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Can you use dish soap to clean paint rollers?

Paint rollers are a useful tool for painting walls and other surfaces quickly and efficiently. However, after finishing a paint job, the roller is usually covered in leftover paint that needs to be cleaned off before storing or reusing the roller. Many people wonder if regular dish soap can be used to clean dried paint off paint rollers, rather than having to buy special paint roller cleaner.

Can You Use Dish Soap to Clean Paint Rollers?

The short answer is yes, you can use dish soap to clean paint rollers. Dish soap, especially those formulated for grease cutting power, can be highly effective at breaking down oil-based paints and loosening dried paint on paint roller covers. The key is using a liberal amount of dish soap and soaking the paint roller in hot water to fully dissolve the dried paint.

Dish soap alone often does a good job at removing paint from paint roller covers. However, for even better cleaning results, combining dish soap with some other common household cleaners can help scrub away every last bit of dried paint.

How to Clean a Paint Roller with Dish Soap

Here are step-by-step instructions for how to effectively clean a paint roller using dish soap:

Supplies Needed:

  • Dish soap
  • Large bucket or tub for soaking roller
  • Hot water
  • Old toothbrush, paintbrush, or other scrub brush
  • Garden hose or sink spray nozzle (optional)


  1. Remove all excess wet paint from the paint roller by rolling it across scrap cardboard or newspaper after finishing your paint job. Allow the roller to air dry completely.
  2. Fill a large bucket or tub with hot water from the tap. For a standard 9 inch roller cover, place it into a 5 gallon bucket or large tub.
  3. Squirt a generous amount of dish soap into the bucket, approximately 1/4 cup. Swish the roller cover around to distribute the dish soap.
  4. Let the paint roller soak for at least 15 minutes. For thicker coats of paint or very dried paint, let it soak for up to a few hours.
  5. After soaking, use an old toothbrush, paintbrush, or other scrub brush to aggressively scrub the paint roller under the water to help loosen the paint.
  6. Optionally, you can use a garden hose or sink spray nozzle on a strong setting to spray the paint roller while scrubbing. This will help blast away paint under pressure.
  7. Keep scrubbing until all visible paint is removed from the roller cover. It may take some time and effort to fully clean.
  8. Once clean, remove the roller cover and thoroughly rinse under cool running water. Make sure to rinse out any remaining soap.
  9. Stand the roller cover on its end to air dry completely before storing or reusing.

This dish soap method can be used for cleaning all types of paint roller covers, including wool, microfiber, foam, and woven fabrics. The key is to fully submerge the roller and let it soak long enough to soften the dried paint so it can be scrubbed off.

Why Dish Soap Works Well

Dish soap is actually a great cleaning agent for removing dried paint from paint rollers for a few reasons:

  • Grease cutting ability – Dish soap formulas are specially engineered to cut through grease, oils, and other tough buildup. This makes dish soap equally effective at breaking down oil-based paints.
  • Detergent power – Detergents in dish soap work to emulsify and dissolve the paint so it washes away, rather than just pushing it around.
  • Penetrating agents – Ingredients like sodium xylene sulfonate found in many dish soaps help it penetrate into the fibers of the paint roller for deep cleaning.
  • Designed for scrubbing – Dish soaps are formulated to be used with scrub brushes and sponges to scrub away tough messes.

These properties allow the dish soap to penetrate, soften, and dissolve the hardest dried paint on rollers to be scrubbed and rinsed away.

Tips for Cleaning Paint Rollers with Dish Soap

For best results when using dish soap to clean paint rollers, follow these useful tips:

Use Hot Water

Hot water helps to soften and dissolve the paint faster. The hotter the water, the quicker the paint will soften for scrubbing.

Choose a Degreasing Dish Soap

Look for a dish soap that specifically advertises being effective at cutting through grease and oils. These will work better than milder detergent-based dish soaps. Dawn dish soap is a popular choice.

Soak Overnight for Dried Paint

The longer you can soak the paint roller in hot sudsy water, the better it will clean. For rollers covered in many layers of dried paint, soak overnight if possible.

Scrub Vigorously

Aggressive scrubbing with a stiff bristle brush helps remove the softened paint. Focus on scrubbing the fibers inside the roller cover.

Use a Hose for Extra Cleaning Power

A strong spray of water from a hose can blast away paint loosened by the soap if needed. Just be sure to rinse away all the soap after cleaning.

Allow Roller to Dry Completely

Before storing the paint roller, stand it on end to dry fully. Trapped water can damage the roller fibers.

Alternative Cleaning Solutions

While dish soap typically does a great job, there are some other products you can use in combination with dish soap or as an alternative:


Adding 1/2 cup ammonia to the soak water along with dish soap can boost its cleaning power. The ammonia helps dissolve paint oils. Never mix ammonia with bleach!

TSP Substitute

A non-toxic TSP substitute can be used instead of dish soap by mixing 1-2 tbsp into hot water and soaking. Be sure to rinse thoroughly.

Acetone or Mineral Spirits

For oil-based paints, acetone or mineral spirits are even more effective than dish soap. However, both are harsh solvents that require caution.

Laundry Detergent

Like dish soap, laundry detergents are formulated for stain removal and can be used instead for soaking and scrubbing paint rollers.

Oven Cleaner

Heavy duty oven cleaners break down tough grease stains. Follow the cleaner’s instructions to safely soak paint rollers. Thoroughly rinse any caustic cleaners off.

Cleaning Roller Spinners

For cleaning inside paint roller spinners, dish soap typically isn’t as effective. Paint thinner or rubbing alcohol work better.

Professional Roller Cleaners

There are also commercial paint roller cleaning solutions available. Many are simply concentrated dish soap formulas specialized for paint cleaning.

Benefits of Using Dish Soap

Using regular dish soap found in any kitchen has some advantages over specialized paint roller cleaners:

  • Dish soap is inexpensive and readily available
  • It’s effective at removing most types of paint
  • Safer and less harsh than chemicals like thinner
  • Environmentally friendly compared to harsh solvents
  • Works in regular tap water versus needing special solutions
  • Familiar product and easy water clean up

For most DIYers with an occasional need to deep clean paint rollers, dish soap is ideal compared to buying a specialty roller cleaning product. The key is using dish soap correctly with hot water and scrubbing.


Dish soap is a versatile and economical cleaning agent that excels at removing all types of paint from paint rollers. With the proper soaking and scrubbing method, dish soap can tackle even the most dried-on oil-based paints. While specially formulated paint roller cleaners do exist, plain dish soap offers an effective, inexpensive, and accessible option found in any home.

Be sure to use hot water and plenty of grease-fighting dish soap. Let the paint roller soak for a long period, at least 15 minutes but preferably overnight if the paint is very thick. Then rigorously scrub with a stiff brush until the paint starts releasing. You may need to soak and scrub multiple times for complete cleaning, but the dish soap method does work with some time and elbow grease. Just be sure to thoroughly rinse away all soap residue after cleaning.

In no time you can have paint rollers looking like new without harsh chemicals and expensive cleaners. So grab that bottle of Dawn and scrub away!