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Your Paint Brush – Proper Use, Plus Care & Cleaning

How hard could it be? You dip it in, and smear it on. There’s more to proper paint brush use than you might think, but it’s easy to learn and involves only three main steps:

  • How to load your brush
  • How to apply and distribute paint
  • How to smooth and even out paint

Loading Up – use paint directly from the can or pour some into a painting pail. To properly load your brush:

  • Dip it directly into the paint up to about one third of the bristle length. This prevents overloading the brush and messy dripping.
  • To load paint on the interior of the brush, as well, tap its sides lightly against the sides of the can or pail.
  • No matter how tempting, don’t scrape the paint off the brush by dragging it over the edge of the container. That removes an excessive amount of paint and makes the brush less effective.

Give Rollers the Brush-Off when “Cutting In” – For large flat wall areas, a roller is preferred, but your brush is best for the initial “cutting in,” the term for painting the corners at walls and ceilings, around baseboards, door and window trim. A brush is used to cut in because it provides more control.

  • If you’re right handed, cut in the wall at the ceiling corners from left to right and if left handed, paint right to left. This gives you better visual control over how well the paint is flowing.
  • Press the brush against the wall just enough to flex the bristles, using the brush’s narrow edge to cut in.

If painting a larger wall area and not cutting in, apply and distribute paint with this technique: hold the brush at a 45 degree angle and paint the area using several diagonal strokes. As above, press against the wall just enough to flex the bristles, then use horizontal strokes to distribute paint on the large flat area.

Smooth Out the Situation – Once the paint is applied and distributed, smooth it out by lightly drawing your brush across in long, even strokes. This helps eliminate brush strokes going in different directions. It’s important to always work into the wet paint and at the end of each stroke, to lift the brush from the surface. This provides a “feathering” effect and avoids abrupt lines and edges.

Storing Your Brush Midstream – You’re not finished the job, but can’t continue until later that evening or even the next day. The easiest way to store your brush mid-job is not to clean, but simply tightly cover the bristles with plastic wrap, taking care not to misshape the bristles.

Care and Cleaning – Good quality paint brushes aren’t throw-away items, so it’s worth it to spend the small amount of time it takes to properly clean and store them immediately after use. Not only does it eliminate the frustration of discovering crusty bristles next time, it’s also essential to maintain the durability and effectiveness of the brush.

Cleaning is faster and easier if you use up any paint remaining on your brush, then press the bristles again the lip of the can or pail to squeeze out even more. The rest can be painted away on clean newsprint. Check for manufacturer’s instructions on the can, which may specify the use of a particular solution, such as turpentine. Improper cleaning can harden bristles and make them brittle; they can break off and get stuck in the paint. If you’ve ever tried to pick stray “escapee” bristles from a painted surface, you know how maddening this is and will want to avoid it at all costs.

Brush Tips on How to Clean Paint Brushes – Water-Based Paint

  • Immerse brush bristles in bucket of clean water. Carefully remove paint from bristles with a wire brush. Dispose of used water, refill bucket with clean water, and repeat.
  • Hold brush handle between both palms and rub palms quickly back and forth to remove excess moisture. Place brush back in its cover or wrap with plastic.

How to Clean Brushes – Oil-Based Paint

  • Pour about half a quart of paint thinner into a clean bucket.
  • Dip the bristles into the paint thinner and swish around.
  • Comb paint from bristles with a wire brush.
  • Dip the bristles into the paint thinner again and swish.
  • Throw out the used paint thinner, clean out bucket and repeat process twice.
  • Place the handle of the paintbrush in the palms of your hands and rub hands back and forth to shake out residual moisture. Place brush back into its cover or wrap with plastic.

Brush Tips on How to Clean Paint Brushes that Have Hardened

To keep paint brushes in top form, they should be cleaned immediately after use. But brushes left unclean and dried can still be restored to useable condition. Remember what kind of paint was last used in order to choose the best method to soften the bristles.

Cleaning Dried Latex Paint – If the worst case scenario arises and you (or someone else) didn’t have time to do a proper clean-up after the last painting project, you can still soften and successfully remove dried-up latex paint from your brush.

  • Fill a glass jar or metal pail with warm, soapy water.
  • Thread a coat hanger wire through the hole in the handle of the brush.
  • Lay the coat hanger wire across the mouth of the jar or pail so the paintbrush is suspended in the water. The liquid should cover the brush bristles while the coat hanger prevents the bristles from touching the bottom of the jar. This prevents further damage to the bristles, which will curl against the bottom.
  • Let the hardened brush soak for at least half an hour, then transfer brush and jar to a sink. Wearing disposable gloves, remove brush from soapy water. Run brush under warm water and clean out paint by spreading bristles apart with gloved fingers.
  • Comb out excess paint over the sink using a wire paint comb.
  • Rinse brush, shake out excess water and hang it to dry.

Cleaning Dried Oil Paint

  • Comb out excess paint over sink using wire paint comb. Rinse brush, shake out excess water and hang to dry.
  • Cover work surface with drop cloth or newspapers. Put on disposable latex gloves.
  • Place three metal containers on the protected work area and fill each halfway with paint thinner.
  • Place hardened paintbrush bristle-side down in the first container of paint thinner and let soak for at least 30 minutes.
  • Lay several layers of paper towel on work surface. Move brush around in paint thinner to further loosen paint, then remove and blot out the thinner by pressing bristles against paper towel.
  • Place brush in second container of paint thinner and repeat above process.
  • Place brush in last container to soak for 3-5 minutes. Remove brush and squeeze bristles with gloved hand to remove excess thinner back into container.
  • Dry brush with paper towel and hang to dry. Dispose of paint thinner according to local regulations.

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