Painting can create a mess. When my grandfather finished a day’s work, he would have to clean off his brushes and other tools. Paint thinner did not cost much and, with a little time and effort, got the job done. My grandfather was notoriously fastidious and meticulous, so he probably took longer to care for his tools than most painters. To store a brush for a while, he would first clean and dry it thoroughly. He could ensure that the bristles kept their shape and stayed clean by wrapping the brush in thick brown paper and tying it into a neat little package. Since at least the mid-twentieth century, DIY manuals have shared that professional knowledge with their amateur audiences.
The disposable brush and roller cover require no long-term care. Most disposable painting products targeted consumers who sought to avoid the chore of cleaning up at the end of the day or after finishing a project. Painters who lacked storage space might choose disposable tools. In 1969, a New York Times home-improvement article reviewed brushes “inexpensive enough so that they can actually be thrown away after each use.” Made of urethane foam pads and cheap handles, the low-cost brushes eliminated the need for cleaning. A similar piece from 1970 discussed “do-it-yourself painters who find it easier to throw their brushes away after each job instead of bothering to clean them.”
In an article entitled “To Make the Cleanup Job Easier,” the author acknowledged that consumers could opt to clean and reuse disposable pads, as “they are much easier and quicker to wash out than a roller cover would be.” Home-improvement journalists found that many painters, especially amateurs, valued low-cost throwaway tools over more labor-intensive, durable products. For some consumers, disposable products symbolized cleanliness and order no less than did the white uniform for the professional painter and his customers.