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One of the most popular DIY projects is painting, and for good reason. A fresh coat of paint is one of the most cost-effective ways to give a room an entirely new look, and the process is well within the abilities of most DIYers. But if you want the most professional-looking results possible, you need to start not only with high-quality paint, but also with high-quality paint brushes. A good brush can make the difference between a smooth, even coat of paint and a bristle-marked, blotchy finish.
There are a few things to consider when choosing a paint brush. First off, check whether your paint is water-based or oil-based, as that determines the types of bristles that will work best for your project. You'll also want to consider brush shape: flat brushes are perfect for the wall, while angled brushes are the best choice for trim and detail work. Finally, you'll want a brush that's the right size for your job. For most people tackling a painting project, the ideal solution is to have several brushes in various sizes and shapes.
We've done the research for you, and whittled down the many available options to the best paint brushes in several categories likeliest to be of interest to the DIY painter. Here are our top choices.
Best Overall: Purdy XL Sprig Paint Brush
Bristles: nylon/polyester | Available Sizes: 2, 2.5, 3, 4 inches | Available Shapes: flat, angle | Best Use: all types of water-based and oil-based products
Smooth, even coverage
Available in many sizes and shapes
Handful of complaints that brush doesn't pick up enough paint
Even professional painters love Purdy paint brushes; these high-quality brushes really perform. The Purdy XL Sprig—sprig refers to the handle's shape, which is a traditional "beaver tail" design—is available in several sizes, including 2-inch, 2.5-inch, and 4-inch, but for painting walls or other large, flat surfaces, the 3-inch brush is big enough to get the job done quickly, but not so large that it's difficult to control.
The brush has nylon/polyester bristles tapered just right to pick up a good amount of paint, and then deposit it smoothly and evenly. The brush's ferrule is copper, and the handle is made from alder wood. Use the brush with any water-based, latex, or oil-based paint, primer, shellac, lacquer, varnish, or sealant.
Best for Corners and Tight Spots: Wooster Shortcut Angled Brush
Bristles: nylon/polyester | Available Sizes: 2 inches | Available Shapes: angle | Best Use: all types of water-based and oil-based products
Short handle is easy to hold
Maneuvers well in tight spaces
Not available in other sizes and shapes
Most paint brushes have fairly long handles, which makes it easy to paint in long, smooth strokes. But there are times when you need a more focused approach, such as when tackling a corner, painting between two closely spaced windows, painting narrow trim or other details, or painting a tightly confined area. For those situations, you can't beat the easy-to-hold and easy-to-maneuver Wooster Shortcut.
This 2-inch sash brush has nylon/polyester bristles that handle any type of paint, stain, or finish, producing a smooth coat of paint over even rough surfaces. But what really sets the Shortcut apart from other paint brushes is its short, stubby handle. At only around 2 inches in length, and with a rubbery easy-to-grip coating, the handle fits securely within your grip, making it very easy to precisely control the brush movements.
Best Flexible Handle: Richard Goose Neck Paint Brush
Bristles: nylon/polyester | Available Sizes: 2.5 inches | Available Shapes: angle | Best Use: all types of water-based and oil-based products
Perfect for painting up high
Threaded for extension pole
Few complaints that bristles are too soft
Not available in other sizes or shapes
The rigid handles of most paint brushes are perfectly adequate when painting an easily reached spot. But when working up high, especially when painting the top of a wall, the ceiling, or an awkward spot above a window or other obstacle, you'll appreciate the ingenious design of the Richard Goose Neck Paint Brush. This 2.5-inch angled brush has nylon/polyester bristles that pick up and deposit both oil-based and water-based paints evenly and smoothly.
But where this brush differs from the rest is in its handle, which is a flexible, soft-grip material that bends as much or as little as you'd like, making it easy to adjust the angle of the brush to the surface you are painting. Not only that, but the handle is threaded so you can attach any standard extension pole for painting way up high.
Best Foam Paint Brush: Bates 16-Piece Foam Paint Brush Set
Bristles: foam | Available Sizes: 2 inches | Available Shapes: flat | Best Use: all types of water-based and oil-based products
Fairly durable foam
Can become floppy after several uses
You aren't likely to paint a wall with a foam paint brush, but these inexpensive tools are ideal for touching up chipped paint, smoothing paint along trim, painting furniture, or painting difficult-to-reach small spots like railings on staircases. And with the 16-pack from Bates, you'll always have a brush on hand when you need it.
