Brush Cleaning – A Brush Makers Top Tips


We often get asked what the best way to clean your brushes is. Truthfully, there are so many different ways and it really does depend on which medium you’re using, how often you use your brushes, whether you are in a rush or whether you have time to clean them thoroughly.

In short, there’s a million and one ways, so here are some tips as a basic rule, rest assured over time you’ll find your own neat way to do things. The main thing to remember is that cleaning your brushes is an important investment both of your time and your money. The more you look after your tools, the better they will serve you.

Watercolour Brushes

Cleaning watercolour brushes is easy! Grab your brushes and head to the sink. You can hold them under the tap and let the pigment wash off them with the flow of the water. Get yourself a bar of soap and use the palm of your hand to gently wipe the brushes back and forth to ensure they are clean throughout. Squeeze the water out of the brush and reshape them. Store upright and condition them from time to time. Easy peasy.

Acrylic Brushes

You must ensure to clean your Acrylic brushes in-between each use; not doing so will allow the Acrylic paint to harden the bristles or fibres and bond them together.
We recommend Synthetic brushes over Natural Hair brushes as a general rule since they withstand the abuse of Acrylic paint and they clean more easily. You must not let the Acrylic paint dry on your brush as this is really difficult to get out. Grab a rag or kitchen towel and wipe away any excess paint from your brush to begin with; this will make the washing process faster and easier. Thoroughly rinse the brush with water and wipe the brush in your palm to get the paint out. You can use soap to speed this process and condition your brushes.

Oil Brushes

Start with wiping your brushes on a rag or paper towel. You should then wash them thoroughly with either soap or mineral spirits. You can buy odourless mineral spirits nowadays too. To clean them thoroughly you can use a dish soap (in England we call it fairy liquid), or overseas you may have Murphys Oil Soap or Dawn.
We also sell a product called Zest-It which are environmentally friendly, non-flammable, pleasant to use, biodegradable alternative to ‘turps’ and white spirit, made using the zest of citrus fruit for cleaning brushes and thinning paint, a much safer solvent for studio use.
A good tip is not to load the brush right down to the ferrule. You must make sure you clean the whole brush; not doing so will cause it to splay outwards. Oil cleans oil, so safflower & linseed oils works too. Be sure to reshape the brush once you’ve cleaned it through and a great tip by Richard Schmid is to fold card over your flats and filberts and clip a peg on them to hold them in shape.
Truthfully there’s a million and one ways. Everyone has their own way of doing things but I’ve written more specifically about our Oil Brushes.

cleaning-your-brushes

Conclusion

No matter what works for you, ensure that you reshape your brushes to the way they first looked when you bought them, before you let them dry. If you have round brushes with caps on them, we recommend to throw those away. The protective cap we use is for transport purposes only and unless you have brilliant eyesight and a steady hand, you’ll bend back the hairs each and every time you try to get the cap back on.
Always leave your brushes somewhere they can dry completely (do not store them in an air-tight container before they are dry). Invest in a wrap or brush case to carry your brushes.

We sell Brush Holders for a few pounds to store your brushes upright in your studio. They are easy to assemble and inexpensive (Search BH50 on our website). Alternatively, we sell beautiful bamboo brush rolls and handmade leather brush wraps (made inhouse) for carrying your brushes. Both of these allow your brushes to dry naturally and ensure no mould.
The colour of the hairs or fibres will change over time – this is normal and does not affect the performance of the brush. For any synthetic brushes loosing their shape you can hold them in boiling water for 30 seconds, this should help pull them back into shape.
Natural hair brushes can enjoy a treat of conditioner from time to time, soak them and leave them for 30 minutes – when you come back to them and rinse it out they should feel nice and soft again.

The best advice one can give is to ask! Ask your teacher and your art friends. If you find a way that works for you then stick with it. Just remember, your brushes are an investment and worth taking care of.


11 Comments

  1. Jean-Marie Chapman
    #1

    Thank you, Symi, for taking the time to provide this valuable information. Your beautiful brushes deserve the best of care!

