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Clean Your Paint Brushes With Some Simple Tools

Updated on June 26, 2018

The Hardest Part: Cleaning the Brushes

Whether you're an artist, a crafter, or a house painter, cleaning brushes at the end of your job is probably one of the most tedious parts of a project. Different kinds of paint require different kinds of cleaning techniques and tools. Supplies and replacement materials require a good amount of money and cleaning your existing materials requires a big time investment. For someone who teaches an art class, an entire afternoon can be lost to cleaning brushes and materials. A professional painter, like a house painter, has large equipment to clean after every job that can take hours. Fortunately, there are tips, tricks and tools to help this process go a lot faster and save you some money along the way, no matter what kind of painting you do. You can even salvage old damaged brushes to save some money, if you have the proper cleaning tools and techniques.

How To Clean Oil Paint Brushes

Oil-based paint is usually used to create beautiful paintings and works of art. Bob Ross of CBS fame exclusively used oil based paint and they have been a favorite staple of artists for hundreds of years. The biggest problem with oil paints is the mess. Regular soap and water doesn't seem to cut the mustard when it comes to cleaning your oil brushes. Also, waiting for oil to dry takes weeks, as oil paints are notoriously slow to dry and harden. Oil is a tricky substance that stains and sticks to brushes and usually requires a chemical cleaner to remove.

There are many available cleaners on the market specifically used for oil-based paint, like Kleanstrip brush cleaner. A cleaner like this is especially useful if you need to clean multiple brushes. You can pour the cleaner into a metal or glass container and let the brushes sit in the pool for about 10 minutes. The chemicals dissolve the oil and condition the bristles at the same time, helping the brushes stay like new. Brush the side of the glass with the brush to get the excess oil paint off. Then rinse the brush with warm water and maybe a little dish soap. Work the brush with your fingers and make sure it is thoroughly clean. Then leave it to dry in a safe place where the bristles won't get bent. This same process can also be performed with vinegar, though it may take a little longer. Doing this every time you use your brushes will ensure they will last a long time, saving you a bunch of money and keeping your tools nice for your next painting.

How To Clean Acrylic and Latex Brushes

Acrylic and latex paint behave differently from oil paint. They dry a lot faster and create almost a hard shell around your tools and brushes within minutes of being left out. You can still use Kleanstrip brush cleaner or vinegar on your acrylic artistic brushes in the same way you clean oil brushes. Let them soak in the cleaning solution first, then rinse them in soap and warm water. Use your fingers to work out all the excess paint and leave them to dry. Acrylic brushes clean much easier and faster than oil. It is possible to clean an artistic acrylic brush with just soap and water, but it won't condition the bristles, and the brush will wear out a bit faster. So using a brush conditioner is still a good idea for acrylic brushes to preserve them for longer periods. The soaking method is also an easy solution for cleaning multiple acrylic brushes at one time. I teach an acrylic painting class and the result is a lot of dirty brushes that need to be cleaned in time for the next class. I use the soaking method in the cleaner to speed up this process and it has made teaching much easier. This method works for other kinds of brushes too, not just artistic.

If you are using large brushes or rollers for painting a house or a huge surface, this principle still applies. Leaving them out for too long will cause the brush or roller to be hard and crunchy. If you plan on taking a break and continuing to paint later, there are brush covers available that keep a brush fresh, even if it is unwashed. These are amazing, as they can keep a brush wet and fresh for up to 6 weeks. Once you are ready to paint again, just take off the cover. These are invaluable for keeping brushes from drying out. People often throw out dry, crusty brushes, and have to invest in new ones. Using a product like this will prevent that from happening. Another way to prevent that from happening is to clean your tools at the end of every job. If you are insistent on cleaning your brushes and rollers after every use, there are solutions for you too.

Cleaning solutions like Kleanstrip are excellent for cleaning house paint brushes and rollers. Leaving them to soak in a pool of solution for about 10 minutes loosens the acrylic or latex shell surrounding the bristles and fibers. Though these brushes are pretty big to work through with your fingers. There are some tools that will help you clean the paint off faster. Red Devil and Goldblatt make nifty metal tools that you can use to scrape the excess paint off a brush or roller with ease and speed. After soaking them in Kleanstrip or vinegar, you can use the tool to scrape off all the debris and give it a final rinse. Brushes and rollers stay fresh and clean much longer, and the tools are very easy to clean as well. You can even use the Red Devil tool in the middle of a painting job to quickly clean off a roller or brush so you can change colors without having to stop. This is a great time-saver for someone who paints houses professionally or is on a tight schedule. Saved time means saved money, and the Red Devil tool is excellent for both. But what if a brush has been left to dry? Is it too late to save a paint-encrusted brush after it's been left out? Fortunately, the tools I have already mentioned have the potential to salvage dried out brushes. The steps to cleaning a dry brush are not all that different from cleaning a fresh one. But it will take some more time and elbow grease.

How To Clean Dried Out Brushes

If you haven't had the good fortune to try out Brush Covers, or if your paint brush has been in a brush cover for well over 6 weeks, chances are your brushes will be dry and crusty. Most people would throw away a brush or roller that has reached this state. It looks like the point of no return for a brush or roller, but with the aforementioned tools, you can actually bring a dried out brush back to life. Using Kleanstrip, a similar cleaner, or vinegar, soak the dried brush for a good amount of time, about 20 minutes. A chemical cleaner will be more effective in this situation than vinegar, because it is much stronger. Dried paint can be very stubborn and may require a tougher cleaner. The cleaning solution will break down the hard paint chips and loosen them enough to be removed, usually with the help of tools. Goldblatt's tool has a toothed comb on one end that can be used to brush out dried paint chunks and restore the brush back to its clean state. Cleaning an old dried brush is a lot harder and slower than cleaning a freshly used brush or a brush that has been inside a Brush Cover. So it is a good idea to try and clean your tools immediately after a job is done. However, a dried out brush is not the end. Accidents happen to everyone, but you don't have to pay out the nose for a simple mistake of leaving a brush out. Investing a small amount into some cleaning tools will save you a big headache every time.


With just a few simple tools, some planning and some time, you can elongate the lives of your brushes for years. You can clean your tools effectively and simply in the middle of a job or seal them up for later without having to pause. This will save time and money for a professional painter. Artists can save money too by cleaning their tools with powerful solutions that also condition their brushes and keep them in good shape. A painted, crusty, dried out brush is not necessarily the end for that brush's life. A little product and elbow grease can bring your old brushes back to life, saving you the trouble of having to purchase new. No matter what kind of painter you are, you can benefit from the use of excellent cleaning tools.


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    • BellaNocheLucia profile imageAUTHOR


      2 years ago

      Glad I could help! Definitely when I'm tackling a really big project like painting the interior of my house and the project is going to span over several days, sometimes I'll buy a bunch of cheap throw away brushes and just blow through them. But the little bristles that fall out are kind of annoying. But yes for artist projects or for my classes, the apple cider vinegar has been my biggest life-saver. It even cleans old dry paint off those little plastic pallets.

    • dredcuan profile image

      Travel Chef 

      2 years ago from Manila

      Nice tip here! Here at home, when we simply throw brushes if we can no longer clean it up. As it becomes hard at its tip. Finally, now I know what to do. Thanks for sharing!


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