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Cleaning Paint Brushes – Do as I Say, Not as I Do!

May 5, 2010

how-to-clean-paint-brushesCleaning paint brushes is one of those things I don’t quite feel qualified to speak on. Not because I don’t know how, but because I don’t do it!

I know it’s bad, bad, bad, but I don’t take the greatest care of my brushes. Then again, I don’t spend a huge amount on them. With the type of painting I do (experimental painting on board) my brushes get chewed up pretty fast. It’s not worth investing much  money in them.

That being said, I do have a few good brushes set aside for fine work, and I try my best to look after those!

Even though I don’t set the best example, cleaning your brushes properly is an important part of painting. Paint brushes can get super-expensive and as an artist, it’s in your best interest to take care your tools. Learn from my mistakes!

Brush Cleaning Tips

Here are a few basic brush cleaning tips I’ve learned over the years, but because I’m no expert, I’ve also found some great links that go into more detail and provide more information about brush cleaning.

  • Try to clean your brushes right after a painting session. Don’t give the paint a chance to dry.
  • Don’t let your brushes sit in water or thinner for long periods of time. Firstly, the weight of the brush can bend the bristles so that they no longer form a tip. Secondly, it can loosen the bond of the bristles or the ferrule (the metal part).
  • Acrylic paint can be washed off with warm water and a bit of soap.
  • Oil paint needs to be washed with mineral spirits or turpentine, followed by soap.
  • It helps to get as much oil paint out of your brush before cleaning with thinners.
  • Work the soap into a lather, like you’re shampooing the bristles. Keep using fresh soap to get all the paint out.
  • You can buy brush cleaner and conditioner to wash your brushes. This is a lot like soap, but I find it cuts the oil in oil paints better than plain soap. It can also help loosen partially dried paint from brushes and clothing.

On the Web 

How to Clean your Paint Brushes after Oil Painting: Brush Cleaning 101
This takes you through the process step by step and even shows pictures.

Oil & Acrylic Painting Tips : Paint Brush Cleaner
This video talks about the different brush cleaners available and gives a quick demonstration on how to clean.

How to Clean Dry Paint out of Brushes
It happens to all of us eventually. Learn how to clean dry paint brushes with Lanolin hand cleaners.

Before I go take my own advice and clean my brushes, what are some unconventional tips you use to get your paint brushes like new again?

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From → Painting

10 Comments
  1. JoAnn Turner permalink

    I’ve found two unexpected products to be really great for cleaning brushes, and even better at taking acrylic paint off my skin (I’m terrible for getting as much paint on me as on whatever I’m painting!). One is Cetaphil Gentle Cleanser, the other is Ombra Lavender Aromatic Foambath. Ombra also helps take off oil paint once you’ve used thinner. I got the tip about Ombra from someone who worked in the movie industry, where they use all sorts of products to create effects, then have to get the stuff off their hands. It will take almost everything off without a lot of scrubbing. And it smells better than using a lot of paint thinner!

    • Thanks for the tips, JoAnn, I’ll have to look into those products! Getting paint off skin can be a pain as well, but warm (or hot) water can really help with acrylics.

  2. Hi Miranda –

    The title to this post is perfect for me too!

    I am guilty of being really hard on my brushes. I have a good cleaning system, but I don’t use it often…I paint up until the last possible moment & then do a sloppy job at cleaning!

    Thanks to Joann for her sharing unique cleaning products.

    Lori 🙂

    • Hi Lori! I’m glad I’m not the only one who neglects her brushes. It’s so easy to get caught up in the painting and by the time I’m finished, the last thing I want to do is clean brushes. To do it properly is almost as time-consuming as painting itself!

  3. Other than my script brush which I clean every time I use it, I rarely clean my brushes anymore either, usually only in-between paintings if I’m not getting started on the next one right away. Between painting sessions, I store my brushes in a gallon-sized Ziploc bag that I roll up to take most of the air out of. Occasionally I spray a little bit of water into the bag to make sure it’s moist. This system works for me since I feel that if I had to clean my brush each time, I wouldn’t want to get started. This lets me get to work and stay at work as long as possible.

  4. Acrylic paint clean-ups? Use the engineer’s rapid hand cleaning gunk ‘Swarfega’ original [green] formula. It works with oils too. hands, palettes brushes. It takes less than five minutes. It also conditions the brushes too. Mine are now lasting easily 50% more

  5. Hokuto permalink

    As a last-ditch method for removing dried acrylic paint from brushes, try soaking for an hour or so in lacquer thinner, then scrape off the softened paint with a stiff-bristle brush, and wash thoroughly in soapy water. Depending on the material of the brush, this may melt the bristles or handle, so be sure you’re resigned to discarding the brush before attempting. I’ve saved a couple of synthetic brushes this way.

    • Thanks for the tip, Hokuto. If you have to throw your brush out anyways, you might as well try this out!

  6. Charles permalink

    I no longer paint with oils, but one way to avoid scrubbing oils off the skin is to take a proactive approach. Use a non-greasy skin lotion before you paint, and rub it in well. This lubricates the skin and forms a barrier so the paint solvent has a harder time penetrating the skin. Result is much easier wash up!
    I always clean brushes immediately after use – still using some synthetics bought over 30 years ago!

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