The Best Eco-Friendly Way to Clean Paint Brushes


Working with paint is a therapeutic method of beautifying any home as many homebuyers choose to do their own upgrades. Those homeowners who are environmentally conscious ask many questions about their painting and painting product choices, including which is the best eco-friendly way to clean their paintbrushes when they are done.

What is the best eco-friendly way to clean paint brushes? Well, it is to use a brush spinner either pumped manually or attached to a drill.  This eliminates the need for soaking brushes for long hours in dangerous chemicals that can harm the environment when it is discarded. 

This article is dedicated to exploring using a brush spinner plus many other topics to help eco-conscious homeowners make the right choices.

The Two Different Types of Paint Brush Spinners

One need only to do an Internet search to find there are two different models of paintbrush spinners available for purchase today.

Professionals and amateurs alike can benefit from the use of a paintbrush spinner to remove the excess paint from brushes and rollers. There are two distinct types of paintbrush spinners:

  • Manual Model Paint Brush Spinners
  • Electric Drill Attachment Paint Brush Spinners

Below we will compare each model to see which one might work best for the average homeowner to save time and be eco-friendlier.

General Instructions for Both a Manual and Drill Attachment Drill

Although each device has it’s own instructions; there are some procedures that are common to both.

To remove as much paint as possible before rinsing, take the brush and paint onto a piece of scrap wood. This will remove quite a bit of the paint that is left in the brush.

Rinsing the brush in water comes next, but if that doesn’t remove a majority of the paint that is left, a stronger solvent is needed (more on this later).

When rinsing the paintbrush in the solvent, using your hands work as much paint from the handle portion of the brush. If this proves difficult, use an old toothbrush to brush the paint out of the tight corners of the bristles.

The rinsing agent or solvent used must be discarded properly.

Cleaning Paint Brushes Using a Manual Model Paint Brush Spinner

The manual model of paintbrush spinner is a long cylindrical tube with attachments on the handle end to hold either a paintbrush or a roller. On the opposite end of the paintbrush spinner is another handle but this time it is to turn a shaft causing a corkscrew action. The power to do so is given by the person operating the paintbrush spinner to make a pumping action to spin the brush, thereby cleaning it by the use of centrifugal force.

To use a manual model, paintbrush spinner, collect the following:

  • A large empty bucket
  • Solvent
  • A dry rag
  • A spare piece of wood

First, clean the paintbrush as good as possible of excess paint, brushing it against a spare piece of wood and using a solvent.

Next, slide the paintbrush to the paintbrush spinner using some force because the sleeve will be tight. Make sure the brush is fully enclosed in the sleeve of the paintbrush spinner to prevent it from falling out during the spinning procedure.

Next, lower the paintbrush and spinner into a large bucket until it almost touches the bottom and begins to pump the handle of the spinner.

After you see the paint that has been spinning out of the brush dissipate, remove the paintbrush and, after wiping off any leftover paint, use a clean rag to wipe it dry.

Cleaning Paint Brushes Using an Electric Drill Attachment Paint Brush Spinner

A drill attachment paintbrush spinner is an effortless way to clean a paintbrush without the need to manually pump the spinner. The equipment you will need includes the same as with a manual spinner:

  • A large empty bucket
  • Solvent
  • A dry rag
  • A spare piece of wood

First, remove as much paint as possible using a spare piece of wood or cardboard piece and then rinsing in a solvent.

Next, attach the paintbrush spinner attachment to an electric drill and tighten until it to the shank to make sure it does not release and fly loose during the procedure.

Place the paintbrush into a large empty bucket and turn on the drill running it at 600 RPMs or more. Be cautious that the paint goes deep enough into the bucket because it will go everywhere if you do not.

If after you remove the paintbrush from the bucket some paint still adheres to the paintbrush, dip again in the solvent and repeat the spinning process again.

How To Create Your Own Paint Brush Spinner

Some people prefer to not rely on store-bought paintbrush spinners and opt to build one of their own from parts they have lying about the workshop. This adds to the eco-friendliness of using a paintbrush spinner as the parts used to make it might have ended up in the landfill are repurposed.

