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How To Clean Paint Brushes

How To Clean Paint Brushes (Acrylic, Oils, Watercolor) Like A Pro

After a pleasant and satisfying painting session, I’m sure the only thing you want to do is sit back and admire your work. 

You’re probably thinking that since you’ll be painting again tomorrow, it’s okay to skip the clean-up process. 

That is until you miss a day or so and you’ve totally forgotten that you haven’t cleaned the paintbrushes from your last session!  

Now you’re left with bits of dried paint between the bristles and the brush may have hardened and lost its shape.

If you’re tired of having dried-up, crusty brushes every time you sit down to paint, it’s probably time to give those paint brushes some love. 

I’m going to show you the best way to clean a paint brush from start to finish including a basic process on how to clean dried paint brushes. 

If you follow this quick, simple, and easy clean-up process, your paint brushes will be as good as new. 

Grab your favorite brush and let’s give it a good rinse!

Here is everything you need to know for learning how to clean acrylic, oil, or watercolor paint brushes:

Common Ways To Clean A Paint Brush

Everyone has their own way of cleaning and taking care of their paint brushes but there are a set number of ways that actually do work and are used by many. 

Depending on the painting medium, this should indicate the best way and supplies to use to clean a paint brush.

Here are the most popular ways:


Most paints except for oil paint can be cleaned and washed using water. This is especially true for water-based paints like watercolor, gouache, or acrylic.

You can quickly and easily rinse the brush under water until the water runs clear and the paint is removed. 

ways to clean paint brushes


Solvents like turpentine, mineral spirits, or paint thinner can be used to clean oil-based paints or varnishes.

This process typically involves soaking the brushes in a limited amount of solvent for a few minutes and then wiping the brush clean.

With oil paints, this is generally the best way to remove the paint from the brush. However, working with solvents can be tricky and often give off toxic fumes that can be harmful to your health.

So, you’ll have to take extra caution when using any of these liquids such as maintaining proper ventilation and wearing gloves to protect your skin. 

Brush Cleaner:

Another popular way to clean a paintbrush is to use a brush cleaner.

Now, not all brush cleaners work well but there are a few that are specially designed to clean the brushes, maintain the quality and condition of your brush. It can also be used to remove really tough or dried paint.

Rather than using ordinary soap, a quality brush cleaning soap will make sure your brushes last longer.

For those that work with oil paint, you could also opt for using a brush cleaner to remove the excess paint rather than solvents if you want a safe, toxic-free method.

Pinch the excess paint out of the brush using a cloth, then rub the brush in the soap and then swish the brush in a jar of water.

Repeat as many times until clean. This is a great way to clean the brush between mixes without having to use solvents.

Steps For Cleaning Paint Brushes

Step 1: Remove excess paint from the brush

cleaning paint brushes tips

The first thing you will need to do is to remove any excess paint that is on the brush.

You can do this by pinching the brushes and pulling them down using a cloth or paper towel.

This method works best for acrylic or oil-based paints. You’ll have to be careful when doing this and be gentle to avoid causing damage to the brush.

Wipe the brush as best as you can till most of the paint is off.

Step 2: Rinse the brush under water or soak it in liquid

You’ll then want to rinse the brush under water and use your fingers to clean the brush.

Avoid using hot water as this can damage the bristles. It’s best to stick with cool or lukewarm water.

If you want to take it a step further, you could soak the brush in a jar of water for a few minutes before rinsing under water and this should help loosen up the paint that is in the bristles.

Step 3: Lather brush with soap

If you have a brush soap, take a small amount and work it through the bristles with a gentle touch. If you don’t have a brush cleaner, use mild soap or detergent as an alternative.

To really work the brush, apply some soap to your hand and rub the brush in your palm a few times. 

Step 4: Rinse the soap from the brush

When the bristles have been nicely soaped, it’s time to give it a good rinse to remove the paint and the soap. Rinse the brush under running water until you are happy with the result.

Squeeze out excess water from the brush.

Step 5: Pat dry with a cloth and reshape bristles

Take a few minutes to lightly dry the brush with a cloth or paper towel and gently reshape the bristles. Now here’s the mistake some people make that can damage their brushes.

If you don’t wipe the brush somewhat dry, this can lead to water entering the ferrule which will loosen the glue and the brush will weaken and break.

Also, not reshaping the bristles can lead to the brush drying in weird directions. 

