This Paint Tray Hack Reduces Mess, Makes Cleaning up Easy, and Lets You Reuse Your Trays Indefinitely

Experts tell us this trick could be a gamechanger for the next time you take on a paint project

Walls painted in Pale Lilac, skirting in Osterley, table in glossy Huguenot and floorboards in Cadogan Stone
(Image credit: Mylands)

Having reached this year's halfway mark, it's only normal for you to want to switch up your living spaces. Perhaps a couple of home ornaments will do the trick but if you're interested in a bolder spruce, you can't go wrong with a fresh lick of paint. Whether you repaint a statement wall or just touch up your trim, there are plenty of ways to refresh a room with the help of your favorite paint.

We're truly thankful for the convenience and efficiency of a DIY paint job, but it would help if we could eradicate the chore of cleaning up. If you're new to the DIY home scene and you're wondering how to paint a room from start to finish, this process is one aspect you'll definitely want to keep in mind. From washing your roller tray to rinsing your brushes, the final part of a paint job is often the most tedious.

Now, we all know decorating can inevitably get a bit messy, but we happen to have found a trick that could solve all our problems while also making the cleaning aftermath much easier to tackle. Here, we speak to a couple of experts who give us their two cents on when to use this hack and when to fall back on the classic methods of cleaning.

The paint tray trick for a low-maintenance clean up

Apartment hallway painted dark red with large oval mirror on central wall

(Image credit: Yulia Yakubshyna and Viktoria Volosevich)

When it comes to how to clean a paintbrush, sooner is always best, and the same goes for your roller trays, too. But what if you didn't even need to clean your trays at all?

While on our daily scroll through Instagram, we came across a video by interior enthusiast Sarah (@sarahs.haven) where she shared her trick for quicker clean-up of paint trays. In the reel, she puts her paint tray in a plastic bag and wraps the excess material at the bottom of the tray for a smooth surface at the top. She then secures the excess bits with some tape and pours the paint into the tray, proceeding with her paint job as usual.

After Sarah is done painting, she removes the tape, carefully unwraps the bag from the bottom, and turns it in so that the paint is now inside the bag. Then she snips a hole in the bottom of the bag and drains the excess paint back into the paint tin. All that's left for Sarah to do is then dispose of the bag, reseal the tin, and stow the spotless tray away for another day. Genius, right?

You Will Need

We found Sarah's painting tip to be a clever hack for reusing paint and preserving the paint tray, thereby eliminating clean-up, and Andre Kazimierski, CEO of Improovy Painters of La Grange, agrees. 'This is a great hack that's been around for a while in various forms,' says Andre. 'The idea is essentially that using a bag means you don't need to clean your paint tray afterward, plus you will salvage more leftover paint resulting in less waste overall.'

Marc Sieber, Franchise Owner of Wow1Day Painting, tells us that the professional painters at the company perform a similar process almost daily. 'It's important to note that the plastic bag Sarah uses appears to be quite thin,' notes Marc. 'For better durability and to prevent leaks during the dipping process, a 3-mil lawn and leaf-type bag is recommended.'

A staircase painted blue

(Image credit: Aude Lerin. Studio credit PL Studio)

Like most painting hacks, however, this tray trick has experts split. Seth Miles, Franchise Business Coach at Groovy Hues, points out that the bag could interfere with evenly loading the roller with paint, consequently leading to drips and an uneven finish. 'It's also possible that the bag might slide around, even if taped down,' he says. 'This can further complicate the painting process and hinder your progress.' Instead, he recommends using a tray as normal, allowing the paint to dry naturally, and using hot water or a putty knife to remove the dried paint.

Paint expert Tila Lee shares a similar sentiment to Seth and explains that this hack might not be necessary for all painters since cleaning trays isn't as hard as cleaning paint rollers. 'The average person in 2024 is using latex paint, which can actually be poured directly into the tray and can even have paint poured over it for re-use once the previous layer of paint is completely dry,' she says. Alternatively, Tila suggests holding the tray at an angle and pouring or brushing the excess paint back into its can to avoid excess waste of plastic bags.

Tila adds that this hack may actually require more effort since it's not advisable to dispose of wet paint. 'I don't recommend throwing wet paint away in the regular household garbage,' says Tila. 'Paint professionals must empty their cans and let them dry out before disposing.'

While some people enjoy whiling away the time while joyfully painting away, we also understand that some of us prefer to paint a room quickly and be done with the process as soon as possible. For those of you who relate to the latter, this tray trick is one surefire way to cut down on time and speed through clean-up, otherwise, feel free to stick to the traditional technique instead.

A headshot of Seth Miles
Seth Miles

Seth Miles is a Franchise Business Coach at Groovy Hues Paint with over 8 years of experience in the painting industry. He began his career as a hands-on painter and spent 5 successful years at Sherwin-Williams. At Groovy Hues, Seth focuses on developing strategic sales plans and implementing efficient processes, including a streamlined paint estimating system. Seth's passion for the painting industry drives his commitment to building lasting relationships and providing valuable solutions.

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News Writer

Amiya is the News Writer at Livingetc. She recently graduated with a Masters Degree in Magazine Journalism from City, University of London and has lent her words to beauty, fashion and health sections of lifestyle publications including Harper’s Bazaar and Women’s Health. Her experience as a research analyst has equipped her with an eye for emerging trends. When she’s off the clock, she can be found reading, listening to music or overanalysing her latest Co-Star update.