What You Will Need:

  • The old roller cage
  • A length of ¼ inch steel rod (a couple of inches longer than the roller)
  • A ¼ inch threading die
  • A ¼ inch lock nut and washers
  • A 5/16 – inch nut (for a spacer)
  • A small steel cotter pin

Thread the Rod

Thread about ¾ of an inch of the rod and then place it back into the roller cage so the threaded part is at the end of the cage that you would slide the Paint Roller over. Allow the threads protrude out a ½ inch. Then make a mark at the other end of the rod flush with the other end of the cage. This is where you will drill a hole for the cotter pin.

Then, put together the paintbrush spinner.

First, drill a hole the same size as the cotter pin (mine was 3/32), at the point on the rod where you marked. Next, insert the pin through the hole and place the rod back into the cage.Heat the cotter pin enough so that it will melt just into the surface of the plastic to keep the rod from spinning in the cage.

Then, Slide a washer over the threaded end, then the 5/16 nut as a spacer, then the ¼ lock nut. Don’t over tighten the locknut just make it snug.

Finally, chuck onto a drill and spin the paintbrush.

Cleaning Up After Using Various Types of Paint

There are three basic types of paint that homeowners use on the inside and outside their homes.

  • Natural paint
  • Latex paint
  • Oil-based paint

Each type of paint has a special need when it comes to clean-up.

Cleaning Up After Natural Paint

Natural paint is made from clay, minerals, milk protein, and plants. Although natural paint does cost more, it is eco-friendly and safe enough for anyone to use, even pregnant women. Natural paint is difficult to find in stores but is available online. Another restriction of natural paint is that it comes in a limited variety of colors.

The trade-off for the difficulties faced buying natural paint is that paint brushes used with natural paint are easy to clean with soap and water.

Cleaning Up After Latex Paint

Latex paint is water-based and safer for the environment than oil-based paint. They are, however not as safe as natural paint because it contains harmful chemicals. Clean up is more complicated with latex paint requiring the following steps. Using gloved hands squeeze the excess paint from the brush.

If the paint is already dried onto the brush, soak it in water or another solvent first. Next, squeeze the brush with a dry newspaper or paper towels.

Finally, rinse the brush in warm soapy water made with dishwasher detergent.

Cleaning Up After Oil-Based Paint

The most difficult and complicated clean-up is that of oil-based paints. Oil-based paint requires exceptional care because it is a hazardous material and not cleaning brushes used to paint with it could be harmful to the environment.

If a homeowner is using eco-friendly paintbrushes, they most likely would not be interested in using oil-based paint.

First, a list of tools needs gathering, including:

  • Old coffee can
  • Gloves
  • A Strong and Toxic Solvent
  • A Wire paint comb
  • A Dropcloth
  • Paper towels or newspapers

Next, lay down a drop cloth to protect flooring or if painting outside, plants.

Then, open up the windows and doors to make sure the room you are working in is very well ventilated. This step is vital, so do not skip it. After putting on protective rubber gloves, use a wire paint comb to scrape away as much paint as possible back into the can.

Next, fill an old coffee can with a few inches of non-toxic solvent and soak the brushes swirling them for around five minutes. Comb away any excess solvent back into the solvent can.

Using paper towels or newspaper, gently blot the solvent from the paintbrushes and soak and blot two to three more times using a fresh container of solvent each time then lay the brushes out to dry. Finally, combine the different cans of solvent into one container to discard or to reuse it later.

Discarding Solvents Used to Clean Paint Brushes

Using solvents is an inevitable part of cleaning a paintbrush, but some solvents are eco-friendlier than others.

The absolute best and eco-friendliest solvent is water. Water itself will clean paints used with natural and latex paint, but sometimes cleaning up requires a stronger solvent.

There are three solvents used to clean paint brushes:

  • Water
  • Natural solvents
  • Chemical solvents

Each has its own level of danger and proper method of disposal.

Water

As stated above, water is a powerful and eco-friendly solvent. However, it is not the water itself that is the problem when it comes to disposal, but the toxic chemicals in the paint it was used to clean.

