How to Remove Enamel Paint from Paint Brushes

Whether you are an artist or in the middle of a house painting project, you will want your paint brushes to last a prosperous lifetime. If so, you may wonder how to properly remove enamel paint or other paints that you may use from your paint brushes. The answer? How you clean paint from your paint brushes depends on whether it is oil-based or water-based paint.

You cannot clean oil-based paint the same way you clean water-based paint. This is because oil does not mix with water and cannot be washed off with water. In fact, cleaning paint brushes improperly can lead to permanent damages and costly replacements.

Fret not, because this comprehensive guide will show you how to clean water and oil-based paint from your painting tools and extend their lifespan. In this article, you will learn:

  • What is enamel paint
  • How to clean water-based enamel paint from paintbrushes
  • Ways to clean oil-based enamel paint from paintbrushes without solvents
  • How to remove oil-based enamel paint from paintbrushes with paint thinner
  • Dos and don’t of properly disposing of paint thinner

What is enamel paint

Enamel paint is a type of paint with hard, glossy finish and commonly used outdoors.

Credit: Home Stratosphere

Enamel paint is a type of paint that is resilient to outdoor conditions and changes in temperature. It dries to a hard, glossy finish and is a popular choice for painting vehicles, boats, and other surfaces that undergo hard wear. Enamel paint is usually oil-based paint, but some brands do sell water-based paint.

How to remove enamel paint from paint brushes

The method you choose to remove enamel paint from paint brushes depends on whether the paint is water-based or oil-based. Generally, cleaning water-based paint involves washing it under running water. On the other hand, you can clean oil-based paint with either paint thinner or oil and dish soap. Removing oil-based paint from paint brushes without solvents is more ecological and economical than using paint thinner.

Note: It is okay to use paint thinner as long as you follow the proper listed out below.

Cleaning water-based enamel paint from paint brushes

Remove water-based enamel paint from paint brushes by rinsing with soap and water.

Credit: Salvaged Inspirations

You’ll need: 1 bucket, mild dish soap, rag, brush scrub

  1. Pour enough water to cover the paint brush in a bucket completely.
  2. Pour some dish soap into the water.
  3. Work the soapy mixture through the bristles.
  4. Brush the bristles with a brush comb.
  5. Rinse the paint brush with running water and wipe dry with a rag before storing.

Cleaning oil-based enamel paint from paint brushes

There are a few methods that you can choose to clean oil-based enamel paint. Cleaning oil paint without using a solvent is not only effective but also economical and environmental-friendly. You can choose any of the following methods according to the material’s availability and your budget.

Cleaning oil-based enamel paint without solvents

With oil and soap

You can remove enamel paint from paint brushes with oil and soap.

Credit: Just Paint

You’ll need: Paint rag/paper towel, oil (coconut oil/vegetable oil/baby oil/mineral oil), mild dish soap (e.g.: Dawn dish soap), running water, container

  1. Wipe the dirty paint brush into a rag or paper towel.
  2. Pour enough oil into a container that it completely coats the bristles.
  3. Dip the bristles of the paint brush into the oil.
  4. Wipe the paint brush into a rag.
  5. Repeat 3-4 times or until the paint brush is clean.
  6. Rinse the paint brush with dish soap and water.
  7. Dispose of the rag by hanging dry outdoors and away from other flammable materials. You can reuse the paint rag or dispose of it in a water-filled, air-tight metal container and then bringing it to a hazardous waste collection site.

With a brush cleaner

Masters Brush Cleaner & Preserver is a great product that effectively cleans your paint brushes.

Credit: ARTdiscount

You can clean oil-based paint with brush cleaner products. One of the most popular is with Masters Brush Cleaner & Preserver. Its only flaw is that the package is only large enough to clean artist brushes and not bigger brushes. Here is how you clean oil paint with Masters Brush Cleaner & Preserver:

  1. Press the brush into the Masters Brush Cleaner & Preserver under running water.
  2. Once cleaned, wipe dry with a rag or paper towel.

Cleaning oil-based enamel paint with paint thinner

You can get paint thinners such as this from Home Depot or any hardware store.

