Can You Reuse Paint Trays?

When it comes to giving your walls a fresh coat of paint, there’s a lot of equipment that goes into the process. You need rollers, brushes, painter’s tape, protective sheeting, paint trays, and perhaps much more. While none of these things are particularly costly on their own, they can really start to add up. Being able to reuse paint trays and such could save you some money on your next paint project.

Can you reuse paint trays? Yes. There are a number of ways to clean paint trays, including soap and water, paint thinner, and power washing. However, the best way to reuse paint trays may be to not let them get dirty in the first place by using a liner. If you’re using the same color over again, cleaning may not even be necessary.

There are a few techniques for preserving or reclaiming paint trays. We’ll run through each of them as well as covering a few other paint tools that can be reused.

Why Reuse Paint Trays?

While it may not seem like a paint tray, which usually costs around three dollars, is really something you need to worry about making the most of, there are a number of reasons for reusing paint trays. Depending on the size of your project, you may be painting for several days or across several rooms. If you’re tossing out old, used paint trays every day or more, the cost of painting can really start to spike.

Even if your project is relatively small, odds are you’ll be painting again sooner or later. Why not save the equipment and spare yourself some bread down the road? Also, it might save you a trip to the hardware store.

It’s more eco-friendly to avoid buying paint trays over and over again. The fewer paint trays you buy, the fewer paint crusted trays are filling up landfills. By reusing paint trays you cut down on the total amount of waste you generate.

How to Clean Paint Trays

Cleaning paint trays is really crucial when you’re switching colors. Even if the paint on the tray is thoroughly dried, there’s always a chance that as you roll and flex the tray that dried flecks of the older color will break off onto your roller and then onto your walls.

Some people say that if your paint job will take less than an hour, that you’re pretty safe from old paint flaking off. I say, why take the risk? Keeping your trays clean is not very difficult. There are a few ways to do it. We’ll be explaining

  • Liners
  • Soap and water
  • Paint thinner
  • Power washing

These methods will allow you to clean your paint trays for further use.

Method 1: Liners

Using a liner is the easiest way to prevent trays from becoming dirty in the first place. You can generally find liners for around fifty cents, but you may be able to find them even cheaper in bulk. You can even make your own liners by wrapping the tray in tin foil. The process of using a liner is simple.

  1. Place the liner inside the tray, make sure it fits snug so that it doesn’t lift up while you’re rolling
  2. Pour the paint into the tray
  3. Paint away
  4. Pour excess paint back into the can
  5. Allow the paint in the liner some time to dry so that it doesn’t slosh when you try to pull out the liner
  6. Lift away the liner and toss it out. If you apply some of our cleaning methods below to the liner, you may even get a few more uses out of it.

One of the big advantages of a liner is that it allows you to reuse a paint tray that’s already been ruined with dried paint. If you don’t clean your trays right away, it can be really difficult to get the paint off. Liners are perhaps the easiest and most popular ways to reuse paint trays.

Method 2: Soap and Water

Soap and water may be the most obvious way to clean paint off something. As long as you don’t allow the paint to dry, this method can be quite effective.

  1. Pour excess paint back into the can
  2. Run cold water over the tray to wash off as much paint as possible
  3. Apply soap (dish soap works great) and get in there with a scrub brush to brush away any stuck-on paint bits
  4. Rinse one last time
  5. Allow to dry thoroughly before adding paint again

Soap and water works great for cleaning out water-based paints, but what about oil? If you use enough soap, you might be able to work away oil paint residue, but it’s going to be a battle. If you’re using oil paints, method 3 is going to be a lot easier going.

Method 3: Paint Thinner

Using paint thinner is the only way to reliably wash away oil-based paint residue. You need to be careful, though, paint thinner is a dangerous chemical and can cause chemical burns if it comes into contact with your skin. Take the appropriate precautions.

  1. Pour excess paint back into the can
  2. Run cold water over the tray to wash off as much paint as possible. You aren’t going to get it all, and that’s okay. You just want the bulk of it washed away
  3. Put on rubber gloves to protect yourself from the paint thinner
  4. Pour paint thinner into the tray, enough to cover the paint spots
  5. Using a roller or a sponge, work the paint thinner into the paint until all the paint is released
  6. Dump the paint thinner somewhere safe and soak the tray in warm soapy water for several hours
  7. Rinse away the soapy water
  8. Allow to dry thoroughly before adding paint again

Using paint thinner is a bit of a process. But, once you’ve finished it, you’ll have a shiny paint tray ready to go another round.

Method 4: Power Washer

If you’ve got a power washer, any time you get to pull it out is a good day. They are tremendously fun to use. If you can figure out a way to keep the tray secured, this is the easiest and most enjoyable way to clean a paint tray.

  1. Pour excess paint back into the can
  2. Place the paint tray somewhere where it won’t fly away when hit with pressurized water—inside a tipped over wheelbarrow works well
  3. Spray away. Be sure to get inside all the ridges and around the edges and corners
  4. Allow to dry thoroughly before adding paint again

Once again, this method works best if the paint is still wet. If you allow the paint in the tray to dry, even a power washer may not be enough to knock away all the paint.


Reusing paint trays can save you money, save the earth, and save you a drive to the hardware store. The easiest way to reuse paint trays is to use a liner to prevent them from getting dirty in the first place. If you don’t have liners or would rather not pay for them, you can clean your trays with soap and water, paint thinner, or a power washer.

These cleaning methods aren’t even limited to just paint trays. You can use the same techniques with only a little adjustment for paint roller or paintbrushes. The more equipment you can reuse, the cheaper your paint project will be.



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