Cleaning Artist Brushes

Good art brushes can be quite expensive to buy. By properly cleaning them after each use you can extend the life of your brushes. This is a guide about cleaning artist brushes.


October 16, 2016 Flag
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Whether you're using oil paints or acrylics, inevitably your paintbrushes will take a beating.

Even if you are doing what you're supposed to with the paintbrushes, they will inevitably become hard, stiff, and eventually useless. There are semi expensive fluids you can buy that will heal brushes, but I found a better option.

Total Time: 1 hour to 24 hours

Source: I had at one point purchased a pricey 'brush restorer' fluid but then I realized the same main ingredient was the same as the one found in common nail polish remover


  • dirty, old, tired brushes
  • nail polish remover
  • soap
  • paint thinner/turpentine/turpatine, etc. if needed (only relevant for oil based paints)


  1. To restore brushes ruined by dry acrylics, just soak them in nail polish remover for 24 hours and you will be amazed at the results.
  2. Reviving Tired Stiff Paintbrushes
  3. To fix brushes damaged by oil paints, only soak for an hour at most; for most stiffness due to not properly cleaning oil brushes, just a 20 minute soak will be enough.
  4. Reviving Tired Stiff Paintbrushes
  5. It is important not to leave the brushes in the nail polish solution for too long because the acetone will quickly wear away the brush bristle and make the brush frayed, which you do not want! So, especially if you have expensive brushes, test them frequently and pull them out of the solution as soon as you feel the stiffness go away.
  6. Reviving Tired Stiff Paintbrushes
  7. After you have soaked the brushes in the solution and felt their flexibility return, wash them thourougly with soap and warm water. This is important so as to get rid of the chemical that will eventually wear the brush away.
  8. Reviving Tired Stiff Paintbrushes
  9. NOTE: please be careful because the solution will wear down the paint of the brush as well. Try to only soak the metal part that adheres to the bristles, i.e. just the part that's showing in the photo.
  10. Reviving Tired Stiff Paintbrushes
  11. BONUS: restores paint!
    Say you're working on a great project, in acrylic, but you realize that your tube has dried up! Oh no! What to do? Rush out and buy more, or use the magic substance to reconstitute the paint?
  12. Reviving Tired Stiff Paintbrushes
  13. Yeah, that's right, the nail polish remover will reconstitute entire tubes of acrylics, gouache, and any other dried out water based paint! (turpentine and mineral spirits work for oils)

    Just add a few drops to a teaspoon of the stuff to the paint, stab the paint so that the fluid penetrates, leave it be for a half hour or more, and watch the paint reconstitute itself.
  14. acetone, brushes, and paints
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January 13, 2009 Flag
6 found this helpful

When you have allowed your paint brushes to harden with paint on them, you can easily soften them by placing them in hot vinegar until paint loosens and the wash them in hot soapy water.

By Sandy A. from Graettinger, IA

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January 14, 20090 found this helpful


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January 14, 20090 found this helpful

thank you so much for this tip...i just threw out a couple brushes because the paint hardened on them and couldn't get it out...i'm surely going to pass this on to all my contacts...

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February 20, 20090 found this helpful

Suggest you obtain the patented "Multipurpose Paint Roller " it paints and cleans brushes with the minimum of water and paint cleaning spirits.You will not have to keep buying new brushes that have harden with old paint. So keep the vinegar for the "French Fries". Harden brushes never do a good decorating task as you will find that the brushes lose the odd hairs into the paintwork.Good Luck!

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January 20, 20100 found this helpful

You don't say if this is for oil based paint or latex. I am guessing it is probably oil based paint though.

I keep my brushes in the freezer if I am not through using them, and will need them the next day. I just put them in clingwrap and take them out of the freezer about half an hour before I need them. This is for Latex or water based paint. I rarely use oil based any more.

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December 15, 2014 Flag

As an artist I sometimes forget to rinse my brushes out well. By the time I get back to it it is completely stiff and dried with paint. The way I rescue these brushes is to fill an old plastic cup with enough Murphy's oil soap to cover the bristles and let it sit overnight.

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November 1, 2011 Flag
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Dirty artist brushes.Quality artists' paint brushes are an investment. It is important to wash them thoroughly at the end of every studio session or they can become permanently damaged. A proper cleaning will help maintain the shape of the tip, and extend the life of the ferrule and hairs as long as possible.

Ten Steps to Cleaning Artists' Brushes

Additional Tips

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January 30, 20120 found this helpful

Wow, this is excellent information. I can see how I have ruined my brushes in the past because I wasn't aware of some of these things. Thanks for so much good advice!