    Reply
  2. #2

    What do you recommend to clean brushes that have bits of oil paint in the middle which causes them to splay? I clean with Murphy’s Oil and love it! But once I start using the brush again, it splays. I noticed there is still some pigment inside the brush. Is there a way to “dig” it out? I have purchased some Rosemary brushes too and they have done the same thing. Apparently I’m doing something wrong because I really try to take good care of my brushes.

    Reply
    • Symi Jackson
      #3

      Hi Laurie,
      If you’ve got a build up of paint in the base of the ferrule you are best soaking them in Murphys Oil Soap for 24 hours. Leave them on their side and let them really soak in the soap. Once the times up try bending the brush hairs back and forth carefully to break the paint down. Rinse under a tap and wash thoroughly. Don’t forget to re-shape the brush into the shape it was when new. I hope this helps! Symi

    • Andrew Randalls
      #4

      A friend of mine who passed away recently left me his oil painting equipment. There was a number 12 hog bristle brush with paint on it so hard that ordinary cleaners did not move it. The paint was so hard on it that nothing would shift it. It had lain in that condition since the 1980s when he he became ill and I was looking after his paints for him. I tried everything to soften the paint but to no avail. I heard of a suggestion that if you soaked the brush in vinegar it would do the trick. I tried it over a month with some success. However, I tried cider vinegar and in a short time the paint came off leaving all the gunge from the brush at the bottom of the jar. The technique is to leave the brush with the ferrule and hog hair in a jar of cider vinegar and when the vinegar is sediment is at the bottom of the glass jar take the brush out and wash it with Fairy liquid then empty the jar and put fresh vinegar in it and repeat the same. I had to do this over a fortnight with this brush and voila, the brush is back to normal with even the paint in the ferrule dissolved.

  3. James
    #5

    Just wondering how best to condition brushes? Just bought some of your series 98 brushes (recommended by a friend) and I want to make sure they stay in tip-top condition.

    Reply
    • Symi Jackson
      #6

      So it depends on which medium you are using? They are Kolinsky Sables, so just remember, conditioning them is always a good thing! I hope this helps. Symi

  4. Tina Bos
    #7

    A good way to clean your brushes is to first remove as much paint out of them as possible. Then give them a good rub across soap, my preference is The Mastersons which is specifically made to clean paint out of brushes. Run the brush with soap in the hairs over a plastic brush cleaner (heart shape) or over the ridges in a white seafood shell dish. This really helps loosen paint out near the ferrel. I wash out my brush at least three times making sure no paint colour comes out. Also, once soap is in the brush, hold the ferrel with one hand and grip the bristles with your other hand and wiggle in opposite directions. This gets soap right down into the brush to remove paint. Rinse well. Always lay brushes down flat to dry after you have reshaped them. Hope this helps. Tina

    Reply
  5. Jean Hering
    #8

    When I get a new brush (and I have very expensive taste although my talents are not worthy) the very first thing I do is put a “band” of high end clear nail polish around the ferrule where it meets the handle, making sure its generous enough to work as a “chalk” -like around windows, to stop that drop of water that might find its way in that crevice. The nail polish-as it dries- flattens out so is undetectable. I have not yet had a brush get water damage from swelling due to moisture finding its way into the ferrule.

    The second thing I do is take my BLUE (pick any unusual color as your own) nail polish and paint the very end with two coats, then a third coat of the clear when the blue is dry. This is a pretty way of marking your brushes and the clear nail polish protects the blue nail polish. Again, us a high end clear nail polish…there is a difference and will last forever.

    Reply
  6. rebecca brown-thompson
    #9

    I use a brush cleaner by AS which is an Australian product I believe but not only does it condition the sable hair it will get acrylic paint out of your brushes as well as all watercolour paint. I love this stuff.

    Reply
    • Symi Jackson
      #11

      They will dry on their own, and flat is fine! Symi

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