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. If you type in brush cleaning on the internet, you will find 100’s of forums all explaining different ways to clean your brushes. In short, find a way that suits you and stick to it.

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 a good soap. (You can use olive oil soap for example). 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 do not endorse the use of mineral spirits or solvents. Though they are quicker for the process; they are a known brush killer. Oil cleans oil, so safflower, rapeseed & linseed oils should work too.

A good tip is not to load the brush right down to the ferrule (hence why many oil painters choose the long flats, long filberts and egrets for the longer length of hair). You must make sure you clean the whole brush; not doing so will cause paint to collect at the base and in doing so will cause it to splay outwards.  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.



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 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. Make sure the conditioner is fully washed out before using your brushes.

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.


  1. Jean-Marie Chapman

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

  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.

    • Symi Jackson

      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

      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.

    • Erlen Flowers

      Depends on acrylic or oil. Here’s a method that I use and I periodically do a cleaning day.
      You need a small wire brush for acrylics and a stiff tooth brush for your oil brushes.
      Clean them with soap and water -whatever you ordinarily use to clean your brushes. I also use a cleaner.
      Wipe them in paper towel or a clean cloth make sure that you do not see any color coming out of the brush after your regular cleaning.
      Put a little grease dissolver dishwashing liquid in the Ferrell at the bristle line and let them sit for about an hour. Or longer.
      Dampen the brushes in lukewarm water and then comb them with the wire or tooth brush. Brushing from the Ferrell to the end of the brush. Loose paint will start to comb out. Rinse them by swirling them in clean water and gently dry the with a towel again., Repeat again!
      Acrylic paint you will need the wire brush.
      This takes awhile but it extends the life of my brushes. Store them with the bristles in the air and if you do it use them often- and they are sable or other animal fur store with moth balls.

  3. James

    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.

    • Symi Jackson

      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

    • peter

      James, try fabric softner as in washing machine softner. Put brushes (after you’ve cleaned them) in the softner for 1 hour only, then wash with water. you’ll find the hairs softer and in good condition for next time. peter.

  4. Tina Bos

    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

  5. Jean Hering

    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.

    • #12

      She’s probably marking them to show ownership when she paints with others or takes a class. My dads old paint brushes from college had his initials messily engraved in the ferrules. Easy to reclaim if someone picks up the wrong brush near them or you let them borrow one.

    • Constance

      Why are you marking with the blue, signify the sealing?

  6. rebecca brown-thompson

    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.

  7. #15

    I have used gamsol and my brusheshave curled and splayed. Have tried Leon and Richards ideas, and tried to reshape using conditioner and washing softener, but not successfully. Ideas please?

    • Anne T Nielsen

      I slater the brush hairs with a very good hair conditioner, like Elvive. Let them set for about 3-4 days. When the conditioner has slightly dried. Reshape the hairs. Wait another 2 days. This step can be repeated several times. Till the original shape is restored.

  8. Liz sganga

    I just bought some Rosemary and co brushes and on the invoice it says do not use Gamsol on these brushes? Can you tell me why?

    • Constance

      Thank you, I wouldn’t have known. That should have been mentions on or with the product information. Maybe Gamsol manufacturing should be notified so they can try to remedy the problem. Gamblin is a very well know for its products as well as rosemarys brushes, this information bothers me. What style were the brushes, sable, squirrel, or the equivalent?

    • Symi Jackson

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

  9. #21

    I have a problem cleaning oil brushes. I first use OMS to get paint out of them, then I use murphys oil soap, a couple times until it seems clean. Then I usually use da vinci soap. Anyway sometimes I don’t. Seems no matter what I do, after a wait of a couple weeks, the brushes start to feel hard. I can clean them and they soften up again but it’s annoying and I’m frustrated and have no idea why this is happening! I wonder if anyone has ideas..

    • peter

      Fabric softner, for 1 hour, after cleaning brushes. Then rinse.

    • #23

      It might be the medium you use. It is really hard to clean off fast drying mediums such as linquin. They tend to dry fast and gets tacky on the brushes and palette. Not for me.

  10. Susan Wight

    I have some lovely Rosemary and Co. watercolor brushes that I have not used in years. I think they may need the “conditioning” you speak of to bring the points back. However, you don’t really describe the conditioning method—at least I can’t seem to find it on your website. How would you recommend conditioning my older watercolor brushes?


    • Rachel Garrett

      Conditioning really is just that. Use a good hair conditioner (natural hair brushes are made of hair after all). I try to use a natural, good quality unscented conditioner brand; I sometimes add a few drops of walnut oil to the conditioner.
      After cleaning the brush, work the conditioner into the tip of the brush just like you do with soap when cleaning (but don’t work the condt. into the base of the brush or the ferrule, it doesn’t need to be that deep);
      I then shape the brush and hang it upside down for 20-30 min. for a deep conditioning;
      next, just rinse out the conditioner gently and thoroughly, shape the brush and hang upside down to dry.

  11. Jane Northcote

    Hi Symi, thank you for this interesting post.
    I have some synthetic and some natural hair brushes, so I shall make sure I follow your advice. My “Rosemary” brushes are lasting very well! I am so grateful to them, I want to clean them correctly.
    When you say:
    “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.”

    What conditioner do you mean? Do you mean use hair conditioner, like I use for my hair? Is this a good idea also for Sable brushes for watercolour.?

    Many thanks.


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