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November 2, 2011 Flag
4 found this helpful

I use acrylic paints for my yard art projects, and cleaning my brushes is an important step. I have found that if I squirt a little hand sanitizer into the palm of my hand, and work it into the bristles, it does an excellent job of removing the paint trapped in the brush.

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August 3, 2009 Flag
3 found this helpful

I use Murphy Oil Soap, to clean my paint brushes. I do decoupage, and the brushes get gluey. So I will soak them overnight in the oil soap, and they are clean again.

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July 28, 2009 Flag
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How do I safely rinse brushes with oil paint. I used to love painting with oil paint, and still have my brushes, paints, palette, etc. I would like to start up again, but I am not willing to use mineral spirits (highly flammable and bad fumes) to rinse/clean my brushes. I also do not want to use bar soap on the brushes, letting oil paint go down the sink, without knowing what I am doing.

Is there a way to safely use my oil paint and brushes that will still keep the brushes in good condition? How do I rinse/dispose of oil paint rags safely if I no longer have access to a paint studio? Or is this the end of my painting days?

By davidicdancer from Spokane, WA

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July 28, 20090 found this helpful

Murphys Oil Soap will remove oil paint from your good brushes easily. Just pour a little into the palm of your hands and swipe the brush gently back and forth over it and rinse. This will keep your brushes conditioned too. I took an oil painting class and that's what was suggested to the group to use for cleaning their oil painting brushes. Happy Painting!

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July 30, 20090 found this helpful

You could use Turpentine. Believe it or not it's "natural". This is what wiki says about it "Turpentine- is a fluid obtained by the distillation of resin obtained from trees, mainly pine trees".

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August 3, 20090 found this helpful

I took oil painting in college. The professor was an artist from Paris, France. We did the normal rinse in turpentine, but to actually clean them we used regular soap and hot water. Never had a hard brush if I washed it thoroughly.

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January 20, 20100 found this helpful

I have been an artist for about 30 years and do mostly oil paints. The way I clean my brushes is to first clean them with Turponoid Natural which is non-toxic and then I finish cleaning them with The Master's Brush Cleaner. I don't use rags for anything anymore, I use paper towels. I let most of it settle down the bottom of a jar and pour off the top into another container and wipe out the bottom of the residue which can be disposed of in the trash. If I do have any residue of Turponoid or anything toxic, I keep under my bathroom sink in separate containers and eventually I want to take it to a toxic disposal center. If you need more information on disposal of toxic materials go the web page of Gamblin. They tell you just about anything you want to know.

Also, for anyone using acrylics, which I do sometimes, I filter my used water through coffee filters and then I pour it off into another container after most of it has settled down the bottom of a jar of can. Then wipe out the residue with a paper towel which you can throw in the trash.

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January 26, 20150 found this helpful

September 4, 2009 Flag

I am an amateur artist. I use acrylic paint.The brushes that I use are nylon bristles. These are smaller brushes, one inch is the largest size, such as the the brushes that are sold by Donna Dewberry. I have other brushes, that cost less.

Anyway I have read suggestions people have written about brush cleaning, Murphy's Oil Soap, hot vinegar, etc. I have stronger cleaners, but would like to hear other people's ideas. Thanks.

By Kersti from Bellevue

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September 4, 20090 found this helpful

Everything I know about brushes & painting in 10 minutes typing:

I'm fortunate to be able to paint for a living. I do botanicals on pottery, tiles for installation, custom wall murals & paintings on canvas & have been doing this for over 20 years. Usually I work with glazes, but when I do paintings or wall murals I work with acrylics.

As you know Acrylics dry out quickly, so the trick is to always keep a glass of water right next to you then throw the brush into the water right after you've used it. (but NOT if it's a liner, script-liner or a longer brush that will bend) This works well with square shaders, rounds & filberts. Don't keep your brush in the water for very long though or the handle can split. Just keep a coffee-mug of water on a plastic (dollar store) tray with several paper towel's stacked on it & dip the brush into the water then if you won't be cleaning it within 10 minutes or so, just lay it wet, flat on the papertowel & be sure to keep it wet until you get around to washing it! To slow the drying of acrylics & to help the paint slip easily into bumps & stipples on a wall I like to use an additive that makes the paint more slippery & slows drying time. This can be a medium, but they also make special liquid additives that are made mainly to slow paints drying time.

Cleaning: For regular cleaning of brushes I use plain Dawn dish washing soap on my synthetic brushes & baby shampoo on the ones made from hair. Once the Acrylic paints dry on your brush, (as you already know) you have a big problem! There are several things you can try: some use Nail polish remover, either made for artificial nails or the stronger "regular" kind. On some brands you can use Alcohol. But once the paint dries on your brush you may as well throw it away or use it as a "scruffy" brush.