The foam brush is 2 inches wide and has a slightly chiseled edge for smooth application of any type of paint, varnish, stain, or similar product. The foam holds up well, without shredding or tearing as many lesser foam brushes do, and is securely glued to the wooden handle.
Best for Oil-Based Paint: Purdy White Bristle Sprig Paint Brush
Bristles: white China | Available Sizes: 2, 2.5, 3 inches | Available Shapes: flat, angle | Best Use: oil-based products
Suited to all types of oil-based products
Few complaints of shedding bristles
If you are working with an oil-based product, you'll find that natural bristles, with their slightly split ends and springy texture, do the best job. And among the many natural-bristled brushes available, it's hard to beat Purdy's white bristle brush. This highest-quality paint brush has exceptionally soft bristles, providing the smoothest finish possible.
The 2.5-inch flat brush is perfect for applying oil-based products to walls, trim, furniture, or floors, but this brush is also available in 2-inch and 3-inch sizes, as well as angled. Use it for oil-based paints, shellacs, varnishes, lacquers, stains, and sealers.
Best for Trim: Wooster Silver Tip Sash Brush
Bristles: polyester | Available Sizes: 1, 2, 2.5, 3 inches | Available Shapes: flat, angle | Best Use: all types of water-based and oil-based products
Available in many sizes and shapes
Handful of complaints about shedding bristles
Painting trim calls for an angled brush, which smooths along edges and angles easily and precisely. The Wooster Silver Tip Sash Brush is one of the best you'll find for the task, and is a favorite of professionals and DIYers alike. Unlike most polyester bristles, these Wooster-exclusive bristles are extra-fine and soft, making it easy to achieve perfectly smooth results even when painting with difficult semi-gloss or gloss finishes, and the thin, angled edge lays down clean lines, even when working in small or tight areas.
While the 2.5-inch angle brush is ideal for most trim jobs, you'll also find the same brush in 1-inch, 1.5-inch, and 2-inch sizes as well. It can be used with any type of paint.
Best Budget: Bates Professional Brush Set
Bristles: synthetic | Available Sizes: 1.5, 2, 2.5, 3 inches | Available Shapes: flat, angle | Best Use: all types of water-based and oil-based products
Very reasonable price
Set of four common sizes
Few complaints about shedding bristles
If you just want a set of brushes to tackle a quick paint job, look no further than the Bates Professional Brush Set. For one low price, you get four synthetic-bristled paint brushes: one 1.5-inch sash brush, and three flat brushes in sizes 2-inch, 2.5-inch, and 3-inch. Armed with these brushes and a can of paint, you'll be ready to tackle most common DIY projects.
The brushes are suited to any type of paint, whether water-based or oil-based. And at such a low price, if you aren't in the mood to clean them, they can be considered disposable. They do clean up well, however, and can be used over and over again if cared for properly.
Best for Decks and Fences: Perdura Deck Boss
Bristles: polyester | Available Sizes: 7 inches | Available Shapes: flat | Best Use: water-based and oil-based paint, sealer, and stain
Threaded for extension pole
When painting interior walls, trim, cabinets, or other typical projects, you'll typically use a paint brush that's two to three inches across. Some larger projects call for a brush as wide as 5 inches. But for the biggest, most tedious jobs, such as staining, sealing, or painting a wooden deck, concrete floor, or wooden fence, you can get the task done as quickly as possible while still retaining professional-looking results with the Perdura Deck Boss, which boasts a whopping 7-inch wide by 2-inch thick head of polyester bristles.
You can use the brush with water-based or oil-based stain, sealer, or paint, and it's threaded to fit just about any universal extension pole to save wear-and-tear on your back. The Deck Boss lays down a thick, even coat of stain or paint on both wood and concrete, even over rough or irregular surfaces.
