How To Clean Paint Rollers And Trays

There’s nothing more satisfying than relaxing after a job well done but don’t park yourself on the sofa just yet. Cleaning paint rollers and trays immediately after use is a must. With a little TLC, you’ll be able to reuse paint rollers for a handful more jobs before needing to replace the sleeve. 

What happens if you don’t wash paint rollers? Well, you will probably have to buy a new set because the paint has crusted. Also, never let the paint dry before cleaning a paint roller. Otherwise, you’ll have to soak it for longer, upping the risk of damaging the sleeve. And nobody wants to constantly be picking loose fibres off the wall next time they paint.

Ok, so you know why to clean them, now you need to know how to clean paint rollers and trays. 

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What Will You Need To Clean Your Paint Roller and Tray?

Stuff you’ll likely have in your cleaning cupboard:

  • Rubber gloves
  • Cloth and/or sponge
  • Scrubbing brush
  • Bucket
  • Washing up liquid
  • Kitchen roll

Things you might have to dig out or buy:

  • 6-in-1 painters tool (or putty knife)
  • Newspaper/cardboard
  • Old rags
  • Wire brush

If cleaning oil-based paint, you’ll also need:

  • Safety goggles
  • White spirit
  • Disposable bottles or a glass bottle/jar.
  • Container that fits horizontal roller cover
  • Disposable containers/tubs.

Step-By-Step Guide: The Best Way To Clean Paint Rollers and Trays

Cleaning a paint roller and tray is relatively easy. After following these simple steps, you’ll always choose to reuse them when you can. 

So, what is the best way to clean a paint roller and tray? 

Step 1: Reclaim Excess paint

Cleaning to reuse paint rollers is not the only way to prevent waste. By reclaiming excess paint, you’ll definitely save enough for touch-ups. Or maybe even enough for another coat. 

So, how do you do it? This is where your 6-in-1 tool works like a dream. Scrape the roller using the curved edge to release the paint into the tin. You’ll be surprised how much comes off! Use long strokes, but don’t apply too much pressure, or you might force dried flakes of paint to fall into your tin. Don’t have a 6-in-1 tool? Use a putty knife instead.

Tip: If you have leftover paint you won’t use, donate it to friends or Community Repaint, who’ll pass it on to worthy causes. Or take it to your local recycling centre (check they accept paint first). Have spare COAT paint? Send it back to us, and we’ll recycle the paint, tin and packaging. Learn more about this service in our FAQs.

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Step 2: Roll More Paint Off The Coating

When cleaning paint rollers, the more paint you remove before washing, the quicker and easier it will be. Work the roller over newspaper or cardboard until it stops releasing any paint. And voila. You’re now ready to start the cleaning process. Scrub-a-dub-dub!

Step 3: Wash The Frame of The Roller

The best way to clean a paint roller is to start by putting on rubber gloves. It’s a messy job. Remove the sleeve from the roller frame and rest it on some newspaper/cardboard. As it’s quick, we’re cleaning the frame first. 

Why do we need to clean roller frames? Leaving the paint to cake up and dry could stop the roller from spinning. So, even if you have a clean sleeve, it’s no good if it’s unable to roll.

How you wash paint roller frames will depend on the type of paint you’re using. For water-based ones like COAT emulsion, soapy water is your friend. However, for oil-based paint (aka solvent-based), you’ll need to use white spirit. We’ll detail how to clean both below.

Water-based paint: 

  • Fill a bucket with warm water and add a few drops of washing up liquid. 
  • Place the roller frame in the bucket and wipe off any paint using a cloth or sponge. 
  • For caked-on paint, use a wire brush to lift it off. 
  • Dispose of the soapy water down a sink or bath (this is ok when cleaning water-based paints). 
  • Dry the frame with a cloth or kitchen roll.

Oil-based paint: 

  • Safety first: wear goggles. Oh, and you are 100% still wearing your rubber gloves for this! One last thing, because of the strong VOCs, make sure you’re doing this in a well-ventilated room.
  • Add a little white spirit to a cloth or old rag, 
  • Wipe the roller frame to remove the paint.
  • Use a soapy sponge or cloth to clean the white spirit from the frame - it’s best to do this inside a bucket to avoid any white spirit going down the drain.
  • DO NOT CHUCK THE WATER DOWN THE DRAIN AS THERE IS WHITE SPIRIT IN IT. Instead, pour it into a disposable container and contact your local council about hazardous waste collection.
  • Use a cloth or kitchen roll to dry the frame.