The water-based solvent should be combined into one container and allowed to evaporate until only the paint solids are left. Then, place the solids into a sealed plastic bag and discard at a hazardous waste center.

Another way to discard water contaminated with paint is to allow the water to sit for a few days and then drain the solids from the water using a coffee filter. Wrap the remaining solids into a plastic bag and discard at a hazardous waste center.

Natural Solvents

Basically, there are two distinct types of natural solvents:

  • Vinegar
  • Citrus

Vinegar 

Most people would not consider vinegar, the same that is in ketchup and other foods, to be a paint solvent. However, vinegar is great if the paintbrushes were left out overnight and have dried up or for a quick cleanup.

First, find an empty jar. Then heat distilled white vinegar in the microwave for one minute to make it get hot, not warm.

Next, place brushes into the vinegar and clean the paintbrushes one at a time and let the brush sit in the vinegar for up to thirty minutes. Rinse well using water to remove paint that is still adhering to the bristles of the brush.

Citrus Solvent 

Citrus solvent, sold both in stores and online, is made from 98% pure citrus peeling oil extract and 2% water.

This type of solvent does not contain emulsions, surfactants or any other harmful chemical found in other commercial solvents. In fact, the citrus solvent will not damage human internal organs and is not dangerous for pregnant women to use when painting.

Another plus of using citrus solvent is that it will not harm the environment. A citrus solvent is:

  • Not a contributor to the depletion of the ozone layer
  • Any citrus solvent released into the air is gentle and non-toxic
  • Can be disposed of without danger to water or animal life.

To use citrus solvent, follow the directions above for vinegar solvent.

Clearly, both vinegar and natural citrus solvents are the choices to make for cleaning up after painting for any homeowner who is environmentally conscious.

We discuss other ways on how to remove paint in our Top 15 Non-Toxic Ways to Remove House Paint article which can be found here.

How to Make Your Own Citrus Solvent

It isn’t every day that there is a home recipe available to make a solvent to remove paint from paintbrushes. However, citrus solvents made from oranges is the exception.

To make citrus solvent, you will need:

  • A large jar with a lid
  • Vinegar
  • A large number of oranges

First fill a large, clean jar with citrus peels and cover with vinegar. Place the jar in a cool, dark place and let sit for four to six weeks or longer. Every few days or so stir or shake the contents of the jar well. Over time, the mixture will smell less of vinegar and more oranges.

After the time is up, strain the liquid from the peels and using a coffee filter. To use the cleaner, use 1/2 cup added to a gallon of water.

Caution: if using non-organic oranges, make sure to wash them well to remove the wax sealing and whatever chemicals may have been spread on them during their growth. Also, like all chemical compounds, keep away from pets and children. While citrus solvents are not deadly, ingesting them is not recommended.

An Important Tip About Cleaning Paint Brushes

One vital tip about cleaning paint brushes is that you don’t need to do it every time you stop painting. If you plan on returning to your painting, wrap the brush in plastic. The brush will remain ready to use for up to a day.

If you want to leave the painting for longer, wrap the brush up in plastic and place it in the freezer. It will remain pliable and ready to use for up to two weeks.

The bottom line is to not discard paintbrushes after each use. Doing so only adds to the dilemma of landfills full of harmful substances that will biodegrade over thousands of years.

Becoming aware of the different options of solvents and painting gear that is environmentally friendly can make a homeowner sprucing up their home more of the solution instead of part of the problem.

Summing It Up

There is no need for a homeowner who is aware of the state of the environment of our plant to compromise when beautifying their home. There are many methods to clean paint brushes that are eco-friendly, including using a paint spinner and environmentally responsible solvents.

Commercially made cleaning devices and solvents are the way to go if the homeowner is having a remarkably busy life and is incapable of making their own. However, there are directions available to make their own.

It is even possible to make one’s own solvent from all-natural ingredients found in either the grocery store or for the lucky few, the backyard.

There is no reason for painting to be harmful to the environment if one makes a few well-thought-out decisions.

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