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The Best Paint Roller for Every Kind of Job

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Once you know the size of your paint roller frame, it’s time to zero in on the cover, which comes in various materials. Below are the three most common types of rollers and what they’re used for.

Polyester

“Polyester is the general-purpose material for all paints, stains, and surfaces,” Villar says. “Most rollers used today are comprised of a poly (synthetic) material.” One exception: Sloan says she’d steer clear of using polyester roller sleeves with a gloss paint.

Lambswool

“Lambswool is a traditional material that is good for solvent-based paints,” Sloan says. They are an animal product, so she notes that vegan DIY’ers wouldn’t use lambswool rollers. Villar adds that this material does take a bit longer to break in, but once it does, it can last for numerous jobs. “This type of roller is often prized by professionals for this reason,” he says.

Foam

Here’s what Sloan would use for those gloss paints. “Foam rollers are also best for protective products, such as lacquers or stains,” she says. And Villar points out that foam rollers come in a variety of densities, which are chosen for specific projects. He says, “For example, high-density foam rollers may be used with thinner coatings or when trying to achieve a fine finish on smooth surfaces, while a slit-foam roller may be used to paint over acoustic or textured surfaces.”

How does the thickness of the roller cover affect the paint job?

Roller cover thickness, or nap, is most commonly determined by the texture of the surface you’re painting. “A more textured surface (like brick, masonry, or stucco) requires a higher nap, such as a 3/4-inch to 1 1/2-inch roller cover,” Fiorilli says. “For smooth walls, a 1/4-inch to 1/2-inch nap works best.”

What roller is best for baseboards?

“Mini covers work best,” Fiorilli says. Typically six inches or smaller, this size is ideal for the narrow width of baseboards. “These are also available in different fabrics that provide the best finish for trim, including foam and mohair.”

Should you soak a paint roller before painting?

Once you’ve picked the perfect roller, get the most out of it by breaking it in—typically done by soaking it in water. “This will help remove any loose material, dirt, or debris on the roller while conditioning the fabric to absorb paint,” Villar says. After wetting your roller, he recommends wringing it out until it’s damp or using a roller spinner to remove excess water.

When is it time to replace your paint roller cover?

A stained roller cover

Photo: Rastoni/Getty Images

Though you’ve expertly picked your roller and come to rely on it, it’s important to note that your cover won’t last forever. So when do you replace it? “Once the fiber stains or stops accepting paint and sliding,” Sloan says. But before that happens, you can extend its lifespan by cleaning your cover with a mild detergent after each use.

Additional painting tips:

“Shed-resistant or lint-free rollers can be less prone to leaving loose fibers on the painted surface, making them a good choice for a beginner,” Villar says. “But beware that these rollers may not pick up or release as much paint as other rollers labeled ‘high capacity,’ for example.” Villar also mentions that you’ll want to survey your entire home improvement project before heading to the store. He says to ask yourself, “Are you painting large surfaces, tiny areas, or a mix of shapes and sizes? Are there hard-to-reach areas or different surfaces and materials to be covered?” It’s likely you’ll need more than one type of roller, plus other accessories in addition to your paint roller kit, such as an extension pole or a paintbrush for touch-ups.

Speaking of additional tools, Sloan notes that your roller tray is just as important as the roller itself. She says, “Avoid plastic and invest in a good-size paint tray so you can play with the paint a little and coat the roller evenly before applying it to the wall.” Investing in the right tools will make your DIY project a breeze.

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