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.

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 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.


40 Comments

  1. Hal Bohner
    #1

    Thanks for your information. Regarding oil brushes, you wrote on 10.4.2017: “Natural hair brushes can enjoy a treat of conditioner from time to time . . .” I’m not sure what “conditioner” is. Please advise.

    Thanks.

    Reply
    • Symi Jackson
      #2

      Thanks for your message. You can use any type of conditioner really, best would be baby conditioner.

  2. Pieter van Bernebeek
    #4

    Tomorrow my new brushes will be delivered. Should I clean them before starting painting (dust, glue?)

    Reply
  3. Maria Volborth
    #5

    For my oil painting brushes I use an oil based natural soap ( mine made with olive oil) and it cleans and conditions at the same time. Works for me, no turpentine needed!

    Reply
  4. Josephine Wilson
    #6

    Currently I’m using Michael Harding oils so am interested in any tips regarding my brushes and palette knives.

    Reply
  5. #7

    I have a set of Rosemary brushes that I plan to use with water soluble oils. How do I clean them.
    Thank you

    Reply
    • Brad E
      #8

      Turpenoid Natural is a great conditioner and breaks down old dry oil paint when u soak the brush overnight. It cleans up perfectly without being sticky.

  6. Karen West
    #9

    I just received Jason Morgan Ultimate Set, before I start to paint with them do I need to prep them. They seem rather stiff, thought they may have a sizing in them that needs to be removed.

    Reply
    • Symi Jackson
      #10

      Hi Karen,

      A lot of our brushes go out with a hardening serum on them. You can wash this out with water.

      Kind wishes,
      Symi

  7. Rector Jeffery D. Sparks
    #11

    Take Symi’s advice above.
    There is a most amazing (and simple) technique one can do, one extra step, that will surprise you at the paint still left in your brushes. Acquire a bar of Fels-Naphta (very inexpensive) and hold it in your hand under a gentle stream of water and rub the brush back and forth, working up a lather. The Fels-Naphtha does not have suds, but the lather works its way into the bristles and pushes paint out.

    Then, when you see no more paint, continue to rinse out the Fels-Naptha which quickly dissolves. For conditioning, I use Murphy’s Oil Soap (a second wash) and they are beautiful.

    If you happen to have an Oxford English Dictionary or some theological tome you no longer read, open to the center, tuck the brushes into the crease, shut the book, and by the next day the brushes are dry and like new. Otherwise, Schmid’s idea is great too, but this does allow me a reason to hang on to such thick books in my studio!

    Reply
    • Symi Jackson
      #12

      This is great, Jeffery. Thanks for your extras! Symi

  8. Brad E
    #13

    Hopefully people read this. You must try Turpenoid Natural. It is unreal! You can soak brushes with gobs of old, dry oil paint and the next day they are ready to clean and use. If the paint is really old it might take a couple days. Wipe off, then soak, wipe off and soak until the oil paint is broken down.

    Its also a brush conditioner and its just perfect. I was so lost without it. It will save all your dirty brushes from the graveyard. I like to dip the brush in it and leave overnight on the table so its ready the next day. Before i use fairy liquid i try to always run it through Turpenoid first. Its also enviromental friendly which is important to me. I keep using it until its mostly gone. I try not to pour any of it in the garbage. I just keep wiping it off brushes til its gone.

    Reply
  9. #14

    OPA
    I have seen people using your brushes with great result and highly recommended. I have couple now and I would like to get couple more.

    Reply
  10. Jean Laker
    #15

    I first started using oils 56 years ago and was taught to wash my brushes thus: wipe the excess paint off, wash in white spirit or turps, rub across apiece of soap (any toilet soap) and rub vigorously on the palm of my hand several times -rinse under warm water. Do this two or three times until the water runs clear. Wipe dry on a paper towel. Some of my brushes are 40 years old.

    Reply
  11. #16

    You make a great point about wiping brushes on a rag. I never considered how much of proper art comes from the maintenance of the tools. I’ll have to get an art class to help me know how to use the brushes to paint and clean those brushes for later use.

    Reply

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