Step 4: Clean The Roller Cover

Washing the roller after painting (instead of when the paint is dry) prevents damaging the cover. You’ll get more use out of it, saving yourself money on supplies.

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Can you buy a paint roller cover cleaner? As discussed in step 3, soapy water is great at washing away water-based paint. For oil-based paint, clean rollers in white spirit. 

Water-based paint:

  • Rinse the roller sleeve in warm water.
  • Then add a few drops of washing up liquid.
  • Work it into a lather and massage out the paint.
  • Rinse in clean water.
  • Repeat the process until no more paint comes out.
  • Leave the sleeve to dry by first, shaking out any excess water. Then stand it upright when drying to prevent crushing the cover’s fibres.

Oil-based paint:

  • Get those goggles on! Make sure your gloves are still on too. And work in a well-ventilated room.
  • Add some white spirit into a container that fits your roller when laid flat - you only need a shallow amount.
  • Roll the cover in the white spirit to saturate it and leave to soak for 5 minutes.
  • Now gently squeeze/massage the paint out of the cover before removing it from the container (be sure to catch any drips).
  • Carefully pour the dirty white spirit into a disposable bottle or glass bottle/jar*
  • Repeat the above process until no more paint comes out.
  • Briefly rinse the roller in clean water - do this over the container or into a bucket, so no white spirit washes down the drain.
  • Add a few drops of washing up liquid onto the cover and work into a lather.
  • Rinse in clean water (again over the container/bucket).
  • Shake out any excess water from the roller sleeve and leave it to dry standing upright.
  • DO NOT POUR THE LIQUID IN THE BUCKET DOWN THE DRAIN. Instead, pour into a disposable container and contact your local council about hazardous waste collection.

*Leave the bottle/jar with the dirty white spirit for 24-48 hours. The paint will settle to the bottom, allowing you to pour the white spirit back into its original container for reuse. Let the paint remnants dry before putting them in the bin. Oh, and don’t forget to label the bottle/jar, so nobody chucks it while you wait!

Step 5: Clean Your Painting Tray

Don’t be tempted to skip cleaning the tray because you’re desperate for a cuppa. There’s a chance dried paint will lift onto your roller when you next use it. You’ll then have to keep picking these bits off your freshly painted wall.

First up, if you haven’t already done so, pour the excess paint from the tray back into your paint tin. Don’t forget to pop the lid on. Last thing you want is to save all that paint only for somebody to knock it over!

You’ll be using the same paint roller cover cleaner for the tray. As in, either soapy water or white spirit.

Water-based paint: 

  • Rinse the tray with warm water in a sink or bath.
  • Add some soapy water to the tray.
  • Use a scrubbing brush to lift off the rest of the paint.
  • Rinse the soapy water away.
  • Dry with a cloth or kitchen roll.

Oil-based paint:

  • Safety: wear goggles and gloves, and do this in a well-ventilated area.
  • Wipe the tray with an old rag, newspaper or kitchen roll to remove any leftover wet paint.
  • Add a small amount of white spirit into the basin of the tray.
  • Use a scrubbing brush to work the paint loose - you may need a putty knife to scrape stubborn areas.
  • DO NOT POUR THE DIRTY WHITE SPIRIT DOWN THE DRAIN. Instead, pour it into a disposable bottle or glass bottle/jar*
  • Add some white spirit to a cloth and wipe the tray to remove any remaining paint.
  • Fill a bucket with warm soapy water and wash the white spirit from the tray and your scrubbing brush.
  • Dry the tray with a cloth or kitchen roll.
  • Pour the liquid in the bucket into a disposable container and contact your local council about hazardous waste collection. 

*See step 4: Leave the bottle/jar...

And that’s how to clean paint rollers and trays. As long as you’re thorough, your paint roller and tray will get to live another day. And a few more after that, as long as you keep following the same process. 

Even if you’re not planning on using your roller and tray again, someone else might need them. Always ask around before getting rid. We’re big on sustainability at COAT. So much so that when it does come time to say goodbye to your painting supplies, our decorator kits are fully recyclable. You can find everything you need in our essential supplies kit. 

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