How to Clean & Care for Your Brushes

Cleaning Your Paint Brushes

An artist’s most valuable tool is their brush.

In order to maximize the life of your brushes and keep them performing their best, you need to clean them. By learning how to best preserve your brushes, you can keep your tools in shape and avoid the extra trips to the supply store.

Don’t Wait to Clean Your Brushes

It’s tempting to push off cleaning your brushes to “some other time.” But waiting to clean your brushes not only makes them harder to clean later, but it can also even ruin them. It’s best to clean them up immediately after you have finished painting with them.

For example, acrylic paint is easily washable when the brush is wet. However, let acrylic paint dry on the brush and it is notoriously difficult to remove, resulting in a compromised or ruined brush.

Cleaning Watercolor or Acrylic Brushes

If you paint with watercolor or acrylic, then your solvent is water and cleaning with water will not damage your bristles. As a result, cleaning your brushes after using a water-based medium like watercolor or acrylic paint is as simple as using water and a mild soap. Some artists prefer to use dishwashing liquid or a moisturizing bar of soap while others prefer to purchase a specialized soap specifically for paintbrushes. Either works!

After you have finished painting with a water-based medium, gather all the brushes you have used and squeeze them with a paper towel. If there is still a bit of paint on your brushes, gently blot your brush on a paper towel to get as much pigment as you can off the bristles.

Next, thoroughly clean your brushes with your soap of choice and cold water, one at a time. Cold water is key here because warm water or hot water can actually help the paint set. Rinse until the water runs clear.

Cleaning Oil Paint Brushes

Compared to acrylic paint, oil paint takes much more time to dry, giving you a more liberal time frame to clean your brushes. After painting with an oil-based paint, you will need an oil-based cleaner to clean your brushes. Why? Oil is impervious to water, so the water will simply bead off of the brush.

Start by wiping off the excess paint with a rag, cloth, or paper towel. Then, fill a jar or cup with your preferred oil or solvent. Artists have used solvents, such as: turpentine, paint thinner, or mineral spirits. Others prefer to use a natural oil, such as: olive oil, linseed oil, safflower oil, or baby oil. Some people will use dishwashing liquid to clean oil paint brushes, although some argue this may cause the brush to deteriorate over time.

Next, dip the brush into the jar and swish it back-and-forth in the oil. Use your hands to massage the oil into the bristles, then a paper towel or rag to pull the oils and pigment out. You may repeat this step two to three times until all the pigment is pulled from the brush. Finally, when all the oil paint is gone, give your paintbrush a final clean with a mild soap and water before setting them out to dry.

Washing Technique

When washing your paint brushes, be sure not to push and splay your brush bristles in different directions. Not only could this push paint into the ferrule, but it can ruin the shape of your brush. To protect the shape of your brush’s bristles and prevent pushing paint into the ferrule, gently swirl your paintbrush while washing it.

For acrylic or watercolor, this could mean swirling the paint brush in your hand under a running faucet, in a cup of water, or at the bottom of a sink. For oil-based paints, this means swirling your brush in a jar of your oil or solvent of choice.

Storing Your Brushes

After you have taken so much care to wash your brushes correctly, it is essential to store your brushes properly, lest your hard work go to waste!

Placing your wet brushes into a container with the bristles facing downward will cause the bristles to dry out-of-shape, which will make them hard to use in the future. Storing wet brushes upright will cause moisture to run down to the ferrule and loosen the glue holding the bristles.

So what’s the best option?

The best way to dry your wet paintbrushes is to lay them down flat on a paper towel. Once the brush is dry, you can then store the brush in an upright container without compromising the ferrule.


With your paintbrushes clean, you are ready for your next art class! Click here to sign up!

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