The Essential Guide: How To Clean Artist Paint Brushes

An Introduction To Cleaning Brushes

All artists know there is so much more to the painting process than meets the eye. Creating the painting is just one part of artistry process - the behind the scenes maintenance of tools is just as vital to the process of creating a beautiful work of art! And where would any artist be without their brushes? 

Brush cleaning is key to ensuring the paintings you produce are at their best. Although it can feel like a chore after your efforts painting, by maintaining your brushes regularly you will ensure your brushes last and provide the best and easiest painting experience for you each time. In this guide, we break down the steps to cleaning your paintbrushes to make the process as simple as possible for you. 

The key to learning how to clean brushes is to try to keep them wet in use and give them a deep clean when they’re not. This will enable you to keep your brushes in better condition for longer. Although cleaning paint brushes seems (and is) relatively straightforward, it’s most definitely not one size fits all, and each type of brush is unique depending on what paint medium you are using being it oil, acrylic or watercolour.


What is an artist brush cleaner?

 Most brush cleaners are designed specifically for using oil and acrylic paints. They typically have a strong solvent action, whilst remaining solvent-free, with the ability to remove wet and dry paint from brushes. If you are an oil painter, you may consider these as an alternative to using harsher oil painter solvents like turpentine or mineral spirits, which aren't suitable for everyone and use in all environments. 

When should I use brush cleaner?

It truly depends on the artist and the specific brush to whether brush cleaner is needed or not - plenty of artists find standard washing up liquid can work fine for them. However, when working with fine art brushes the benefit of using brush soaps is that they are typically packed with oils, which help condition the brushes while cleaning them - meaning healthier and happier brushes in the long run.  

Cleaning different brush types 

It completely depends on the type of brush you use to how often you should be cleaning them and how easy it is to maintain them. Watercolour and gouache brushes do need cleaning, but unlike oil and acrylic brushes, it is more challenging to ruin them if the paint accidentally dries between the bristles. However, these brushes do still need to be treated with care, because they are typically much softer than other brushes so require more delicate handling. 

Acrylic and oil painting brushes are more challenging to keep clean due to the way the paint can dry on the bristles, making it harder work to get the paint out of the bristles. Without regular cleaning, it is easy for the paint to dry and set between the bristles which should always be avoided! If paint is left near the roots of these brushes, it begins to stiffen over time, and while the brush will still be functional, it can affect the effectiveness of the brush. 


Ultimate Guide To Cleaning Paint Brushes


Cleaning acrylic paint brushes

  1. Remove any paint excess from the brush by using paper towels or a rag. Ensure you are thorough with this process and don't stop until all of the excess is gone! 
  2. Rinse the brush with water, and continue doing so until no paint comes off the brush when you blot it. 
  3. Now, take your brush soap - we can't recommend The Master's Brush Cleaner and Preserver enough. This product works beautifully, conditioning the brushes to hold more colour, helping to lay down a smoother more even flow. Simply swirl the brush in the compound, working into a lather. Repeat this step until your brush is clean. 
  4. Now, rinse thoroughly!
  5. Reshape the brush gently, and leave it on a flat surface to dry. 
  6. Ensure you don't store your acrylic brush upright (e.g in a painting pot) until the bristles are completely dry, as otherwise water can run onto the ferrule (the part where the brush head joins the handle) and loosen it which is to be avoided at all costs for clean strokes when painting!
  7. Enjoy your shiny almost new acrylic brush!

Cleaning Oil Paint Brushes

  1. Just like our first step when cleaning acrylic paint brushes, remove any paint excess from the brush by using paper towels or a rag. Again, be thorough with this process and keep going until all of the excess is gone!
  2. Now, rinse the brush to remove as much excess as you can. There are different products you can use to rinse the oil out of your product, but our top pick would be The Schmincke Eco Brush Cleaner. This cleaner is a brilliant alternative to Turpentine, and is instead made of high-quality petroleum distillates and much more environmentally friendly. You can also use a oil painting solvent such as turpentine - we recommend Winsor & Netwon distilled turpentine. If using this, be sure to read our Blog on Oil Painting solvents to ensure you use this safely, as it is toxic and should only be used in well-ventilated areas. Alternatively, you can also use a drying oil such as Winsor & Newton Linseed Oil. Linseed Oil is also a great way to rinse brushes during a session, as the oil in the brush will not have any effect on the painting! 
  3. Using your paper towel or rag, blot the brush. Keep repeating this step until there is no more paint coming out. 
  4. Now, you should be at the stage where you've removed as much paint as you can from the brush. Here, we recommend using The Master's Brush Cleaner or Presever - this cleaner is used with water, where you simply swirl the brush in the compound and work into a lather. Ensure you clean this until any paint is removed from the base of the brush hairs. Keep repeating this step until clean! 
  5. Lastly, gently reshape the brush with your fingers. Leave the brush to dry horizontally, ensuring it's placed on a flat surface. Wait until completely dry before using again!

Cleaning Water Colour Brushes 

As mentioned, watercolour and gouache brushes have a super simple cleaning process and typically do not need to be cleaned with soap. These brushes actually contain natural oils in them, so using soap can strip away these oils and damage them. Ensure the water that is used is warm, and not hot, as hot water could potentially lead to leftover paint clotting. 

  1. Remove any excess water colour or gouache with a cloth or rag.
  2. Now, rinse the brush in a jar of water.
  3. Next, blot the brush to remove any leftover paint.
  4. Repeat steps 3 and 4 (with care as not to damage the softer bristles) until no more water comes out of the brush.

When it comes to cleaning brushes, there are numerous methods and different products artists use online. Be cautious trying any DYI methods online on your brushes, as remember different brush types require different care. Remember, all brushes need to be treated with TLC frequently if you want them to last - not caring for them properly can become an expensive habit with replacements. Putting effort into maintaining your brushes can feel time-consuming, but will absolutely provide better results and allow you to produce your best work!

If in doubt on how to clean a specific brush type or you fancy learning more, feel free to pop into our friendly London store or give us a call on 020 8368 8580 - we are always more than happy to help!

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