Using paint thinner would be the most straightforward method to clean oil paint. However, solvents and mineral spirits such as thinner or turpentine release toxic fumes that can cause paint thinner poisoning. Paint thinner also irritates human skin and can cause methemoglobinemia when accidentally ingested. Not only that, but paint thinner is also harmful to the environment due to its toxins that can contaminate groundwater and the natural surroundings.

Solvents such as paint thinner and turpentine may also cause your brushes’ bristles to turn brittle if used too frequently. So, after cleaning your paint brush with thinner, wash any solvent from your brush with soap and water. Alternatively, you could use certain soaps that are engineered to clean and condition paint brushes simultaneously.

How to clean oil-based enamel paint with paint thinner

You’ll need: paint thinner, brush comb, 1 clean container, 1 unwanted container, mild dish soap (e.g.: Dawn dish soap)

1. Wear a mask and chemical-resistant gloves before cleaning your dirty paint brush in a well-ventilated area.

2. Pour enough paint thinner to cover the bristles in the dirty paint container.

Note: If you want to save the leftover paint, pour the paint thinner into a clean container.

3. Dip the paint brush into the paint thinner and move it around as you clean both brush and container.

4. Once the paint thinner has turned murky, dispose of it into an unwanted container and bring it to a hazardous waste facility.

5. Repeat about 2-3 times or until the paint brush is clean.

Note: You can check if the paint brush is still dirty by squeezing the bristles to see if there is paint running down the brush.

6. Once the brush is clean, spin it vigorously in the bucket to remove any remaining thinner.

7. With a brush comb, brush off any paint clinging onto the bristles. You should brush it following the direction of the bristles.

8. Clean any remaining solvent from the paint brush with dish soap and running water.

9. Store the clean paint brush into the brush jacket or the package that comes with the paint brush when you bought it.

10. Let the dirty paint thinner sit for 1-2 days as the solids settle to the bottom.

11. Pour the thinner into a clean container and reuse it for future painting projects.

12. Wipe the residue with a paper towel and dispose of it in household garbage.

Pro tips:

  • If you intend to continue painting the following day, store the brush or rollers in a plastic bag after painting. This will prevent them from drying out and save you the trouble of washing.

Video guide on how to clean oil-based enamel paint

Credit: howtopaintahouse on YouTube

How to dispose of paint thinner

Dirty paint thinner is regarded as hazardous waste and should be disposed of accordingly. It releases toxic fumes that can cause harmful effects when exposed to high enough levels over a long period of time. Aside from the steps below, always wear masks and chemical-resistant gloves when handling paint thinner.

Do:

  • Reuse paint thinner by letting it sit for 1-2 days. The solids will settle to the bottom of the container, leaving you with clear thinner that you can pour into a clean jar and reuse in the future. You can then use a paper towel to wipe the residual before disposing of it in household garbage.
  • Call your local trash service for proper disposal or bring dirty paint thinner to a hazardous waste facility.

Don’t:

  • Flush dirty paint thinner down the drain because it will clog up the pipes and pollute the environment
  • Dispose of paint thinner in household garbage.

Key takeaways

Enamel paint is a great choice for painting vehicles or any outdoor surfaces that face weather conditions. Water-based and oil-based enamel paint involves different cleaning methods. You can clean water-based paint with mild soap and running water. On the other hand, you can remove oil enamel paint from paint brushes with one of several methods: with oil, brush cleaners, or paint thinner. You must also dispose of dirty paint thinner properly by sending it to a hazardous waste facility.

Written by Jason Beischel

Jason Beischel is a Remodeler by profession and is always ready for the challenge and surprise that the next remodeling job throws at him. And given his extensive knowledge in real estate, contracting, and interior design, he provides actionable DIY tips online and has consolidated extensive excerpts with details on how to go about the various home repair activities. Enthusiasts will also access information on the best products that they can use in the process. Jason leads a team of renovators, he loves traveling and does not shy away from challenging opportunities that present away from familiar ground. According to Jason, every human deserves a comfortable home from where they can build their future.

September 13, 2021

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