How to Clean Up Paint

Painting tools.

Cleaning up well is a crucial part of your paint job. Not only does your cleanup in the general work area improve the quality and appearance of your finished product, the proper cleanup of your tools will also save you some money. Cleaning rollers, brushes, pans, and other tools means that you can store them and not have to buy them all over again when the time comes for your next painting project. Perhaps the biggest and most costly mistake people make is failing to clean out a sprayer properly.

Cleaning Your Paint Sprayer

Whether you have taken the plunge and spent the money for your own paint sprayer or decided to rent one so that you could knock out your big project in a hurry, you must clean it out promptly and thoroughly. If you don’t clean out your own sprayer then the paint will harden inside. This may not ruin the sprayer, but you will have to cough up a pretty penny for a technician to clean it out well. Additionally, you will have to buy a new hose, fittings, and possibly a spray gun. Overall, it’s a pretty costly proposition for a problem that could be avoided just by cleaning the machine as soon as you are done using it.

If you have rented a machine, then they probably gave you instructions for cleaning it out as well. Most rental companies will clean the machine out for you if you bring it back dirty, but it won’t be free. Expect to pay anywhere from $50 to $100 for bringing the machine back dirty. Again, this unnecessary expense can be avoided.

Latex Paint

So, how do you clean those sprayers anyway? If you’ve been using latex paint, then it’s pretty simple. Just fill a 5-gallon bucket with clean water and run the sprayer until the water comes out clear. Make sure any over spray that may have started to dry on the machine is peeled away, especially near moving parts.

TIP: Painting professional Edward Kimble, author of Interior House Painting Blog, adds, “Running the sprayer until the water comes out clear is a must. In addition, run paint thinner through the sprayer and line until all the water is out. An airless sprayer should have paint thinner in the internal parts, line and spray gun when the sprayer is stored.”

Oil-Based Paint

If you used an oil-based paint, you need to use the same process. Instead of water, use mineral spirits or paint thinner. It is not typically necessary to use a full bucket, but just enough to make sure that the system is primed with thinner. This will keep any paint from drying inside the system. Should you want to use a different color or type of paint the next time, you need to make sure that you blow all of the thinner and oil residue out of the sprayer and hose. This can be done by pumping some fresh mineral spirits or paint thinner through the pump.

Clearing a Clog

If you have a spray gun that was not cleaned well and seems to be clogged, don’t run out and buy a new one just yet. There are ways to salvage the spray gun. If the gun was allowed to dry with oil-based paint in it, use lacquer thinner to clean it. Be very careful as you do this, as it is fairly caustic and will burn you if you don’t get it washed off quickly. Take apart the gun and lay out all of the pieces. If you are unable to remove some parts because of dried paint, use a small amount of lacquer thinner to soften it. You will need to take the entire gun apart to make sure that all of the paint is removed. The lacquer thinner will soften the paint so you can scrape it out of the fine grooves of the gun with a toothpick.

TIP: Edward suggests, “when using lacquer thinner, wear protective gear including rubber or latex gloves, goggles or safety glasses with side shields, and last but not least, an approved respirator.”

If the gun has dried with latex paint, then follow the same procedure. Ideally, water will soften the latex enough to allow you to clean the gun well, but if it has been sitting around for a long time, then water may not be enough. Denatured alcohol will soften and even dissolve latex paint.

Disposing of Cleaner

If you are using lacquer thinner, it is important to note that it is illegal to dispose of it on the ground or down a drain. Your best bet is to keep used thinner in a well-marked plastic container until it’s full. Once it’s full, take it to a recycling or disposal facility where it will be dealt with properly and in an environmentally friendly way. This is very important, as the thinner will not break down organically. The poison will continue to find its way through the environment, eventually ending up in the water supply.

TIP: Edward says, “Lacquer thinner will often decant, just as paint thinner does. In 5 gallons of used lacquer thinner that has been allowed to sit for about a week, 4 clean gallons will reside on top of the heavier paint particles, which will be on the bottom of the pail.”

Once you are done working with the lacquer thinner, make sure that you wash very well with soap and warm water. You need to wash until you feel that there is no more oil residue on your hands. You may not feel that the thinner is burning your hands, as the skin on your hands is probably pretty tough. However, as you touch other places on your body where the skin is more sensitive, the oils left on your hands can be transferred, and these other areas will burn. Take the time to wash well.

Edward Kimble, professional painter and author of Interior House Painting Blog, contributed to this article.