Oil paint brushes—they’re expensive, they’re high-quality, they’re your go-to for your household painting needs…and without the proper cleaning, they may just be damaged beyond use.
The last thing any homeowner wants is to prep for their latest project, lay down the dropcloths, get into their painting gear, and grab their favorite oil paint brush only to find it warped, clogged, or stained!
Luckily, with just a bit of know-how and some effort, you can avoid those messy hang-ups! This guide will walk you through both the quick-and-easy and more thorough methods of keeping your brushes in top form using the cleaner of your choice. Let’s explore how to clean oil paint brushes!
The Importance of Knowing How To Clean Oil Paint Brushes Properly
The struggle with unclean brushes is one many painters encounter when using oil-based paints. As a child, I often perused my mom’s painting supplies and came across brushes that fell victim to improper cleaning thanks to a busy schedule (and us kids stealing them for our own painting excursions).
Warped and caked with dried paint, these brushes were, sadly, early retirees from the painting process.
Maybe this resonates with you; you might have found the same in your brush stock. Whether you’re here for preventative steps or solutions to recurring warped-brush troubles, it’s good to understand why properly cleaning your oil brushes is so important!
This process is a matter of saving both time and money. A well-cleaned oil brush will serve you much better and for far longer than an unkempt one, and will ensure no imperfections appear in your painting projects due to issues with damaged bristles or lurking stains.
An Overview: How to Clean Oil Paint Brushes
As with most painting ventures, you want to clean your oil paint brushes immediately after use to ensure your brushes maintain their optimal shape and neutrality. Though time-consuming, this is a crucial part of the painter’s life!
When exploring how to properly clean your oil brushes, the key things to remember are: time and tools. You need the time to do this thoroughly, without rushing, and you need the right tools to ensure the job is done correctly so your brushes continue to serve you faithfully!
There are quick and there are thorough ways to clean your brushes. This guide will show you how to clean your oil paint brushes well—whether they are bristle, sable, or synthetic, whether you prefer solvents, natural oils and cleaners, or soaps.
Note: it’s not recommended you use detergent, paint strippers, or wire paint combs on your oil brushes. And whether you plan to paint again soon or you’re putting your brushes away for a bit.
We’re here to help ensure the longevity and continued use of your brushes in all these scenarios. Let’s get down to the process of how to clean your oil paint brushes!
Choosing your Cleaner
There are many natural and manufactured cleaning solutions that will help you clean your oil paint brushes. It’s really up to you which route you would like to take! Here we’ve covered some of the popular cleaners to help you choose which is best for your style.
Some common and very effective solvents for cleaning oil paint brushes include turpentine, paint thinner, and mineral spirits. It must be noted these each have toxic properties and should be used with proper protection in a well-ventilated workspace.
Make sure to wear a respirator when using any solvents.
You’ll find many common oils around your house are great for cleaning your paint brushes as well! Chances are you have some olive oil, safflower oil, or baby oil on hand, and possibly walnut oil as well—all of which make great paint-removers.
Looking for a happy medium between solvents and natural oils? Natural brush-cleaning products have got you covered! Choose from Eco-Solve, a natural product that works just like a paint thinner but without the astringent odor.
Murphy’s Oil Soap, a typical wood-cleaning, pine-oil based cleaner that removes paint oil as well; and white vinegar, which can remove wet paint and has been known to also remove hardened, dried paint that occasionally gets missed in the cleaning process!
Soap is a wonderful, effective tool for cleaning oil paint brushes—and really, any paint brushes!—thoroughly and effectively. There are a few brands to consider, such as Speedball Pink soap (specifically designed to clean, condition, and reshape brushes).
Masters Brush Cleaner, which is molded like a hard bar soap to help remove all the paint from your bristles; and SavvySoap, a gentle, eco-friendly soap that helps condition your brush.
Preparing to Clean
Before you begin the cleaning process, it’s important to protect your workspace and yourself. Many of the solvents and thinners used to clean oil paint brushes are toxic, so it’s imperative to protect your skin and eyes, ventilate your working area, and ensure the workspace is child-proofed.
You’ll want to wear gloves and goggles to protect your skin and eyes; you will also need newspaper, old towels, or dropcloths to protect your work surface.
How To Clean Oil Paint Brushes – For Frequent Use
Planning to set aside your brushes for just a few days? Luckily, there is a quick and efficient way to ensure your brushes are clean from one session but ready to be used for your next paint job in short order!
Note: This process will likely leave a bit of paint in the brush. This should not have a significant effect on the tone of color in your next painting session. However, if you intend to start your next session with pure color straight from the tube, it’s recommended you skip ahead to the more thorough cleaning process, to ensure no color bleeding occurs.
Step One: Wipe down your brushes to remove some of the excess paint. Not all paint needs to be removed at this time, just the overflow.
Step Two: Dip each brush’s tip into a slow-drying oil (Windsor, Newton Safflower, or artist-grade poppyseed are recommended, as they are slower-drying than linseed oil).
Step Three: Rest the brushes on a drying rack.
Step Four: Wipe down the brushes again when picking them up for the next session, and you’re good to go!
Remember, these four steps are recommended for the painter who plans to pick up their brushes again within a few days! If you find that, despite your best intentions, you aren’t able to get back to your painting task as soon as you thought, it’s recommended to proceed with a more thorough cleaning to avoid the oil drying on the brush and turning the bristles hard.
How To Clean Oil Paint Brushes – For Extended Storage
All finished up with your painting projects for a while? This part of the guide will help you perform an in-depth clean that will ensure those brushes are ready when you are for the next painting project!
Pour some of your paint thinner or oil of choice into a cup or jar and rinse your brushes. This will help rid them of as much residual paint as possible.
Once you’ve given them a few swirls, it’s time for a wipe-down (we recommend paper towels or napkins for this task). First, tap the brush on the side of the cup or jar; then wrap the brush in paper towels and pull it through two or three times to wipe off any excess cleaner and remaining paint.
Be sure to wipe firmly along the grain of the bristles, not against them—like petting a cat! Follow up with a warm water rinse, then repeat this process as necessary until you’ve removed most of the paint.
You may have your brush looking fairly spiffy-clean to the naked eye at this point, but it’s important to continue following through on the steps! Paint can often hide deep down in the bristle bed, where it has the potential to harden up and ruin your favorite brush!
To prevent this, you’ll want to rinse your brushes again in the oil or thinner and follow up this time by soaping each brush individually. You can use one of the paint-cleaning soaps or a standard bar soap. There should be some color-bleed happening as the lather gets in between the bristles.
(Note: To preserve the shape of the bristles, make sure you are tugging on them rather than pushing them into the bar of soap.)
Once you’ve worked up a decent lather, rinse the brushes in warm water and repeat this step until there is no more color coming out in the soap. If you find your stronger colors continue to bleed out in the lather, you can add an oil paint brush cleaner into this step.
Take your brush for a quick swirl through a solution of warm water and dish soap, then rinse one final time in clean, warm water and dry gently with a paper towel or rag.
Take your newly-cleaned brushes and mold the tips to their original shape; then rest them in an inverted position in your brush holder, ensuring the bristles are not folded against anything. Leave them to dry, and then they are ready for storing until your next paint project!
That wraps up how to clean oil paint brushes. Your brushes are a vital part of your success as a painter. If you take care of them, they’ll take care of you! With a little time and effort following the steps laid out above on how to clean oil paint brushes, you’ll be tackling project after project with your favorite brushes for many years to come!
What’s your go-to method for keeping your oil paint brushes clean and in great shape? Got any tips or tricks to add? Let us know in the comments!