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Brush Cleaning Basics

Cleaning Artist Brushes

Nothing ruins a brush faster than improper care. Just giving them a swirl in whatever solvent you use and sticking them in a jar isn’t going to keep them in good shape for long. It’s heartbreaking to pick up your favourite brush only to find it out of shape and unusable because of dried paint. Below are some brush cleaning tips to ensure your brushes are clean and protected for your next project.



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Don’t Wait To Clean Your Brushes


Most paints are not soluble when dry. It will be very hard if not impossible to get dried paint out of a brush. It is ok to let your brushes sit in water or solvent while you are working, but they should be thoroughly cleaned immediately after you are done.

Also, you should wipe excess paint off the brush before placing them in your solvent or water. This keeps the liquid from becoming too full of paint and prevents paint from seeping up into the ferrule.


Acrylic and Watercolor Paint


Water will be the solvent for watercolor or acrylic paint. Swirl your brushes in the water to get most of the paint out, but you aren’t finished cleaning just yet. Use soap and warm water to make sure all of the paint is out.

Some people use dish soap or hand soap to clean their brushes, but they can sometimes be harsh. The best soaps to use are ones manufactured specifically for cleaning artist brushes.  They usually have some sort of conditioner in them to keep the bristles in good shape. My favourite is this brush cleaner. In a pinch you can use a mild shampoo if you have no cleaner available.


Cleaning Oil Paint From Brushes


Mineral spirits or turpentine is the solvent most used to clean oil paint. It is best to use some type of container with a lid since you can reuse the solvent until it becomes too saturated with paint. A container with a coil or screen at the bottom such as the one I use. You can gently run the bristles over it to dislodge paint.


artist brush cleaning tank

After cleaning with solvent, you still need to clean your brushes with soap and water as explained for acrylic paint. Solvents can be hard on brushes over time so it’s a good idea to remove as much as you can before storing the brush.



Drying and Storing Your Brushes


Lay your brushes on a flat surface to dry. This prevents water from getting into the ferrule and loosing the bristles over time. It also helps to keep the bristles in their proper shape.

Gently reshape the bristles after washing and place them on a paper towel or lint free cloth. Once dry they can be stored in a jar with the bristles facing up.

There are many ways to store brushes. There are cloth rolls with individual pockets for each brush, covered boxes, drawers or just plane recycled jars. As long as the bristles have room to keep their shape anything is fine.

It is also a good idea to keep acrylic, watercolor and oil brushes separated to prevent contamination from solvents. 


Drying brushes flat



Additional Brush Care Tips


Cleaning properly is a good way to keep your favourite brushes usable for a long time. There are a couple of additional things you can do to ensure the health of your brushes. 

Don’t load paint all the way up to the ferrule. Paint will get lodged in there and dry, separating the bristles and ruining the brush. This is especially true for small detail brushes that have short bristles. 

Letting brushes sit in water is not only bad for the brushes, it can make the handle swell and crack and may loosen the glue in the ferrule, causing the bristles to fall out.

If you will be storing natural bristle brushes such as hog hair, for an extended period, make sure they are completely dry and store them in an air tight container. Since they are real hair, insects like to snack on them. 

For more information on the various types of brushes see my post on choosing brushesfor beginners.

picture of a paint brush and paint with text overlay how to clean artist brushes


I hope this information was useful and helped to save a few innocent brushes. Happy painting. 🙂

Thanks for reading.

Digital signature Marilyn with butterfly







2 thoughts on “Brush Cleaning Basics”

  1. Pingback: Choosing Brushes for the Beginner: So Many Brushes

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