I argue constantly with my husband about him wasting expensive paintbrushes and roller covers. He says it’s too hard to clean them, and when he tries he seems to ruin them. I can’t believe that pros throw them away. What do you do? What’s the oldest used brush you have?                                        –Terry C., Montreal, Quebec

Your husband may have valid complaints, but only because he’s never been trained how to clean painting tools. I learned from long experience how to preserve high-quality paintbrushes, roller covers and other painting tools, with the help of some secret tips gleaned from professional painters who have worked for me. The good news is that it’s not that hard to clean paintbrushes, roller covers and other tools.

As with many things in building and remodeling, if you ask 10 different pros how to do something you’ll usually get no fewer than eight different answers. They all may achieve the same desired result. The same is true for cleaning painting equipment. I’ll share what’s worked well for me for nearly 45 years. For sake of discussion, let’s assume we’re working with water-based paint, which is cleaned up using water. Oil-based paints require paint thinner, mineral spirits or some other solvent.

Cleaning a paintbrush starts before you dip it in the paint can. I discovered years ago that if I’m working with a water-based paint, my cleaning job is so much easier if I dip the brush in water and shake it out before I first dip it in paint. The water gets the bristles wet up inside the heel of the brush where the bristles are covered by the metal ferrule.

This stored water keeps the paint from drying deep inside the brush as you use it. So long as you keep the brush wet with paint as you use it, and then clean it immediately after use, the paint deep inside the brush bristles stays in the liquid state.

The biggest mistake I see most people make when cleaning brushes is pointing them upside down under a sink faucet. This is the fastest way to ruin a brush. Never ever do this.

I try to get out as much of the paint as possible by stroking the brush on old cardboard or rubbing the bristles with old paper towels, clothes dryer softener sheets, or any other thing that will remove the paint from the bristles. Don’t put excessive pressure on the brush trying to bend the bristles. This will also ruin the brush.

I then fill a small bucket with warm water and a generous squirt of liquid dish soap. I take the brush and move it rapidly side to side in this solution as if I’m stirring the water with the brush. The brush never touches the bottom of the bucket.

Within seconds the water becomes filled with paint from the brush. I discard this paint water into a five-gallon bucket of sand. The bottom of the bucket has holes punched in it so the water can eventually drain from the bucket. If you have a septic system at your house, never allow paint to get into your drain system.

I then fill the small bucket with warm water and once again swish the brush back and forth. As soon as the water turns cloudy from the paint, I dump it into the sand-filled bucket. I continue to do this rinsing until the water is clear after swishing. Usually it takes about two minutes to get to this point.

The last step is to suspend the brush in warm water for 24 hours. I have a handy plastic paint pail that has a magnet near the top lip. The steel ferrule grabs onto the magnet and holds the brush perfectly vertical. I fill the pail so the water is just below the metal ferrule. Believe it or not, I often see more paint pigment and resin at the bottom of the pail after that long soak.

I lay the brush flat on a piece of cardboard and allow it to dry naturally after taking it out of the pail. I do not shake it to remove excess water. I allow the bristles to stay tightly bound to one another from being soaked with water. As the brush dries flat, the bristles fluff out on their own. I then store the brush in the protective cardboard cover that came with it when the brush was new.

Cleaning roller covers is easy. Use a semicircular tool to scrape as much paint as possible from the roller cover. You’d be stunned how much paint can be stored in a roller cover, sometimes up to four ounces in a 9-inch cover. I then use a magical hand-powered spinning tool that spins the roller at a high speed. When you get the roller wet with soapy water and crank the tool, the paint flies off the roller cover. I do this in an old 5-gallon bucket so the paint stays in the bucket.

Repeated rinsing with clear water and subsequent spinning with the tool produces a clean roller cover in just minutes. The roller cover fibers may be stained the color of the paint, but don’t think that means it’s not clean. I also suspend the roller covers in clear water for 24 hours and, once again, paint you can’t seem to get out by spinning magically drifts out of the roller cover into the water.

Once the roller cover is clean, store it vertically on some cardboard until it’s dry. Don’t lay it flat to dry as that will compress the roller cover fibers.

As for my oldest paintbrush, I’ve got a favorite 2-inch tapered brush that I use for painting woodwork that’s close to 20 years old. She’s a beauty, and the bristles are not floppy or worn out.

Tim Carter is a columnist for Tribune Media Services. Contact him through his Web site: www.askthebuilder.com.