How to Clean Paint Brushes

Acrylic Paint, Watercolors, Oil Paint and Tempera

How to Clean Paint Brushes

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Painting is fun, cleaning the brushes is not. But if you make it a habit to clean and maintain all your brushes after painting, you will save yourself a lot of trouble.

How to Handle Brushes When Painting

If you work with water anyway, you can just put the brush into the water container while you are not using it - right? In the long run that’s not a good idea, because many brushes have a wooden handle that gets soaked with water, expands, stretches the cuff, which then cannot hold the bristles anymore. Bristles that do not fall out will lose their shape after being in the water for too long and stick out in all directions.

But what to do with the brush soaked in paint, when you need it again in a few minutes? The best thing is to swing it briefly through the water, dab off the remaining paint on a paper towel, and leave it somewhere where it doesn’t smear everything with paint. I like to put mine across the edge of the water container or on some cloth or paper towel.

If you paint with oil-based paint, you should stick the bristles of the brush in aluminum foil during breaks. That way the paint does not dry out and the brush is fully ready for use.

In general, you should avoid putting the brush too deep into the paint when painting. On the one hand, it is much better to paint with the tip of the brush than with the cuff, but on the other hand, it is also very difficult to get the paint out of the bristles in the cuff because they lie so close together.

Cleaning Your Paint Brushes

The cleaning depends primarily on which paint you work with. In general, the brushes should always get cleaned after painting. Watercolors may forgive you for not being washed off right away, but dried acrylic paint is a death sentence for every paintbrush.

You can soak it in vinegar overnight and then rinse it with water, but I guarantee that your brush will never be the same again.

Cleaning Paint Brushed

After cleaning the brushes have to air dry. For this purpose, they can be placed on a piece of cloth or paper towel to dry or placed in a container with the brush tip pointing upwards. If necessary, you can also gently press the bristles back in shape with your fingers.

What you should absolutely avoid when drying is putting the brush in a container with the bristles pointing down. The bristles take on strange shapes and can break off. If the brush cannot dry properly and remains moist, it is very likely that it will soon be populated by mold.

Cleaning Brushes with Different Paints

  • Watercolors & Guache
    • Water-soluble colors
    • Easy cleaning of the paintbrush with water
  • Tempera
    • Describes different types of colors: Some are water-soluble, some are not
    • Cleaning of the paintbrush with curd soap for oil-based tempera colors
    • Cleaning of the paintbrush with water for non-oil-based tempera colors
  • Oil Paint
    • Pre-cleaning the paintbrush with turpentine, which gently removes coarse paint residues
    • Thorough cleaning of the brush with curd soap
  • Acrylic Paint
    • Water-soluble before the paint dries
    • Easy cleaning of the paintbrush with soapy water (add some drops of dish soap)
    • If the acrylic paint has dried up, soak the brush in vinegar overnight, hope for the best, and rinse with water the next day
    • If you are using a synthetic brush, you can try cleaning it with acetone or alcohol

How to Store Paint Brushes

Storing your brush correctly is at least as important as proper cleaning. There are several ways to store your brushes safely, but in general, you should always make sure that no pressure is exerted on the bristles when storing them.

Store Brushes in a Drawer

It’s important to store your paint brushes in a way that won’t damage them. One way to do this is to store them in a drawer. This way, the bristles won’t get crushed and they will keep their shape. If the drawer is too big, you can additionally put them in a rectangle-shaped container. The edges of the container should not touch the bristles.

A big plus to storing them in the drawer is that your brushes won’t get dusty.

Store Brushes Upright in a Container

A popular way to store brushes is to store them upright in a container. This container can be a jar, for example, and can stand freely in the room. By storing them upright, you prevent pressure from being applied to the bristles, which could damage them. It also allows the brushes to dry properly after cleaning.

This type of storage can also have a decorative aspect and give your room an artistic touch. The downside, however, is that the brushes get dusty over time. So before you use them for painting again, clean the dust off them before dipping them directly into the paint.

Store Brushes in Their Original Packaging

You can also store the brushes in their original packaging if you still have them. These also protect well from dust, but if you have airtight packages, be sure to check that the brushes are completely dry. Otherwise, mold can form.

Store Brushes in a Case

A brush case is a convenient way to store your paint brushes and protect them. There are many different types of cases, made of different materials. Some cases have pockets for each brush, while others have slots or loops to tuck them into.

Store Brushes in a Paintbox

You can also buy a special paintbox, usually designed for watercolor brushes. Such a case usually has several compartments for brushes as well as compartments for paint tubes and other materials.

How Do You Clean and Store Your Brushes?

Regular cleaning and proper storage of your brushes are the best way to keep them in good condition for as long as possible. This not only saves money in the long run but also protects the environment.

Do you clean your painting brushes regularly? Have you tried any of the methods for storing them? Let me know in the comments below.


Photo by Pierre Bamin on Unsplash


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