How to clean paint rollers with a septic system?
April 23, 2008 8:13 AM   Subscribe

How do I clean my paint rollers in a house with a septic system?

My wife and I just bought our first house and it has a septic system. I've never lived in a house with a septic system before, though she has. We're going to be painting this weekend and all of next week and I don't think it's a good idea to wash the rollers and brushes and trays out in the sink into the septic system. She says that's how her parents do it in their house. Am I being overly cautious? Will it be okay to wash a little bit of paint into the system?

If it's not okay to do this, how do I get rid of it? Best advice I saw was to wash the rollers, brushes, etc into a bucket and then get rid of the bucket "in a safe manner". I don't know what that manner would be, but I assume it's not pouring it into the stream at the bottom of the hill. Does anyone have any advice? I don't want to mess up the septic on the first house we've ever owned.

Also, if anyone has any other advice for living with a septic system, let me know. Yes, we had it inspected. Yes, it has been emptied prior to our arrival. Anything else I should know?
posted by bDiddy to Home & Garden (13 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
For shorter term storage, you can load them up with paint, and then wrap them in a plastic bag. Try to get the back really soaked with paint, and then wrap up the ends to minimize air getting in them.
posted by sully75 at 8:35 AM on April 23, 2008

I've never successfully washed paint rollers no matter how much water I've tossed at it so now I just buy inexpensive rollers, wrap them in saran wrap between painting sessions, and toss the whole thing when I'm done with the job.

If you wrap tightly and tape off the ends, as described by sully75 above, the roller + paint will stay fresh for a couple of days.

For brushes, I'd go with your bucket idea and let the rinse water evaporate away.
posted by jamaro at 8:51 AM on April 23, 2008

It's probably not a great idea:

Latex paint brushes, when washed into your septic system will result in large rubber-like floating masses, clogging your system

...but to be honest, I've done it occasionally, and our house hasn't fallen down or filled with sewage or anything (and they didn't mention finding any clogs last time it was pumped out.) Small quantities are probably okay; a fair compromise might be to wash your brushes (after squeezing as much paint out of them as possible) but not your rollers -- just reuse those while you're working, as sully suggests, then don't bother washing them out at the end; just let them dry solid.
posted by ook at 8:54 AM on April 23, 2008

Huh... my parents have always lived with a septic tank, have painted many many times, and not once have they been concerned about paint getting into the drain. Or anything else, for that matter. Never had any real problems, either... of course, that doesn't mean that's the "right" way, just a random data point. Personally, I wouldn't worry about it, but it's not my house.
posted by cgg at 8:56 AM on April 23, 2008

I've also heard you can wrap brushes and rollers in plastic and store them in the freezer for longer term storage, though I've never tried that.

I do what Jamaro does. Rollers don't cost too much. Use them, wrap/freeze them until you're done with that paint color, then toss them.
posted by bondcliff at 8:58 AM on April 23, 2008

I agree with the wrapping suggestions, but if you do wash them into the septic system, unless you do it on a commercial scale it's not going to be an issue. I did this for 25 years for all normal house painting, inside and out, at one location. Got the septic pumped out every three years, never had a problem.
posted by beagle at 9:00 AM on April 23, 2008

Wash them in the yard with a garden hose and a 5 gallon bucket. Soaking them in the 5 gallon bucket of soapy water will help to get the latex paint out.
posted by JJ86 at 9:02 AM on April 23, 2008

Best answer: When I paint with rollers (which I do a lot for my job) I use a plastic bag as a tray liner. Just slip the bag over the tray and wrap the handles around the tray's feet. When youre stopping for the day, just fold back the bag over the paint (as described above) so that the paint and roller is sealed in. Doesnt have to be super air tight, just wrap the bag a bit around the handle. Then when you want to paint again, you can just unwrap the bag back over the bottom of the tray and youre good to go. You never have to wash the tray this way (definitely use the metal ones not the plastic ones) and when youre done with the roller you can use the bag to take it off the cage without getting paint all over your hands. Presto!
posted by minicloud at 9:18 AM on April 23, 2008 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I do the same as recommended above--wrap the rollers while using them, then throw them out. When you're done (or if you won't be using the roller sleeve for more than a couple of days) a 5-in-1 painter's tool is great for scraping excess paint off the sleeve. You'd be amazed how much paint you save this way. You've probably figured this out, but remove the sleeve while still wet, or it will join with the roller cage in unholy matrimony and will be far more effort than it's worth to remove.

As for the brushes, I generally clean them with water and (shudder) toss the water out into the bush. I know it's not a good thing to do, but the options here are pretty limited. If you have a local place that accepts household chemical waste, you should be able to bring the used clean-up products there.

Apart from other obvious things (bleach and other toxic cleaning products) and the excellent advice in ook's link, never ever ever flush cigarette butts into your septic system.
posted by elizard at 9:18 AM on April 23, 2008

Best answer: It will clog your system. Here's my related experience:

My house has a drain in the basement floor. Pretty normal. However, it's between the sewer and the standpipe... so oddly enough, everything from the main toilet and two sinks goes past a hole in my basement floor.

Every time I was a lot of paint off I end up getting a floating mass on top of the drain consisting of a mixture of paint and poop. If no one poops as I wash the rollers, everything is OK. But when they happen together... floating drain plug which ends up backup up the u-bend next to the drain (yes, it's a horrific setup - it's decades old). And then the next toilet flus results in the drain flowing up onto the basement floor.

So anyway - do not mix poop and latex paint. It will clog your tank. And it's nasty to clean out.
posted by GuyZero at 9:41 AM on April 23, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks. That's what I thought. I'm sure it would be fine, but I also don't want problems with getting poop out of the house. I'll make sure we don't wash paint down the sink. And I'll buy a bunch of cheap rollers so I can throw them out when we're done with them.
posted by bDiddy at 9:59 AM on April 23, 2008

I will again take the contrarian stance. Twenty one years with a septic tank, much paint washed down the drain from both kitchen and bathroom sinks. No problems at all with pipes or tank. You get what you pay for with cheap rollers.
posted by Xurando at 2:55 PM on April 23, 2008

You get what you pay for with cheap rollers.

This is true. Really cheap roller sleeves will often release fluff into the paint, leaving bits of themselves on the wall, which is incredibly frustrating and makes it difficult if not impossible to get a decent finish. If you're wrapping and reusing, paying a bit more for the roller sleeves shouldn't add up to much and will make a huge difference in your results.
posted by elizard at 6:58 PM on April 23, 2008

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