I'm in the process of painting my living room and I tried using my old roller but it's just dreadful.

I figure a bit of cleaning goes a long way to get a good solid paint job. So I'm here asking how I best can clean it.

I've tried running it under water and rubbing it vigorously, but to no avail, I've also "scraped" a bit of paint off it but I'm afraid to break the roller by doing it too hard.

enter image description here

Any and all help is greatly appreciated

  • 5
    Is this a paint roller with a removable, disposable brush? Commented Jun 27, 2017 at 17:52
  • I guess it's disposable, but I would like to be able to reuse it if possible. Commented Jun 27, 2017 at 17:54
  • Rinse thoroughly and dry with a towel. If you don't dry to some extent, the residual paint will settle to the lowest point and harden. If you wring or dry the roller it will dry more uniformly.
    – isherwood
    Commented Jun 27, 2017 at 18:48
  • 3
    Toss it. If you intend to reuse it you must better clean/preserve the brush/roller after the prior use.
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Jun 28, 2017 at 11:56
  • 2
    ... before you let it dry after you used it last time.
    – Mazura
    Commented Jun 28, 2017 at 12:53

4 Answers 4


These are consumables

You wouldn't worry about reusing a rubber glove or a paper towel. If it's pristine, sure... But generally you don't expect to.

That roller cover is $3, the hot dog is $1 and the brush is $2.

Stannius makes a good point about buying a quality brush and taking care of it. That idea actually harkens back to the age when everything was brushed (and oil based) and the best brushes were badger. It makes even more sense with latex/emulsion. Won't work with 2-part paints, though.

It's a waste of your time

You used these supplies for a previous paint job. At the end of that job, you left them in that state. That means at that time, you chose to scrap them.

And that's fine. Cleaning them better would've taken more effort. Your decision back them was probably correct. Getting them clean is a lot of work and your time also has value.

Okay then... Here's how you save them

Short-term: you wrap them tightly in plastic, ideally in a ziplock bag and press all the air out. Air makes them dry and cure. If they are a 2-part paint such as an epoxy or LPU, you must put them in the fridge or freezer, and you will need a dedicated fridge just for that, because the fumes will contaminate food. I can get 2-4 days tops this way. This doesn't always work, if your wrapping is poor they will dry in the bag. If you don't want to chance it, use the following longer term methods.

Long term:

Latex/emulsion paints: you work them in soap and water. A lot. You work soap and water into them aggressively, rinse, over and over. Brush/roll on a clear surface (such as the bottom of the sink) to see how well you are doing. You are done when they are so clean it is impossible to tell what color you had been painting. For rollers, some multi-purpose paint scrapers have a hook for squeezing out rollers.

enter image description here source

Alkyds, lacquers, and other oil base: Paint the brush out as far as possible on masking paper (don't use newspaper). Splash it with a bit of thinner, work the thinner in, and brush it out again. Repeat until diminishing returns. Now put 1/2" of thinner in the bottom of a soup can and work the brush in it. Dump the thinner, repeat until the thinner runs nearly clear. Hang the brush by the hole to dry. Try not to spend more on thinner than the brush is worth, and don't do this on Spare The Air days.

  • For rollers, toss them in the trash unless you have a useful application for the paint-contaminated thinner you'll burn through trying to clean them. For instance I'm fond of painting ultra-thin, and so I save the thinner for later reducing the next coat. Roll them out on masking paper, put 1/8" of thinner in a clean roller tray, roll through the thinner, squeeze it out as dry as possible, recycle that thinner, repeat until clean.

2-part coatings of any kind that come in an A and B part: into the trash it goes. Because you definitely will spend 4x the brush's worth in the expensive solvent.

I just did an LPU project. I ordered 3 boxes of chip brushes, and 20 of the exotic LPU tolerant rollers. They are a consumable, like thinner.

How to save dried out plastic roller trays: soak them in water, for a really long time. I found this out when I abandoned a tray I had used too many times for 2-part epoxy primer. It filled with rain. The epoxy coating chipped and blistered, I flexed the tray and the coating just popped out in chips. This surprised me, as epoxy coatings are used to line the inside of tanks. That works because roller trays have a very glossy finish paint doesn't want to stick to. The water gave it the nudge it needed to let go. It would not happen in a properly prepared tank interior.

