How to Clean Paintbrushes

cleaning craft paintbrushes
Lauren Thomann
Project Overview
  • Total Time: 4 hrs
  • Skill Level: Beginner

A good paintbrush should last for dozens of painting projects. Learning how to clean paintbrushes properly after each use will prevent the bristles from becoming hard and unusable. There are several quick and easy methods to consider depending on the type of paint and brush you’re using.

One overlooked aspect of cleaning paintbrushes is the quality of the brush. Cheap paintbrushes will begin to fall apart after one or two cleanings. To get years out of your paintbrush, make sure you select quality ones. Spending the extra money upfront will save you a lot of waste and headaches. 

This step-by-step guide will teach you how to clean craft brushes when you're working with water-based paint. We will also explain how to adjust this process when you are painting with anything that is oil-based. 

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Bowl or jar


  • Paper towels or newspaper
  • Mild dish detergent
  • Water
  • Vinegar (optional)
  • Paint remover solvent
  • Wax paper
  • Twine


  1. Wipe Off Excess Paint

    The first thing you should do is remove as much paint as you can from the brush. Do this by gently wiping the brush on a clean paper towel. If you don’t want to waste paper products, wipe off the excess paint on a piece of cardboard or newspaper that you have in your recycling bin.

    first step to cleaning paintbrushes
    Lauren Thomann
  2. Stir the Brush in a Bowl of Soapy Water

    The next step is to clean the brush in a bowl of soapy water. Water will work well for any type of water-based paint like latex, chalky-finish paint, acrylics, watercolors, and gouache. Read the label on the paint can or packaging if you’re unsure.

    Fill a bowl with a mixture of warm water and dish detergent until it's soapy. Swish the brushes in the bowl until the paint is released from the brush. 


    Don't soak your brushes in the soapy solution for more than a couple of minutes. Extended saturation can cause the bristles to fall out.

    how to clean paint brushes
    Lauren Thomann


    Check out the methods below if you’re painting with stain, oil-based paints, or anything that isn’t water-based.

    Other Cleaning Options:

    There are products you can purchase that work specifically for hardened paints or oil-based products. Be sure to read all the instructions on the container when using any of these products. Many of them are flammable and require proper ventilation. 

    • Mineral spirits or paint thinner: Will work for cleaning oil-based paints and stains.
    • Denatured alcohol: Useful for cleaning shellac off brushes.
  3. Use Vinegar on Hardened Brushes

    For brushes that have already hardened with paint, soak the brush in a jar of vinegar for one to two hours. Make sure that the handle is not saturated in the liquid and only the bristles are covered. Saturating the handle in any solution can dislodge the bristles and ruin the paintbrush.

    If the paint is still hard, try to dip the brush in a pan of boiling vinegar and let it simmer. Allow the brush to cool and then continue on to the next steps.

    what to do when paint has hardened on paint brush
    Lauren Thomann
  4. Rub the Bristles With Soap

    In some cases, all you need to do is rinse the brush in soapy water. Other times, the bristles need some manual scrubbing. To loosen up stubborn paint, put some soap on a clean, damp rag. Rub the bristles with the rag until the paint has loosened. 

    If you are using paint thinner, mineral spirits, or denatured alcohol for your solvent, be sure to put on a pair of thick gloves for this step and complete the process in a well-ventilated area and away from any type of flame.

    cleaning craft paintbrushes
    Lauren Thomann
  5. Rinse Under Warm Water

    Once all the paint or solvent has been removed, rinse the bristles under a stream of warm water until the water runs clear. Remove any excess water by gently pressing the bristles on the side of the sink or bowl.

    rinsing paint brushes
    Lauren Thomann
  6. Allow the Brush to Air Dry

    It’s important the brushes are completely dry before you put them back into storage. Damp brushes can grow mold and their bristles can become misshapen.

    Before you dry the brushes, remove as much excess water as possible by squeezing the bristles. Next, gently smooth the bristles back into their original position. Lay each brush flat on its side on a solid surface until its dry.

    To dry large brushes properly, wrap the brush in a sheet of wax paper and then loosely tie the bristles together with a string to keep the brush's shape intact.

    how to dry paintbrushes
    Lauren Thomann