Best for Exteriors: Purdy Pro Extra Monarch
Bristles: nylon/Chinex/polyester | Available Sizes: 1, 1.5, 2, 2.5, 3 inches | Available Shapes: angle/flat | Best Use: all types of water-based and oil-based products
Sturdy, stiff bristles
Many sizes and shapes available
Exterior painting often means rough surfaces, such as wood, stucco, concrete, brick, or siding. That calls for a brush with stiff, durable bristles that are capable of picking up and holding a great deal of paint, and then laying it down smoothly and evenly without fraying or splitting. And that's the kind of performance you can expect from a Purdy Pro Extra Monarch Paint Brush.
While the 3-inch brush is ideal for large, flat surfaces such as walls, you'll also find the brush in sizes 1-inch, 1.5-inch, and 2-inch. All have nylon/Chinex/polyester bristles that are suited to any oil-based or water-based product. The alder wood handle is a traditional beaver tail shape, but Purdy makes the same brush with other styles of handle as well.
Best for Stain: Wooster Bravo Stainer
Bristles: white China/polyester | Available Sizes: 2.75, 4, 4.75, 5.5 inches | Available Shapes: flat | Best Use: water-based and oil-based stain, sealer, wood toner
Holds a lot of stain
Threaded for extension pole
Few complaints about handle
If your project involves stain, sealer, or wood toner, whether oil-based or water-based, you need a brush specifically designed to lay down a smooth, even coat of these thin products. And that's just what the Wooster Bravo Stainer is designed to do. With a blend of both white China and polyester bristles, you can paint even rough surfaces without fear of the brush becoming ragged or frayed.
The handle unscrews to allow you to substitute an extension pole if desired, making this a good choice for staining decks, siding, or other large surfaces. And while the 4-inch brush is perfect for most DIY projects, you'll also find the brush in sizes 2.75-inch, 4.75-inch, and 5.5-inch.
If you want an all-purpose, excellent quality paint brush that can handle both water-based and oil-based products, you can't go wrong with the Purdy XL Sprig (view on Amazon). Its nylon/polyester bristles lay down a smooth, even coat of paint on walls, furniture, trim, and just about any other surface you might want to paint. But if you need a brush specifically for painting trim and other detailed work, the Wooster Silver Tip Sash Brush (view on Amazon) is the best choice.
What to Look For In a Paint Brush
There are several types of bristles to choose from, plus foam paint brushes. The right choice mostly depends on the type of paint you are using.
Natural bristles, usually made from hog’s hair, are often labeled as either white China bristles or black China bristles. Both are used for applying oil-based paints, varnishes, and stains. The white-China bristles are slightly softer than the black-China bristles, so use the white brush for the smoothest finish, or if applying oil-based shellac, polyurethane, or lacquer. Choose the black-bristled brush for applying oil-based paints over slightly irregular surfaces. Avoid natural bristles when painting very rough surfaces, such as brick, however, because the bristles tend to break in these situations.
Chinex bristles are a synthetic version of natural bristles. Chinex brushes are suited to either oil-based or water-based paints, and like natural bristles, lay down a smooth, thick coat of paint. They are more durable and easier to clean than natural bristles, but are expensive.
Polyester bristles are somewhat stiff, and best suited to painting exterior walls and other outdoor surfaces. These brushes are best with latex paint, but can be used with oil-based paints, stains, lacquers, and shellacs, as well.
Nylon bristles are an excellent choice for water-based paints on interior paint jobs. Many can also be used with oil-based paints, but not shellac or lacquer. They apply a smooth, even coat of paint. However, nylon doesn’t tolerate heat or humidity well, and can become overly soft.
Nylon/polyester blends are the most popular choice for the average DIYer, and these are the brushes often labeled as all-purpose. They combine the smoothness of nylon with the slight stiffness of polyester for a sturdy brush that lays down a smooth, even finish. These blended brushes are ideal for water-based paints, but most can also be used with oil-based products.
Foam paint brushes don’t have bristles, but rather, a solid piece of soft foam with a slightly chiseled edge. These brushes are generally use-and-toss, as they are inexpensive and difficult to clean. You can use a foam brush with all types of paint, varnish, stain, and polyurethane, but not with shellac or lacquer.
Paint brushes come in a range of sizes, as measured across the edge of the bristles. You’ll find detailed brushes that are less than an inch across, and extra-large, 8-inch brushes, but for most DIY projects, 1-inch to 4-inch brushes are best.