  • 3
    What are "spare the air" days? Is that like a day with a heavy pollution prediction?
    – Criggie
    Commented Jun 28, 2017 at 0:45
  • Great answer! In my experience, to really clean a roller after regular use with latex paint takes so much water that I suspect it may be better for the environment to dispose of the roller, rather than throw gallons of paint-contaminated water down the drain trying to wash it. If I'm going to use it again in a short period (like, after lunch) I have had good luck wrapping the head in clingwrap or old plastic grocery store bags. Commented Jun 28, 2017 at 4:03
  • 1
    For emulsion (latex) paint rollers you can get a bit of plastic shaped like a funnel that squeegees the paint out of the bristles, meaning you use a lot less water in washing. Or of course just use your hand.
    – Chris H
    Commented Jun 28, 2017 at 8:00
  • 1
    There are (or at least were, last I looked) some "brush saver" chemicals on the market that will often dissolve hardened paint. However, they tend to leave the brush/roller in a sort of super-fuzzy, bad-hair-day state.
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Jun 28, 2017 at 11:55
  • 1
    It's probably worth using a good quality brush, and they aren't that hard to clean, thus generally I find it worth my time to clean a paint brush.
    – stannius
    Commented Jun 28, 2017 at 14:39

I think you're going to be much less frustrated if you just buy a new roller brush. Those are meant to be disposable and not to be stored for long periods.

You can get away with short term re-use by wrapping them in a plastic bag and freezing them overnight but once the paint has set and cured, its done.

  • Damn. Okay so for future reference, how do I clean it in between layers of paint, while the first layer is drying for example? I don't want it to become unusable after just one days painting. Commented Jun 27, 2017 at 17:56
  • 3
    @Gurkmeja101 You can rinse most of the paint out of a roller with clean water to reuse it. If you're using the same color on the roller, just wrap it in a plastic bag (Ziploc bags also work) and put it in the fridge or freezer as Greebo said. It'll keep overnight. Note that some roller brushes have cardboard tubes and some have plastic. The plastic ones cost more but hold up better to being washed out and reused.
    – Chris M.
    Commented Jun 27, 2017 at 18:11
  • 1
    Put it in a plastic zip-top bag, seal it good, and throw it in the fridge. It will last several days this way. Use a new cover for a different color.
    – mmathis
    Commented Jun 27, 2017 at 18:11
  • What Chris said - if you're doing a 2nd coat, same paint, just put it in bags in the fridge, the paint will be fine for a day or two. As long as it is latex paint, you can wash with warm water in the sink when done and allow to dry. You will go through a LOT of water to get all the paint out though. Commented Jun 27, 2017 at 18:14
  • 3
    Between coats, wrap it reasonably tightly in cling film / cling wrap and the paint will stay wet. After you've finished your walls, wash the roller in lots of water, rubbing/squeezing it until the water runs clear.
    – Richard Ev
    Commented Jun 27, 2017 at 23:05

Soaking it in water or mineral spirits for a while may help but I would recommend getting new ones. Once the paint has cured, you aren't going to fully restore the brush/roller.

Next time, if you want to do it right, either clean the brush or roller by rinsing it with water (latex paint) or minterial spirits (oil based) to get the bulk of it off, then let it soak for an hour or so, keeping the metal and wood components of the brush out of the water. You can also wrap the brush or roller in shrink wrap between uses (same color over a short period of time) to prevent solvents from evaporating.

Honestly I would recommend just replacing rollers. Paint brushes are easy to keep clean if you follow this advice. The effort and water required to clean a roller negates the benefit of reuse.


You made it clear that you want to reuse it so telling you to get another one is, IMO, a bit of a smack in the face, and does not constitute an answer to the question.

Soak it in paint thinner or acetone for a few hours then wash it in a washing machine. Put old rags in the washer with it, this will help to agitate the saturated paint on the brush. After that, put it in a real dryer, do not air dry. Repeat as required.

  • 2
    Putting something previously soaked in acetone into the clothesdryer sounds ... risky.
    – The Photon
    Commented Jun 28, 2017 at 17:09
  • 1
    Also, your first paragraph should be a comment on another answer, not part of a posted anser.
    – The Photon
    Commented Jun 28, 2017 at 17:10
  • 3
    Also, no amount of wishing to reuse the roller will magically make the dried paint removable.
    – stannius
    Commented Jun 28, 2017 at 18:01
  • Acetone self combusts at nearly 900 degrees. Your clothes dryer won't get anywhere near half of that. It's not wishing that makes the paint removable it's science. Commented Jun 28, 2017 at 18:45
  • 1
    @Iwrestledabearonce. An air-vapour mixture of the right proportions is definitely explosive. So explosive in fact, that fuel-air bombs are a class of weapons. Confining it in a space such as a dryer only makes it worse.
    – marcelm
    Commented Jun 28, 2017 at 23:28

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