How to clean up safely after painting

14 Aug 2018

Water-based paints. Here is a comprehensive guide to the best and safest way of cleaning up after using either


Easy to Use Cleaning System

This system is based on the use of 2 containers in which brushes, roller sleeves and other equipment are first washed then rinsed. By rotating the containers the solids in the paints are separated from the liquid making it easier to dispose of each component. This system will work well for both water based and solvent based (alkyd or oil) paints. For solvent based paints use mineral turpentine or another paint solvent recommended by your local paint stockist.

 Water-based paints

1. At the end of each job, wipe or squeeze excess paint onto an absorb ant material such as old rags, shredded newspapers or cardboard boxes.

2. Allow to the paper (etc.) to dry and dispose of it with your household waste.

3. Wash brushes and rollers etc. in a 20 litre or similar sized container (bucket)

4. Transfer the washed items to another similar container filled with water for a second rinse

5. Place lids on the containers (or cover in some other secure manner) and let stand overnight. (See storage of paints)

6. By morning the paint solids in the first container will have settled to the bottom of the container. The clear water from this container may now be poured onto the garden or any grassed or open area where it can be absorbed into the ground. Avoid areas near rivers and lakes

7. Now to dispose of the residue paint solids at the bottom of the first container. Scrape out the bottom of the container onto absorbent material such as old rags, shredded newspapers or cardboard boxes. Allow to dry then place in a plastic bag and dispose of with the household waste or take directly to the nearest council landfill.

If you have more painting to do the second container can now be used as the first wash. Use this rotation system until the job is completed.

Solvent-based paints

Follow the same procedures as for water-based paints with these exceptions:

1. Use mineral turpentine or another recommended solvent instead of water to clean your brushes and rollers etc.

2. Allow the first container to stand for at least 24 hours as it will take this long for the paint solids to settle and give a clear solvent above.

3. Do not pour the clear solvent onto the ground - use it to top up the second container or decant it and keep for future use.


Never allow waste or chemical solvents from washed paint equipment to enter household or storm water drains or sewers. The waste may find its way into the natural waterways where it can reduce oxygen levels and threaten the survival of fish and other aquatic organisms.

Planning Ahead

It’s a good idea to keep a container of “dirty turps” on hand for cleaning purposes. Kept in a secure container in a safe place you will be able to reuse the solvent time and time again. But remember not to shake it up as this will disturb the paint solids which will have settled to the bottom of the container.

Tip for Dealing with Spills

If water based paint is accidentally spilt clean it up as best you can with a cloth or a newspaper. Then wash down with water. By cleaning up as much of the spilt paint as you can before washing down you will save water and give yourself less work to do.

Moving from One Work Site to Another

A plastic pail with a tight fitting lid is ideal for the short term storage and transport of brushes and roller sleeves. Fill this pail about half way with water so that brushes etc. are covered. This will save you having clean brushes and rollers whenever work is interrupted. Wrapping a paint brush in cling wrap will prevent the paint drying on the brush for at least an hour or so while you take a lunch break.