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Cleaning Artist Brushes

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Paint laden art brushes in a jar.

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.

Solutions: Cleaning Artist Brushes

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Tip: Restore Paint Brushes With Vinegar

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

Tip: Clean Art Brushes With Hand Sanitizer

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.

Use a smooth back and forth swabbing motion, gently. If you use a circular motion it may damage the bristles. Repeat this procedure until you no longer see any paint residue in your hand. Rinse and reshape the bristles and let dry.

The hand sanitizer also makes removing paint from your hands much easier. I buy cheap hand sanitizer from the $1.00 store.

Source: I experiment with different cleaners and this was my latest experiment that seems to work well.

By Harlean from Hot Springs, AR

Tip: Murphy Oil Soap for Cleaning Paint Brushes

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.

By Hope from Wilmington, NC

Article: How to Clean Artists' Brushes

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

  • When you are done with your painting session, put on pair of rubber gloves. Use a paper towel or soft cloth to wipe off any excess paint by squeezing the brush gently from ferrule to toe.

  • Rinse the brush in a jar of lukewarm water (water-based paints) or turpentine (oil-based paints) to loosen up the remaining paint.

  • Use a paper towel or soft cloth to once again wipe off any excess paint.

  • Squeeze a nickel-sized drop of liquid hand soap or mild dishwashing soap (like Ivory), in the palm of your hand, and use the brush to work up a lather.

  • Under lukewarm running water, gently dab and swirl the brush in the palm of your hand in a circular motion.

  • Rinse and repeat until suds stay white, and brush is clean.

  • Rinse a final time until the water runs clean to remove any remaining soap residue.

  • Gently shake, squeeze, or blot the remaining water out of the brush using paper towels or a soft cloth.

  • Restore damp brush hairs to their original shape with your fingers, or by wrapping the bristles with a small piece of paper towel while they are still wet (remove the towel when dry).

  • Dry your brushes on a flat surface such as a soft hand towel.

Additional Tips

  • Never use hot water to clean the brushes. It may expand and loosen the metal ferrule, and soften the glue, causing the hairs to fall out.

  • Keep brushes used for water-based paints separate from the brushes you use for oil. Oil repels water, which means that after you clean your brushes, any residue that remains may affect how the paint adheres to your support. It's also a good idea to use separate brushes for applying varnish, masking fluids, gesso, and other primers.

  • When painting with acrylics, clean your synthetic brushes extra well. These types of brushes are especially prone to the build-up of paint where the hairs join the ferrule. Leftover paint allowed to dry in this area will cause the hairs to splay out and the brush will be ruined.

  • Avoid leaving oil paint brushes standing in turpentine for extended periods of time. The pressure on the tip may distort and damage the hairs.

  • Always lay your brushes on a horizontal surface to dry. If you dry them vertically, with the tips up, excess water will drain backwards down and into the ferrule, which may cause it to expand or become loose. Brushes should always be completely dry before being put away to avoid the possibility of mildew.

  • Certain pigments and solvents contain well-known carcinogens. When using them, it's important to avoid unnecessary paint-to-skin contact by always wearing rubber gloves while cleaning your brushes. For more information on individual paints and drawing pigments, visit the city of Tucson's database for artist safety:

  • Over time, certain pigments will permanently tint the hairs of your brushes. This is normal and should not affect the performance of your brushes in any way.

By Ellen Brown

Tip: Artist Brush Cleaning and Use

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.

For acrylics, I use cheaper brushes. These, of course, are cleaned in water.

*Mineral spirits or paraffin based solvent.

By auntyblod from Cwmbran, South Wales

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Here are questions related to Cleaning Artist Brushes.

Question: Cleaning Artist Brushes

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

Most Recent Answer

By Maya Lee [9]10/06/2010

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.

Question: Green Cleaner for Oil Paint Brushes

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

Most Recent Answer

By Marjory Sampson [1]01/20/2010

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.