Step 6: Place brush flat to dry

Once the paint brush is clean, allow it to lie flat until it’s completely dry and ready for the next use. 

You can always repeat the steps if you are unsatisfied with the result but if you followed these steps to the T, you should have a really clean brush.

I know it appears time-consuming but this process will ensure your brushes stay in good condition and it makes it easier to get right to painting without having to clean up before you start the next time you want to paint.

This method works for almost all paint types except those oil-based paints and varnishes, solvents, and mediums.

For cleaning oil paint brushes, unless it’s water-mixable oils, you’ll want to avoid rinsing the brushes under water.

Opt for cleaning your brushes with a non-toxic solvent or cleaner.

How To Clean Stubborn Dried Paint Brushes

It happens to all of us. Sometimes we may feel too tired after a painting session or that lazy voice creeps up on us and we just skip the clean-up process entirely. 

The next time you’re motivated to paint something, you’re stopped in your tracks by your favorite paint brushes that are dried and stiff.

However, all is not lost. There is the possibility of recovering your paint brushes again. 

Though cleaning dried paint brushes can be a challenge, there are still some things you can try that might work.

Here’s what you should do if you have the most stubborn dried bristles:

Step 1: Soak the brushes in a container

If the paint has dried on the bristles, begin by loosening things up.

You can do this by filling a container or jar with water or using a brush cleaner, solvent, turpentine, or paint thinner (depending on what’s available and which medium you’re accustomed to).

Place the brush in the jar ensuring that the dried bristles are completely submerged.

Step 2: Allow it to sit

Now the next thing we will do is allow the brush to sit in the jar for a few hours or overnight.

Depending on how bad the condition of the brush is, this should indicate how long the brush should soak.

Sometimes it could take a few minutes if you’re using paint thinner and if the brush isn’t that bad. It really depends but you can keep an eye out every so often to monitor the progress.

Step 3: Rinse with water until clean

Once the bristles have loosened up, remove the brush from the jar and gently wipe it with a clean cloth. Head over to the sink and rinse the brush under running water to remove any residue.

Step 4: Use a brush cleaning soap

You can take it one step further step by using a brush-cleaning soap. Wook the soap through the brush and try to remove the dried paint bits as best as you can.

Step 5: Rinse again and squeeze the brush 

Go ahead and give it another good rinse under the water to remove the soap and paint. If the brush still has residue, you might have to repeat a few of the above steps.

Step 6: Let the brush air dry

Pat the brush down with a paper towel or cloth to remove the excess water and allow it to air dry. 

Your paint brushes should be cleaned and ready for use. 

If you’re using solvents or any heavy mediums, do ensure that you take the necessary precautions. 

Essential Tips For Taking Care of Paint Brushes

Good quality brushes can be expensive and when they wear out or get ruined, this can feel disheartening. 

With time and use, it’s bound to happen but there are some things we can do that can help prolong the life of our favorite brushes so that they last longer and maintain their quality.

Below, I’ve included a few of my favorite tips you can use to take care of your paint brushes:

  • Always clean your brushes after each use – If you leave the brush to sit with paint that is still in the bristles, it will dry and this makes it harder to restore back to its original state. The bristles may even start to harden and get stiff. Although it seems bothersome to clean it immediately, over time, this will save you way more time.
  • Know your brush and painting medium – As explained earlier, some paints will not take to water. The right cleaning method will ensure your brushes are cleaned well.
  • Invest in a good quality brush cleaner Brush cleaners are formulated to help condition the bristles and clean the brush. This can also protect the bristles. 
  • Never soak brushes in water or solvents for longer than necessary. This can cause damage to brushes and loosen the glue in the ferrule which will ultimately break the brush.

This is simply a guideline you can keep in mind but don’t stress too much by trying to be perfect. You’ll get into a groove once you discover what works best for you.

Final Thoughts

I’m so glad I was able to share these tips and steps with you. 

I really hope you’re now well-equipped to know how to clean your paint brushes and how to really take care of them.

Having clean brushes will make every painting session a pleasurable experience.

So many times, resistance kicked in when my supplies were not easily available and ready for me. 

With clean paint brushes, you can save time, money, and effort.

Also, art supplies are not cheap and weirdly enough, there always seems to be a need for more!

And I’m sure you can relate to this.

If you need further tips or if you have a few suggestions to share, feel free to leave your thoughts below.

Next Up:

Can Anyone Learn To Paint? Here’s How I Did.

How To Get Better At Painting: A Complete Guide

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