- Brushes that are 1-inch to 1.5 inches are useful for very detailed work, small touch ups, or very tight spots.
- Use a 2-inch to 2.5-inch brush for painting trim, baseboards, and details, or for cutting-in around corners and edges.
- Brushes with 3-inch to 4-inch bristles are your workhorses for painting large, flat surfaces, such as walls, ceilings, floors, fences, or doors.
- The largest paint brushes—those over 5 inches—are best for very large, flat surfaces, such as decks, garage doors, large exterior or interior walls, or long stretches of fence.
There are two common shapes for paint brushes: flat and angled. If painting a room, or tackling any project with corners, you’ll likely need both. Round brushes are specialty brushes mostly used for stenciling.
Flat brushes, often called wall brushes, have a flat, even edge. Use a flat brush for painting any large, flat surface, such as a wall, door, stretch of fence, or large flat piece of furniture.
Angled brushes, often called sash brushes and sometimes called cutting brushes, have bristles that are gently angled across the edge of the brush. This is the brush you want for painting trim, cutting-in along edges and corners, touching up detail work, painting grooves and other oddly-shaped surfaces, or painting in a tight spot, such as between closely spaced windows.
Round brushes are not nearly as commonly used by the average DIYer, but these are the brushes of choice for painting stencils or faux finishes such as stippling.
How do you clean paint brushes?
If you want your paint brushes to last, you need to clean them thoroughly after each paint job. Don’t wait until the paint dries: It’s easy to clean away wet paint, but difficult once it’s dry.
- Start by wiping the brush against the paint can or tray to remove as much excess paint as possible.
- Fill a bowl or pail with enough solvent to cover the bristles of the brush, but not the handle. The appropriate solvent depends on the type of paint:
- Water for all water-based or latex paint, varnishes, sealers, and stains
- Mineral spirits or turpentine for oil-based paints, stains, sealers, varnishes, and lacquers
- Denatured alcohol for shellac
- Dunk the paint brush into the solvent, and stir the brush throughout the solvent for 30 seconds. If the paint has started to dry, however, let the bristles soak for 20 minutes or so.
- Press the bristles against the side of the bowl to press away the solvent.
- Repeat until all paint is gone.
- Now, rinse the paint brush bristles thoroughly under running warm water. Hold the brush with the bristles facing down to prevent water from running underneath the ferrule.
- With your fingers, work a few drops of a gentle liquid dish soap into the bristles to remove any final traces of paint or solvent, and then rinse the brush once again under running warm water.
- Shake the paint brush to remove excess water, and then blot gently on a clean rag or towel.
- Lay the brush flat to dry, or hang it with the bristles facing downwards.
Should you wet a paint brush before starting to paint?
For the smoothest performance, it helps to wet your paint brush before the first dip into the paint. This helps the bristles glide smoothly, reducing bristle marks or uneven deposit of paint.
If using any type of water-based paint, wet the bristles with water. If using an oil-based product, dampen the bristles with mineral spirits. In either case, then gently blot the bristles on a clean rag to leave them damp, not dripping. Now go ahead and paint as usual.
How do you leave a paint brush overnight without it drying out?
If you run out of time and can’t finish your project in one day, you don’t necessarily have to go to the trouble of completely washing your paint brushes clean. If it will be several hours before you return to your project, you can keep your paint brush from hardening by wrapping the entire head of the brush, including all bristles, in plastic wrap. The wrap should be as snug as possible without distorting the natural shape of the bristles. Use a bit of tape to secure the wrap in place, and leave the brush laying flat until you return. If it will be a day or two before you can get back to painting, stick the wrapped paint brush into the freezer. You’ll need to let it return to room temperature before using it, however.
Why Trust The Spruce?
This article is edited and updated by Michelle Ullman, the tool expert for The Spruce. She has extensive experience not only in writing about all things related to the home, but also in carrying out various DIY projects, including landscaping, flooring, wallpapering, furniture makeovers, and simple repairs. She’s no stranger to a paint brush, having successfully tackled numerous DIY projects, including painting the entire interior of her home twice, painting a brick fireplace, painting cabinets, painting furniture, and stenciling and faux finishes. For this roundup, she considered dozens of paint brushes, evaluating each for basic features, extras, and customer feedback.