One of the tasks I hate the most is cleaning up after I finish a job, but cleaning up properly is an important part of DIY and needs to be right to preserve your tools ready for next time and none more so than paint brushes.
Cleaning paint brushes after you finish decorating or applying finish to wood, walls or metal means they will last much longer and give you a smooth professional finish every time.
But where is the best place to clean your brushes? Your kitchen sink is an obvious place but with the chemicals used in paint, can you clean paint brushes in the sink?
It is best to avoid cleaning paintbrushes in the sink as the chemicals used can damage your plumbing and septic system. Clean off as much paint as possible with a paper towel then clean your paintbrushes in a separate bucket and never pour the paint residue down your drain. Some Acrylic, water-based paint can be washed in your sink as they are less harmful
While it can be a hassle to clean your paint brushes properly, you must do so to ensure you don’t cause damage to your drains, septic system, or the water course. This article will cover reasons why it’s not good to clean paintbrushes in the sink and also detail the best method for cleaning your paintbrushes.
Why You Shouldn’t Clean Paintbrushes in the Sink
If you recently used latex paint for a project, you must understand the importance of not cleaning your paintbrushes in your sink. While a minimal amount seems harmless, it can cause ripple effects that you should avoid.
The following reasons are why you shouldn’t clean paint brushes in the sink:
- Risk of contaminating water
- Blocking your drain
- Most paints are flammable and toxic and can lead to environmental issues
Now, let’s take a deeper look at the above reasons.
You Can Contaminate Your Water
Water that goes down your drain or through your septic tank can also end up in the water system for recycling or in your drain field and can contaminate the wider environment and your water.
In addition, washing paint down your drain may cause a problem for your neighbors and could lead to significant fines if you routinely wash paint in your sink.
You Might Block Your Drain
Paint has many chemical ingredients that are designed to harden over time and if poured down your sink these chemicals can form a residue and thick sludge which will coat the inside of your drainage system and eventually block your drain.
For systems that are connected to a septic tank, a blockage of this sort can cause the system to back up and overflow. Meaning effluent can find its way to places you don’t want.
A blockage and overflow in a septic system will probably need professional assistance to clear and repair, which can be expensive and time-consuming.
Paint is Toxic and Can Cause Environmental Issues
In addition to damaging your drain, the toxicity of paint can cause other environmental issues, for example, any toxic residue left on your sink may get transferred to nearby prepared food, which then means you can potentially ingest harmful chemicals.
Furthermore, drains often flow out to local streams, rivers, bays, and lakes, contaminating your local water and even though water treatment plants can remove most particles, chemical toxins are more difficult to remove and can be left behind to flow into these local water systems,
By avoiding cleaning paint brushes in your sink, you help to prevent these chemicals from making their way to any body of water that might be recycled into drinking water.
Can You Clean Paintbrushes in the Sink With Acrylic Paint?
You can wash water-based, acrylic paint off in your sink because it is non-toxic and probably won’t cause any issues if it goes down the drain however it is better to avoid doing so whenever possible. Acrylic paint is water-based and uses less harmful chemicals that won’t stick to the inside of your drains, which leads to paint build-up, clogging, or blockages.
Whichever type of paint you use to decorate, I recommend that you always wiped the excess paint off your brushes, using a paper towel to remove as much paint from the bristles as possible, this helps to ensure you don’t wash an excessive amount of paint down your sink.
Can You Wash Oil-Based Paint Off in Your Sink
So, can you clean paintbrushes in the sink if you use oil-based paint or varnish? Unfortunately, oil and water don’t mix and won’t effectively clean your paintbrushes. Using water with this type of paint will ruin the brush and make a mess of your sink as the paint will end up covering all the surfaces.
For this type of paint, you will need to use a more potent chemical, like brush cleaner or mineral spirits, to clean your paintbrushes, which you should not use over the sink. I recommend you wear some disposable rubber gloves when handling these types of chemicals and first thing to do is use a paper towel to remove the excess paint from the bristles of the brush.
Then using a jar or brush cleaning stand, add some brush cleaner or mineral spirit to remove the oil-based paint, and work the brush gently against the side of the jar to loosen the paint from the bristles
Then squeeze out the remaining liquid into a clean paper towel and use some warm soapy water in a bucket to clean the brush, making sure to wash right up into the heel of the brush.
