How To Care For Your Barn Quilt Paint Brushes

Hello, and welcome to the first blog post for Muletown Designs!  There are so many tips and tricks when it comes to painting a barn quilt that I thought, what better way to help out new barn quilters who can't make it to a class than to share it here in the site!  

I thought the best place to start learning about how to paint a barn quilt would be basics, right?  Really, these are the basic components of our barn quilt painting classes.  If we don’t have some good practices with the basics, such as materials, storage, and care of our barn quilts, we’ll just end up having to spend more time fixing those problems down the road, getting frustrated with the process.  So the first few posts are going to be about best practices in caring for our materials, because if we don't take good care of our supplies it will end up costing us more money in the end when we have to replace them continually.  


How To Care For Your Barn Quilt Paintbrushes


First up?  Paintbrushes!  Honestly, where would we be without our trusty paintbrushes?  Here are a couple of questions to ask when preparing to paint a barn quilt:

  • What are good brushes to use?
  • How do you care for your paintbrushes while painting?
  • How do we care for our paintbrushes in between barn quilt projects?  

Types of brushes to use for barn quilting:

There are many types of brushes used in barn quilting and your choice depends largely on what you’re most comfortable using.  Of course, there are some best practices in the care of your brushes, but there isn’t a wrong or right type of brush to use.  Each project is different and each person is different.  

Here are a few of the most popular brushes used, along with the pros and cons of each to help you decide:

Small foam rollers

White Foam Roller For Use In Painting Barn Quilts


  • Provide a nice smooth paint surface
  • Give even coverage for your paint
  • Covers a lot of area at once, so great for use on larger-sized boards


  • Doesn’t work well with tight corners because of the large brush surface area
  • The foam tends to soak up the paint quickly causing soggy rollers

Foam brushes

Black Foam Brush For Use In Painting Barn Quilts


  • Can be used with a wide variety of paints
  • Give a smooth finish to your project without a lot of ridges in your paint
  • A low pricepoint will allow you to throw them away after you’re done


  • Works best with oil-based paints (which I don’t recommend)
  • The more paint you use the more the foam absorbs the liquid, causing the foam to get soggy
  • Doesn’t work well with tight corners
  • After a few cleanings the foam will start to fall apart so they aren’t recommended for more than one project
  • Throwing them away after each project isn’t environmentally concious

Bristle brushes

Synthetic Bristle Brush For Use In Painting Barn Quilts


  • Can be used with a wide variety of paints
  • Synthetic bristles are best for water-based paints, which is the type of paint I recommend for barn quilts
  • Apply paint more evenly than foam brushes


  • Natural bristles tend to soak up the water from water-based paints, causing ridges when painting
  • If the paint on the brush is too much, it can leave brush marks/ridges when the paint dries (more on how to avoid that in just a minute)
  • Cheaper brushes can shed a bristle when painting

What is my favorite paintbrush to use for painting a barn quilt?  I prefer using a ¾-inch to a 1-inch synthetic bristle brush, even on the larger 4x4 barn quilts.  I’ve found that that size works best for tight corners and, when used properly, gives a nice smooth thin coat that doesn’t cause ridges in the paint.


Soft Grip Brush Bristles For Painting A Barn Quilt

Many in the barn quilt community like using Wooster or Purdy brand brushes, which I’m a big fan of for my household paint projects.  However, I have used Soft-Grip brushes purchased from Michael’s and have always had a good experience with them.  I used these brushes when I first started my barn quilt business, I use them in my painting classes, and they have never let me down.  With proper care, some of them are still being used 3-4 years later!

Caring for our brushes while painting:

We talk a lot about the best care of your paintbrush in our barn quilt painting class because it makes such a large difference in your final product.  My recommendation is to use small amounts of paint on your brush - don’t dunk the brush all the way in the paint can and cover it will paint.  What happens when you apply the paint on thick is it then takes longer to dry and also leaves those dreaded ridges in the paint.  


Small Amount Of Paint On Paintbrush For Painting Barn Quilts


If you use a small amount of paint on the tips of the brush and use long light strokes, you’ll have a nice smooth surface when it dries.  This may cause you to have to add an additional coat of paint in the end, but the final look of the paint makes it well worth it.


Smooth Paint Strokes In Beige For Barn Quilts


For foam brushes, the same applies by using a smaller amount of paint, and also be sure to skim off any excess paint that may drip or cause thick spots.

Another tip is to clean out your water and your paint brush in between colors in your water jar.  If you just use your water jar to clean out your brush you’re missing the extra paint that accumulates near the metal crimp.  And then if that paint is missed and it gets thinned out by water, you may end up with streaks of the previous color in your new color.  There’s nothing worse than seeing red streaks flow into your bright white on your barn quilt!  There’s more detailed information about properly cleaning out your brush below.

You also want to keep the paint as fresh as possible on the brush in between coats.  If I’m using a hair dryer to dry in between coats, it’s usually okay to leave a paintbrush with paint on it out in the open for a few minutes until I pick it back up to add another coat.  If I have to leave it overnight or longer than a few minutes, I've found that by wrapping my brushes up in a small piece of plastic wrap, it will keep the paint soft on my brush until the next morning.


Red Paint On Paintbrush Wrapped In Plastic Wrap To Protect Painting Barn Quilts


Did you know this also works well for roller brushes?  Yup, when I paint on my primer with a roller I wrap it up in a used plastic bag from the grocery store and it keeps for a long time.  I have one bag I've used for over a year now and as long as it's wrapped tight, it's still keeping my primer roller fresh and ready for the next project without having to replace the roller each time.


Foam Roller Wrapped In Plastic Bag For Barn Quilt Painting

Caring for our brushes in between projects:

Bristle Brushes

When I'm finished painting a barn quilt I wrap my brush up in plastic wrap in the meantime but always try to get it under water as soon as possible so that I can clean out even in the smallest crevices near the metal crimp at the top of the brush.  

Once I get it to a sink I rinse it for a few minutes under warm running water but then take my fingernails or a small wire brush up to the crimped area and brush outwards to get all of the dried paint out from the center of the brush.  The paint tends to accumulate in the center of the bristles by the metal crimp and it can be hard to get it out.  If we don't clean it well it can build up over time and cause the entire brush to get too stiff to work with.


Rinsing Paintbrushes In Water At Faucet After Painting A Barn Quilt


I've found that this small wire brush that I used to brush my doggies works great for getting in between bristles.


Wire Dog Brush Used To Clean Paintbrushes After Painting Barn Quilt


Once they're cleaned I leave them out to air dry overnight laying flat before adding them back to my brush collection.  If you leave them standing with the bristles straight up the excess water can flow down into the metal crimp, causing rust that may come out in your next project.  If you leave them to dry standing with the bristles down, the bristles won’t dry straight.


Foam Brushes/Rollers

When using foam brushes and rollers the best way to clean them is basically the same as a bristle brush - run them under warm water and, using your hands, loosen as much of the paint from the foam as you can until the water runs clear.  Once clean, lay them out to dry overnight or longer to make sure they aren't wet before storing them.



There are many, many types of paintbrushes and opinions on the best ones.  It’s really a matter of preference on what works best for you.  However, I’ve found that within the barn quilt community, proper care of our brushes is pretty universal.  What I want to offer today are things that have worked best for me in my years of painting barn quilts through trial and error. 


If you have found something that works well for you, please share it below in the comments so we can all benefit!

1 comment

  • Hi! I just wanted to tell you that I appreciate and respect your style of barn quilting and your posts are always professional. You’re an inspiration to me.

    Cynthia Buchholz

Leave a comment