Cleaning up paint brushes, rollers and empty paint cans can be harmful for the environment if you’re not careful.

Be sure to never rinse oil or latex paints onto the ground or into a storm drain. The untreated water can find its way into waterways after a rain, harming plants and animals and polluting your local water supply.

Cleaning Paint Brushes & Rollers

Clean natural paint from brushes

Natural paints are made from plants, minerals, clay or milk-protein. They cost a little more than latex or oil, but are completely non-toxic. Another benefit of natural paints is that they do not require any special treatment for clean-up.

  • Simply rinse the paint brushes in the sink or a bucket.
  • Waste water from the buckets may safely be poured onto the ground or down a drain.
Clean latex paint from brushes

Latex (water-based) paints are safer for the environment than oil-based paints, but are not as safe as natural paints, even if they are low-VOC or zero-VOC. These low-VOC and Zero-VOC latex paints contain harmful chemicals, so their cleanup should be treated the same as regular latex paint.

  • Use gloved hands or a wire paint comb to squeeze excess latex paint from the brush back into the can. If the paint was dried onto the brushes, then soak them in water beforehand.
  • Squeeze the brushes again with a dry newspaper to remove more paint, then rinse the brushes with warm soapy water.
  • If your home is connected to the municipal sewer system, you can wash latex paint brushes directly in the sink.
  • For septic tanks, use a small bucket to wash and a larger bucket to collect the dirty water after each rinse. Let the paint water evaporate outdoors for several days or use sand or kitty litter to soak it up faster.
  • Discard dried latex paint and materials with regular household trash.
Clean oil-based paint from brushes

Oil-based paints and stains can add rich color and depth to a project, but their cleanup requires special care. This is because they are considered a hazardous material and their improper cleanup can harm the local water supply and nearby plant and animal life.

  • The solvents you’ll need to clean oil-based paints can produce dangerous fumes, so prep your workspace outdoors or in a well-ventilated room.
  • Lay down a drop cloth to protect your flooring or the soil and wear rubber gloves to protect your hands.
  • Using a wire paint comb, scrape as much paint as possible back into the paint can.
  • Fill an old coffee can or clean paint can with a couple inches of solvent to soak the brushes.
  • Swirl them around for 5 minutes, remove the brushes and comb any excess solvent back into the can.
  • Use paper towels or newspaper to gently blot the solvent from the paintbrushes.
  • Soak and blot 2-3 more times using a fresh container each time and lay the brushes out to dry.
  • Combine the used solvents into one container for discard or reuse. If the solvent is water-based, let the water evaporate and discard the remaining paint solids in a sealed plastic bag.
  • Discard the solvent at a household hazardous waste center.
  • Or to reuse the solvent, let the paint solids settle for a few days. Once settled, pour the solvent through a coffee filter or non-food strainer into a glass jar. Wrap the remaining paint solids in plastic and discard them in the garbage.
Clean paint rollers
  • Allow the paint to dry thoroughly.
  • Wrap paint rollers in plastic and dispose of them in the garbage.
Store leftover paints
  • Use the smallest container possible to minimize air flow and prevent the paint from drying.
  • Clean the threads on the jar and lid so it will open more easily later.
  • Label the jar with the brand, color, date and the room or project it matches.
  • Store it in a dry location above freezing temperatures to help it last longer.

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