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.
Equipment / Tools
- Bowl or jar
- Paper towels or newspaper
- Mild dish detergent
- Vinegar (optional)
- Paint remover solvent
- Wax paper
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.