How To Use A Paint Brush

Painting with a brush has many advantages over roller and spray painting methods: less preparation, more control over the final finish and easier clean up being among them. We’ll show you how to use a paintbrush properly.

Select the right brush for the job and flick it to clean off dust, load the brush to half the length of the bristles, tap once on each side of the paint pail, use the edge and not the side of the brush. Apply the paint at the tip of the brush at a slight angle so that the paint moves up the brush to the tip.


Consider using a wheeled paint application pad to cut in.

Using a paintbrush forces you to look more closely at the paint surface allowing you to spot problems like cracks, rot or dents that you might otherwise have missed using a roller or spray gun. Likewise, you can apply more paint to problem areas if you can see the problem areas in the first place.

Painting with a brush conserves paint better than a roller and much better than a spray painter.

Always work in sections and complete to a natural cessation point like the end of a wall or a complete window frame.

Take your time and enjoy the process. Painting with a brush means that you can stop and start as you like, unlike using a spray gun which requires you to keep going until the job is finished.

Consider using a paint extender like Floetrol. Floetrol improves the performance of acrylics and other water-based paints and varnishes to make them flow like oil, without the usual clean up hassle.


  • Eliminates brush and lap marks
  • Gives a spray-like finish
  • Makes paint last longer
  • Improves coverage and hiding
  • Makes painting easier

Don’t paint over a surface that is partially dry because the brush will leave streak marks. Catch paint runs while they are still wet and paint them out.

Always paint the lighter-colored surface first (probably the ceiling) so that the darker paint will cover the lighter paint should it accidentally overlap.

Preparation is less extensive when using a brush. You only really need a canvas drop sheet immediately below where you’re working. You can cut-in around windows and doorways, if you have a steady hand, and not have to mask.

Break the job up into areas that need close attention like edges, trim, fittings, doorways, downpipes and areas that are broad and flat like the walls. Use a brush on the close attention areas and a roller on the broad areas.

(Thank you This Old House)

Step 1.

Select the right brush for the job. A good quality brush will hold more paint, apply the paint evenly and can be used over and again with proper care.

Choose a wide trim brush (8cms or 4”) with long bristles for a large flat surface like a cabinet face. Choose a narrow angled (sash) brush for cutting in or to get around windowsills.

A wall brush is thick, wide and flat (10cms or 5”) and holds a lot of paint for large surfaces.

Have multiple brush types on hand.

Natural Bristle Brushes are best for oil-based paints, varnish, polyurethane and shellac

Polyester bristle brushes are best for latex paint.

Polyester – nylon blends are also good for latex paints.

IMPORTANT: Never use natural bristle brushes with water-based paints because the bristles will absorb the water and not be able to hold the paint.

Step 2.

Flick the brush to remove dust, dip into water prior to applying water-based paint and turpentine before applying oil-based paint.

Step 3.

Decant your paint into a carry around paint pail, one that can also hold your brush and roller as well as be hung on a ladder. Holding a heavy paint can is tiring and the risk of spillage increases as the job wears on. Paint caddies are available at all paint stockists.

Step 4.

Dip the bristles of the brush from one third to half the length, no more. This helps prevent overloading and dripping.

Tap the brush on each side of the paint pail once to likewise prevent dripping.

Do not scrape the brush on the edge of a paint tin. This damages the bristles and moves the paint up towards your hand and down the side of the can. It will also trap paint at the top of the brush: the paint can’t reach the wall.

Step 5.

Paint large flat areas in areas of 50cms X 50cms (20” X 20”) in horizontal strokes then vertical strokes to even out.

Work from the top to the bottom so that you can catch drips as you go.

There are three steps to painting with a brush:

  1. Load the brush (see Step 4 above)
  2. Apply the paint
  3. Smooth out the paint.

Apply the paint:

  • Cut in the wall at the ceiling from left to right if you are right-handed so that you can actually see what you’re doing.
  • Press the loaded brush until it flexes slightly bringing the paint to the surface than move back and forth in overlapping motions.
  • Paint whole walls moving the brush at a 45-degree angle then go over again horizontally to smooth out the paint.

Smooth out the paint:

Apply long smooth light strokes in different directions never allowing the paint to dry out as you stroke over it to avoid brush marks. Lift the brush at the end of each stroke to feather the paint.

 How To Clean Paintbrushes

If you are going to pause temporarily, even a couple of days then resume using the same paint just wrap the brush in plastic cling wrap. Don’t distort the shape of the brush.

Step 1.

Wipe the brush on a paper towel to remove as much of the paint as possible

Step 2.

Rinse the brush in the right solvent:

Water for water-based paint / denatured alcohol for shellac / mineral spirits for oil-based paint.

Step 3.

Wash under running water applying dishwashing liquid to the bristles working the dishwashing liquid into the bristles. Rinse the bristles in clean water to remove the soap.

Alternatively, you can use a bucket of warm water and fabric softener.

Step 4.

Rinse again then shake the brush or blot on a paper towel to remove the excess water.

Step 5.

Allow to air dry completely before storing to prevent mold growth.

We have an article dedicated to non-toxic ways of removing as well. We recommend reading here.

How To Clean Paint Hardened Brushes

Soak the paint hardened brush in vinegar for one to two hours. If it’s still hard, boil the vinegar then allow it to simmer with the paintbrush standing in it. Allow it to cool then comb the brush with an old hair comb.

Once the brush is restored clean as above.

Related Questions:

What is the best way to store paintbrushes? Hang them on a board in the open air from a hook. This will ensure that your brush will eventually air dry and it will prevent the brush misshaping because of weight-bearing.

What is the best way to not leave streaks or marks? We have an article dedicated to that. You can find the article here.

Recent Content