Any waste liquid should be poured into a container with a secure lid, I tend to use the old plastic containers for car windscreen cleaner or reuse the old mineral spirits bottles as these can withstand the chemicals without deforming or degrading,
You can also use an old paint tin, just ensure you clearly label the outside so you or anyone else knows that it contains old dirty old paint and chemicals
Once your waste container is full, the waste liquid should then be disposed of properly at your nearest recycling center.
What Should You Do If Paint Gets in the Sink
Sometimes, even if we try, paint makes its way into the sink, so it’s good to know what to do in that situation. For example, a small amount of paint likely won’t cause damage, but an excess amount might have lasting effects if you don’t take quick action.
So, while you shouldn’t worry too much, it’s best to be prepared if you get paint in your sink. So, let’s look at the steps you should take if you accidentally get paint down your drain.
1. If you didn’t get excessive paint, you shouldn’t have an issue; however, you want to clean any residue around your sink.
2. Do not use substances like mineral spirits that should not go down your drain.
3. Use vinegar to clean any residue and an old sponge to help remove stuck-on paint
4. If you choose to use any dissolving chemicals, ensure they are safe for your pipes
5. In a worst-case scenario, contact a professional to help further treat the issue
How to Clean Paintbrushes Without Using a Sink
So with all the bad things that can happen if you wash your paintbrushes in your sink, the good news is there is a way to effectively clean your paintbrushes without causing damage to your sink, drain, and the water system.
To avoid any paint going down your drain you can use this method for both Oil-based or acrylic paint and while it may not be the quickest task, it’s really good and helps avoid the problems mentioned earlier.
Your best bet for cleaning paint brushes without a sink is to use a bucket or pail and pour mineral spirits, or brush cleaner over brushes contaminated with oil-based paint or warm soapy water over the brushes used with water-based acrylic.
If you are using mineral spirits or brush cleaner, ensure you wear protective gloves and glasses or goggle to prevent any splashes from getting into your eyes.
After pouring your desired liquid over the brushes, gently dab them on the bottom or side of the bucket to spread the bristles and help the paint come off.
Once finished, wipe the brushes with a paper towel and you should pour the contaminated liquid into a sealed paint can or container and dispose properly
Can You Clean Paint Trays in the Sink?
When using a roller and tray to paint walls or woodwork, It is best if you did not clean paint trays in your sink, instead use paper towels to wipe the tray clean and throw the waste into the garbage for disposal
I like to use tray inserts that sit inside the tray and can simply be thrown away once you have finished, you can also use polyethylene clingfilm or Soran wrap to line the inside of the paint tray before you pour your paint in.
Another technique is to use a plastic grocery bag over your paint tray, flip it inside out when finished, and throw it away.
While you don’t want to continually add to landfills, if you buy cheap paint trays, you can throw them away after use, which arguably uses less water, chemicals, and effort than cleaning them.
Should I Soak Paint Brushes in Water?
While you can soak paint brushes in water to help remove excess paint, you must not pour the water down the drain unless you use non-toxic paint, and only soak brushes that have acrylic water-based paint on them in water, for oil-based paint, brushes will need tobe soaked in brush cleaner or mineral spirits.
Be careful, if you soak paint brushes for too long, you may cause damage to them and not be able to reuse them.
If your paint brushes have been left too long with paint on them soaking them in a brush restorer can help to remove the paint but I find this doesn’t always work and the bristles are never as supple as before, which leaves a poor surface finish when painting and it may be better to replace the brush with a new one.
I recommend that you avoid cleaning paint brushes in your sink because this can damage your plumbing, contaminate your water and potentially lead to environmental issues. Instead, rinse paint brushes over a bucket with water or mineral spirits, and properly dispose of the liquid in a container with a lid or a paint can.
For more information on painting and decorating, take a look at our articles on painting and decorating techniques and tips
This article was written by: Richard Quinton – The DIY Help Desk Owner, Engineer & technical specialist.
Richard is one of the key partners in The DIY Help Desk team. He is a qualified Engineer, writer, and publisher, educated to Master’s level. He is a keen advocate of DIY and home improvements.
Richard enjoys helping others to learn new skills and reach their goals and believes that passing his knowledge and experience on through his writing is an effective way to positively impact the lifestyles and wellbeing of others on a larger scale.