Best Paint Roller Cover Simplified (+ Secret Clean-up Shortcuts)

Box of my best paint roller cover
Make your next project easier and better looking: we'll help you decide on the best paint roller cover.
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The best paint roller cover:

  1. What surfaces will I paint?
  2. Do I care about the stippled look of the dried paint?

Also, at the bottom is the step-by-step ‘how-to’ and 2 important tips:

  1. What is backrolling—(saves paint)
  2. Why we roll before the cut—(saves time)

Key tip: The best paint roller cover will save you money and time.

Go for the high-quality: The best paint roller cover is woven, not glued to the plastic cylinder at the core. Paint dissolves the glue in ‘low-end’ roller covers making the fibers shed. This results in a wall with hair all over it. Ick.

See here what we recommend for the best paint roller system (roller frame, pole, and accessories)


Living room painted with pro paint roller coverAll covers here work for oil and latex paints.

Our top choice: the 50/50 — Wool/Poly blend.
Hands down the best paint roller cover for painting almost everything. We use the 50/50 almost exclusively because we want value. The polyester gives a long life and the wool holds a great amount of paint: less time dipping.

  • The best product is the Purdy Roadrunner at only about 8 bucks, it’s a great deal. This is definitively the best paint roller cover for interior and exterior.

Runner-up: Wool only.
Holds a great amount of paint but does not last as long as the type blended with Polyester.

Honorable mention: Polyester only.
Great longevity, but does not hold much paint. Easy to clean.

Foam: just like pillow foam and leaves a very smooth finish. Really only for doors, trim, some floors.

Mohair: Old school. Angora mixed with polyester: leaves a very smooth finish when the roller is a short paint roller nap. Probably better than foam for that but we use foam.

Paint Roller Nap Basics:

What is paint roller nap? It’s the absorbing material:
Composition (above) and length are all you need to know.
Pros use the 1-inch (or longer) almost always: the stipple is pleasing enough and long nap holds a lot of paint. Go with this unless you have a reason not to.

Shorter paint roller naps—Holds less paint, smooth surfaces, more uniform stipple
Smoother surfaces can look too stippled with a long nap, so as John Travolta says, Get Shorty.

Longer paint roller naps—Holds more paint, rougher surfaces, stipple is more like a rag mark.
Rough surfaces will require a long nap that you can push into the cracks (don’t get an inexpensive roller frame (a.k.a. cage) for this.

Choosing a paint roller nap length: when in doubt, ask a paint store salesperson—they really know.

1/4 – and 3/16 – inch nap for smooth or fine surfaces, such as doors and trim

3/8 – inch nap for smooth walls and ceilings (see our post on the best ceiling paints)

1/2 – inch nap for most walls and medium rough surfaces

3/4 – inch nap for rough surfaces, such as textured walls and ceilings

1- up to 1.5 – inch nap: For rough surfaces like stucco or a heavily textured ceiling and concrete

Best paint roller covers: shapes/sizes

Standard 9-inch. Used 99% of the time.

Below this section, we simplify the many options.

how to paint a wall with a roller

Mini Roller Covers (mini is different from narrow, here is a good purdy that is mini and narrow) Mini is good for behind toilet etc, and standard cylinder size only 3 or 4-inch good for trim, small projects.
To get a 3- or 4-inch roller cover for ‘free’, we just take an older 9-inch and cut with a saw! It really works and if one end of a 9-inch has dried paint, that is the end we throw away. We use these to apply even coat then use a quality brush to tip out stipple: brush marks are better for a clean look.

Foam roller covers (of any size): super short paint roller nap–for creating very smooth surfaces
We use these for oil-based high-gloss paint on bathroom stall dividers.

3 Textured wall methods

1- Drywall texture roller: Textured walls are acoustically more pleasing, but expensive to have done professionally. A pro will load thinned ‘mud’ into a sprayer (a contraption with a big hopper) and spray globs onto sanded drywalls before priming. (You can have patterns and even buy this in a can!) There is a cheaper way: I have never tried it but this guy seems to know what he’s doing. The texture roller cover you need is here. Good luck! Let me know how it goes!

Crow’s Foot
Tree Bark


2- Paint pattern roller: These are a new style roller product and it can make designs for you, but make sure you want to live with this for a long time! It’s a lot like wallpaper: just easier and more fun to apply. Here are some products to have a look at. Each page shows a sample of a painted result. This video shows (start at 4:00)the roller working.

My recommendation: even the best paint roller cover will not do what a specialist painter can do for you. Pros use cloth, sponges etc: they are true artists. They make paint look like marble.

If you try the rollers, send me some photos and we’ll post them!


3- Do what the pros do for about 35 bucks.

Landlords and ladies take note: save your beat-up walls with texture. You don’t need the big machine: this is an all-in-one unit: electric motor sucks in the air you need. Brilliant idea. Has 3 tips for the main texture types you see.  Watch the video on the product page. I added one onto my wish-list. If you want to do what the big boys do, search my site for sprayers: a world of hurt.

Finally, a dishonorable mention:

Painting Pads: not recommended
A way to ‘brush’ edges. This is nothing like the best roller covers: holds little paint, does not apply evenly (except on TV). If you really want to try, here is the best of the lot.

Cleaning a quality paint roller with a spinner
Cleaning a quality paint roller with a spinner

Cleaning the Best Paint Roller Covers

(Read our complete post How to Clean Paint Rollers )

“Clean up is a drag”.    Not !

  • To remove roller cover from the roller frame you can bang on the edge of a bucket (cover it with a large rag: it splatters). Do this before it can dry and freeze even the paint roller cover to the frame.
  • After squeezing* most of the paint out of your roller (use your 3rd hand tool), soak your latex roller in a large bucket of water overnight. This makes the remaining paint fall out to the bottom.
  • In the morning, discard the water and repeat. After you get most of it this way, just squeegee with your hands under water. It gets clean by itself… takes time tho.
  • You only need to get about 95% of the paint out and a quality paint roller cover will still live a long time. (Not true for oils).
  • A high-quality paint roller cover has a plastic core and will not be harmed by soaking. I have soaked the best paint roller for weeks with no problems.
  • Watch me use a spinner and get it over with. (If you’re into it, buy that spinner here )
  • Soap is not really necessary (except for some sticky red and yellow pigment), but warm water does speed up the process. The best roller covers can really bounce back.

*Above is roller squeegee tool . I keep this at my garage sink: very handy. The brush comb on the other edge is for AFTER you clean your brush: comb them straight to dry like new. (p.s. little known tip: you don’t need soap, but a little hair conditioner on your brush gives longevity).


Using oil-based paints? We never ever clean a roller with oil-based paints. We did ONCE UPON A TIME, but it’s just too long of a process and when a ‘clean’ roller cover dries, it still has oil and stays crusty. Luckily, oil-based paints are almost a thing of the past. When we must roll oil, we select an old, used up wool/poly roller cover then throw it away. RIP.

Just one mo’ time: Even if you don’t plan to use these tools again, buy the best paint roller cover on the market. Save your money.


Ask me anything.

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1 thought on “Best Paint Roller Cover Simplified (+ Secret Clean-up Shortcuts)”

  1. Hi, We are getting ready to paint our new interior doors, jambs and trim. They are the six paneled wood textured doors. We like the smooth look (not stippled). Do you recommend the Purdy 1/4 roller over spraying? Should we use a brush on the trim? Thank you.

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