Why You're Cleaning Your Brushes Wrong and How To Do It Like a Pro

"It's with my brush that I make love." ― Pierre-Auguste Renoir.
 Spruce up your painting projects with this beautiful fine line brush!

As an artist, you know the importance of taking care of your paintbrushes. After all, they are one of your most valuable tools! Cleaning your art supplies properly can make a huge difference in how long they last, and it's essential if you want to produce perfect results with each piece. Unfortunately, many artists overlook paintbrush cleaning as an afterthought or do not bother with it at all – but ignoring this step can cost you both supplies and time!

In this post, we'll discuss why a proper brush-cleaning technique is crucial for painters of all levels and how to do it properly. From cleaning materials to methods and more, you'll learn everything about storing and cleaning brushes like a pro — ensuring that every painting session starts with pristine tools ready for another beautiful masterpiece!

The Most Common Mistakes You Make When Cleaning Brushes

Beautiful, round brushes perfect for all your watercoloring needs

Artists' Watercolor Brushes - Round

Cleaning paintbrushes is an integral part of the creative process and should not be taken lightly. Although it may seem like a relatively straightforward task, most artists, especially beginners, often make mistakes that can lead to unnecessary damage to the brushes they use. In fact, you might be doing some of these practices unknowingly too! Common paintbrush cleaning mistakes may include:

  • Over-wetting the bristles which can affect performance
  • Using soap that is too harsh on natural hair
  • Providing insufficient lubrication when cleaning them in oils
  • Neglecting to reshape the bristles before they dry
  • Leaving brushes to soak in water or solvents for an extended period
  • Not cleaning brushes immediately after use
  • Not washing all the paint on the brush (even the hard-to-reach corners)
  • Not storing dry brushes upright (the bristles are the ones touching the bottom)
  • Mixing oil and acrylic paint with brushes, not palette knives

Additionally, it's easy to overlook post-cleaning maintenance of the brush handles and ferrules, which are equally crucial for optimal performance. Remember these ways the next time you do your painting session, and see if you're doing any of them - they are all ways to ruin paint brushes eventually. If not, congrats, because you know how to treat your paintbrushes!   

How Do Professionals Clean Their Brushes Effectively?

With a few simple yet essential steps, you can keep your tools in excellent condition and maintain their peak level of creativity. Keeping your paintbrushes clean will ensure that they create smooth lines and keep their shape over time. Your cleaning method will depend on the medium you're working with - oil, watercolors, or acrylic paint. For each medium, there are general rules to follow when taking care of your paintbrushes.

How to Clean Water-Based Paint off From Brushes

 Make vibrant artworks with water-based brush markers!

Watercolor Brush Markers

  1. Thoroughly wash the brushes with warm water and soap immediately after use to soften dried-up paint in your bristles. 
  2. Rinse and repeat as needed until the paint is removed from the brush and its bristles feel soft again. 
  3. Lay the paintbrushes flat and leave them to dry before storing them upright. 
PRO TIP: Do not allow water to penetrate the base of the filaments or the ferrule.

How to Clean Oil-Based Paint off From Brushes

  1. Start by pouring a small amount of solvent into a container. Then, dip the paintbrush in paint solvent such as turpentine and thoroughly work the solvent into the brush until the paint starts to dissolve and lift off the bristles. 
  2. Then, rinse the brush with clean water to remove any remaining solvent and paint. 
  3. Finally, use a paper towel or clean cloth to remove any excess moisture from the brush and reshape the bristles if necessary.
IMPORTANT: Always use solvents in a well-ventilated area and avoid getting the solvent on your skin or in your eyes. When handling solvents, use gloves as much as possible.

How to Clean Acrylic-Based Paint off From Brushes

  1. Start by blotting off any excess paint on your brush with a cloth or paper towel. 
  2. Next, wash each paintbrush using warm water, removing as much paint as possible. Repeat steps one and two as needed.
  3. After blotting and rinsing with water, shake off excess water from your brush to reduce moisture. 
  4. Then, prepare two tubs - one with clean water and one filled with an amount of brush cleaner or artist soap. 
  5. Lather your paintbrush in the tub with artist brush cleaners or soaps, then blot off excess soap residue once you build a white foamy lather.
  6. Then, rinse the paintbrush in the tub with clean water. You can rinse them again and again until you've washed them thoroughly.
  7. Reshape your brush tips, ensuring that the bristles are carefully worked back into shape before leaving them flat on a surface to dry. 

By following these simple steps, your paintbrushes can stay in tip-top shape, just like a professional's! 

Fine-tipped watercolor brushes perfect for intricate details!

 Watercolor Brushes for All Your Painting Needs

What Are the Materials You Need to Clean Brushes Properly?

The typical paintbrush should be cleaned after use, with warm water and a trusted cleaner. It's important to select a cleaner specifically designed for paintbrushes, since most dish soaps are too strong and will damage the bristles. When it comes to cleaning your paintbrushes, you can clean them with most household supplies, such as absorbent paper towels or rags, warm water, soap, and tubs.

However, if you’re willing to invest in properly cleaning paintbrushes, you will need to gather some supplies: fresh paint thinner or mineral spirits (for oil-based paints), a wire paint brush comb (to clean stuck paint on bristles), brush cleaners, and artist soaps. Some artists have their own method of cleaning, such as Bob Ross, who used a cleaning bucket and screen for his brushes. The key is to know the chemical compositions of the materials you're working with and the best cleaning systems you can employ for your brushes. Whoever said that art doesn't involve science - they are clearly mistaken! 

More Tips and Tricks for Cleaning and Storing Your Brushes

 Get started in watercoloring with this highly-pigmented watercolor pan set!

Watercolor Essential 12 Pan Set

Cleaning paint brushes regularly and properly not only extends their lifespan – but also improves the results of your painting projects by giving you more vibrant colors. Plus, you'll save money on new brushes too! Here are a few more tips to give your paintbrushes some extra TLC (tender loving care): 

  • Shake off any excess moisture before hanging or laying flat to dry overnight; this will help preserve their shape and condition over time. 
  • You can use regular soaps or even selected dishwashing soaps, such as Dawn dish soap, but brush cleaners and artist soaps are specially formulated to keep your brushes clean and moisturized. 
  • Always work in a well-ventilated area when working with paint thinners or any solvent.
  • You can also use palette knives to help you remove any stubborn dried paint from your brushes. 
  • Brushes should be stored away from direct sunlight and kept in a plastic container to prevent dust from accumulating. Don't store them in areas where moisture could build up.

Leave a comment

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.