I'm currently decorating a room and conscious of how much water it's taking to clean the paint out of a paint roller. At what point does the environmental cost of cleaning exceed the environmental cost of binning it and using a new one?

Details: I'm using water-based paint and painting walls. Using a 9" roller as a balance between speed and amount of paint left in roller. While more of the colour is going to be needed the next day I'm bagging up the roller rather than cleaning it; but now I've done with that colour. I'm UK based. It only makes sense to clean with clean tap water (I prefer to keep our limited stock of soft rainwater for other purposes and would not risk contamination of the pile with grit etc. as that would defeat the point). I'm soaking the roller for as long as feasible, rather than just running it under a tap. Roller is synthetic pile on a plastic cylinder.

2 Answers 2


As you're in the UK, the environmental cost of tap water is pretty low.

And given that the alternative is to replace the roller, then although I haven't looked at a full lifecycle analysis, I'd be willing to bet that rinsing the old on is going to have lower impact than buying a new one: materials tend to be quite energy-intensive compared to the energy costs of purifying rain water and pumping it around.

This wouldn't apply if you were in a country that used desalination plants a lot: in those cases, the balance might be a lot trickier.

  • That fits with my crude rule-of-thumb that the price of a readily available commodity reflects it's relative energy cost. A new roller sleeve is a couple of quid, which buys about a third of a cubic metre of water (inc. sewerage cost) which is a lot of water. That said, if switching between very different colours, I've found a new roller sleeve is worth the cost vs. needing extra coats of paint to cover marks from the residual old paint however much the roller is cleaned. Apr 23, 2017 at 9:48

Not an answer directly, but can make the resource gap wider: I'm similarly concerned about the amount of water used and found that the amount of water used considerably reduced, by making (or probably buying) a drill attachment to spin the roller sleeve. Last time I painted, I bodged something up -the amount of paint flung off was impressive even though my device had some slippage. It needs to be in a bucket or a length of 4" pipe or something similar - maybe even a 2l bottle.

  • A good way to clean a roller, assuming non-poisonous paint. Stand on lawn or field; use garden hose to squirt roller; the roller will now spin on its own and the paint gets distributed over a large area of lawn. This is very quick and very effective, also very messy.
    – RedSonja
    Nov 15, 2017 at 13:49

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.