on!

Brush keepers

I still say always maintained that professionals using brushes in oil paint and storing them in a Brushmate vapour box were more eco friendly over their lifetime than the DIY decorator or professionals religiously cleaning out their water-based trim paint brushes under running water! But, that’s the dinosaur in me, and with the advent of alternatives to the running water brush cleaner, it is getting time to move on.

The biggest break through since the Brush mate for oil, I reckon, is the Go Paint! Store and Go gel Dutch system for keeping water based brushes – and oil based – in good condition. Both oil and water in the same container, for months! Mad.

gel to keep paint on brush from drying out

Worth a very close look, the gel will massively reduce the amount of dirty painty water being swilled down drains by homeowners and painters.

A more conventional approach to keeping brushes in good condition are the Cling On! Brush Keeper which are available from MyPaintBrush

Cling On brushkeeper

and the lighter weight Clean and Go! from Hildering Go paint!

If you have used a closed system brush cleaner, share your findings on our forum, especially since the new 2010 paint formulas changed.

Cleaning roller sleeves

Usual thing is to wrap emulsion roller sleeves in plastic in the winter, but in the summer months, this approach can catch you out if the edge of the plastic gets dislodged. Many a roller sleeve lost because an inch or so has dried rock hard.

There is also the option of a 5 gallon bucket full of Brush Wash, drop the sleeves in at the end of the day and clean out easier in the morning.

We got you Kovrd

In recent times, professionals like Jack Pauhl have adopted the Kovrd, a simple zip up bag that will keep emulsion rollers (and brushes) moist for up to a couple of weeks. They use them on jobs where there are multiple colours.

Best for 9″ rollers in a 12″ tray, some decorators can;t get their 14″ rollers and 21″ trays in, but others can! I believe they are working on a bigger format to deal more comfortably with larger trays. Check out some reviews from Martin Guest and chat on the forum about Kovrd.

Takeaway points
The point of listing what seems like a large array of options, is that there are many scenarios and no solution is perfect. At times, cleaning a small touch up brush under the tap is the smart move, whereas most of the time, there are better ways of working and cleaning.

The Paint brush Cover and Brush Vest are very practical on a “through the day” basis, but I predict that in a few years time, that every painter will have a Store and Go! of some description, or at the very least, be using the gel that goes in it, and dropping their brushes in there last thing at work. And with the lid on, able to store all brushes for up to year, be they used in oil or water, that has to make the most sense to DIY and trade!

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  1. Depends on the paint really. But generally I will try and rinse them out on site then bag them up and seal them. Once home I sit them for a few minutes in cool water with a little detergent before washing off in cold water. That’s it for me.

    If I have the facilities to wash them properly on a job then I will - much easier to clean when the paint is still properly wet.

  2. Hi everyone just flicking through & came across this post. I use clean spirit to rinse brushes used in water based trim paint then a wash in soapy water,this works & leaves no sticky residue. Oh by the way u can buy it cheap in B&M bargains about £3 for 2lt.try it!

  3. i have a bottle of zinerser krudcutter at hand give the brushes a spray then rinse in water ,seems to work really well.

  4. i think a good practice is to not overload your kettle\tray then you wont have so much that will end up down the drain to start with

  5. i no a few decorators who use washing machines,not sure
    if thats a good idear,we use a bin bag when not in use,tape up and label colour.

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