Fixing Bent Brushes: But here's a trick you can use for a liner that's been bent. Spray hairspray on to the brush then straighten it back to it's normal shape then put it into the freezer overnight. Sometimes this will work, sometimes not, but with the price of brushes it's at least worth a try! ...I have saved many a good brush this way & if at once you don't succeed, try it a second time... You never know it just might save your brush!

Donna Dewberry: I saw Donna Dewberry selling her large set of brushes on QVC or HSN the other day & I found them far to big (at least for my detailed application). I thought she was selling to many large/wide/big brushes & the ones with the long handles I thought to myself, Why would anyone want that long of a handle because it's harder to do detail with a long handle. I think it's best to buy your brushes, not in a big set like hers, but one at a time. If you DO need each brush in the set, then by all means, buy the whole set, but in the set's she's selling on HSN or QVC she is selling multiple brushes of the same size & shape with the only difference on some is a longer handle, etc.

Donna Dewberry has helped a lot of people have the courage to learn to tole-paint & for that I'm grateful, but I am so glad I've developed my own style because most people that have learned from her stay with her (look-a-like) style & all look the same (but, then again all of my students' work can basically look the same too!) I guess what I'm saying to all you new painter's out there is I believe it's important to learn & grow & develop your very own style! I'd never want anyone to look at my work & think that Donna Dewberry had done it.

Brushes: My favorite brushes for both Acrylics & glazes are Golden Taklon synthetic brushes. I like the Duncan Ceramics brand. I've had some of my Duncan ceramic brushes for over 20 years & they still work & look like new. Duncan is made to paint over rough pottery so they hold up well & aren't pricey. "Royal" brand brushes (golden taklon) are some of the least expensive brushes & are great starter brushes. If you buy a dozen you can get a 60% or bigger discount. When I teach classes I'll buy a dozen of each brush needed for the class then pass the savings on to my students minus the shipping cost If they prefer to buy the brushes, otherwise I offer the use of my brushes free of charge. I wish I could find the exact site that sell them wholesale like this but it's in my other computer that's being serviced. I do have some good Grumbacher brushes which I bought new (20 years ago) at a swap meet & these have outlasted many of the cheapie brushes but I see no reason to spend the money unless you really need a specific brush for a specific reason.

Acrylics: What's the difference between cheapie Acrylics & better brands? It's pigment, pigment, pigment. The more you pay, the more pigment you get in the medium. I prefer Liquitex when doing a custom mural because I won't have to double-coat my colors, but when I'm doing something for myself or something small, I see no reason to spent the money & will use the 50 cent brands. Except with yellow! Yellow pigment is naturally transparent, so spend more & buy the very best yellow you can find, otherwise you'll spent to much time going over & over & over your yellow time & time again! If you buy the best yellow you can find, you can spend less on the other colors.


With all this typing, I must say, I too am curious how others clean their brushes, both regular cleaning & the ones that have dried-on acrylic paint.

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September 13, 20090 found this helpful

Thank you to Cyinda and those that have responded to my questions.I learned some things too. I was especially interested in the information about a medium to help acrylic paint blend better. I wouldn't enjoy painting if I didn't have something to help.Tke main thing I use is Folk art blending meadium. Also I look for other ideas, such as aloe gel, and I have even used antibacterial dish soap etc. The one thing you don't want to use is anything that has alcohol, it seems to curle the paint. I mainly paint on black card stock. Sometimes I use the silver or gold paint and sometimes a little glitter, I don't want to make it look tacky.

My paint brushes are comparable to barbie dolls, some of them get thrown away and some get haircuts. I have not perfected that but try to use a hair scissors or embroidery scissors.I try to trim the brushes on the sides, if you get close to a light you can see the bristles that are sticking out. One more thing and I can imagine others feel this way.If people ask me what I want, I tell them I don't want a bouquet of flowers, bring me brushes instead.We have a little stress in our family because my husband has a neurologic, physical disease called arachinitis, he has incredible pain, but he is such a wonderful guy.Thanks I got a little lengthy in my thank you. Lois Kersti B.

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October 6, 20100 found this helpful

Another way to straighten crooked bristles on a brush is to stroke them on a cake of soap or add some liquid detergent. Shape them, let them dry and they will be straight again. When I am out painting, soap is always available.

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October 27, 2011 Flag
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I don't use my good oil painting brushes for acrylic. I keep them just for oils, which I clean in white spirit*. The sediment settles after a few days, and the clean spirit pours off carefully into another jar.

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