How to keep paint brushes from drying out

It’s inevitable. You’re painting, and you reach a point where you have to let the paint dry, or you’re just out of time for the day. But you’re going to have to come back and paint again, so it seems like a waste to clean the brush, only to load it up with the same color paint again. Here’s how to keep paint brushes from drying out. Both during a project and at the end of the project.

All you need is a plastic bag and a fridge to keep your paint brush from drying out

How to keep your paint brush from drying out
If you put your paint brush in a plastic bag and tie it shut, it will keep for a long time in a refrigerator without drying out.

To keep paint brushes from drying out, just put the brush in a plastic bag. You can use a self-sealing sandwich bag if you have one big enough. But I usually don’t. I find a plastic grocery bag works well enough. Put the brush in the bag, then tie the bag shut. Put the bag in a refrigerator to keep it cool. The brush will stay damp and usable for weeks that way. I don’t recommend letting your work sit that long, but I’ll admit I’ve put a brush away in the fridge, not knowing if I’d need it again, and come back three weeks later and the brush was fine.

If you don’t have a fridge available, the brush should be OK overnight in a bag, at least if it doesn’t get too hot. Cool temperatures slow down evaporation. That’s why I use the fridge, even if people think I’m weird. It saves me time and wasted paint, so I don’t mind.

When you come back to resume your work, take the brush out of the fridge, remove the brush from the bag, and it’s ready to use again.

Cleaning your brush at the end of the project

Then there’s the problem of cleaning the brush when you’re done. If you don’t clean the brush completely, the remaining paint dries up, and ruins the brush.

The process to clean the brush depends on the paint. But regardless of the type of paint, I do like to use up as much of the paint in the brush as I can. I like to find a surface where I can paint onto with the almost-dry brush, until I can’t get any more paint out. That reduces how much paint I have to wash off. That may mean painting on some scrap. It can also mean painting on an already dry surface that’s the same color.

Cleaning latex paint

To keep your paint brush from drying out so it’s not a single-use item, be sure to rinse the brush thoroughly, and check your work throughout. If I think I’m done, I’ll turn the water off and then “paint” the surface of the sink. If I see paint, the brush isn’t clean enough. If I do see paint, I keep on painting, since that helps to get the paint out of the brush. Then I turn the water back on and wash the brush some more, as well as the sink, of course. Repeat until you can paint the sink and nothing but water comes out.

It can take 10 minutes to clean the brush. For a $1 brush, you might decide it’s not worth the effort, depending on how you value your time. But a good paint brush can cost $10 or up. It’s worth taking 10 minutes to clean an expensive brush. Expensive brushes are good for many jobs if you clean them after each job to keep them from drying out.

Cleaning oil based paint

You can’t clean off oil-based paint in the kitchen sink. You have to use paint thinner. But the process is still similar. Rinse the brush with paint thinner, then check your work by painting onto something you don’t care about, and repeat until it’s clean. Paint thinner tends to be more aggressive than water, so it usually takes slightly less time to clean oil based paint. It’s just messier and more expensive.

Reviving a dried-out brush

Sometimes you don’t do as good of a job cleaning a brush as you thought, and it dries out anyway. Sometimes I can revive a dried-out brush by soaking it in water or paint thinner. Sometimes the dried-out paint lets up enough that I can use the brush again. It doesn’t work every time, but it takes less time to find out than it takes to drive to the hardware store. If it saves me a trip, it was worth it.

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