Oil paint brushes are expensive and arguably your most important tool as a painter. This post will teach you how to clean oil paint brushes.
High-quality brushes should last for a very long time if you look after them. But you need to be rigorous with your cleaning procedures as it only takes one slip-up for your paint brushes to be permanently damaged.
First, I will run through an easy way to care for your brushes if you plan on having regular painting sessions.
- How To Clean Oil Paint Brushes – The Easy Way
- How to Clean Oil Paint Brushes – The Thorough Way
- How to Clean Oil Paint Brushes Without Paint Thinner
- Want to Learn More?
- Thanks for Reading!
Hopefully, I can help you avoid letting your paint brushes get to a state like this:
(Bonus:Click here to download a PDF copy of my Color Theory Cheat Sheet.)
How To Clean Oil Paint Brushes – The Easy Way
Having to thoroughly clean your brushes after every session can be a real hassle, especially if you paint often.
If you plan on painting again within the next few days, then you can do the following to care for your brushes:
- Give your brushes a general wipe-down to remove much of the excess paint (you do not need to remove all the excess paint for this process)
- Dip the tip of your brushes in a slow-drying oil such as Winsor & Newton Safflower Oilor an artist-grade poppyseed oil. These are slower-drying than the more popular linseed oil.
- Rest the brushes on a drying rack
When it comes time to use the paint brushes again in your next session, simply give them a wipe down and they are good to go.
Do not worry much about any leftover paint from the previous session. It should not be enough to significantly change the tone of your colors (unless you are trying to paint something with a pure color straight from the tube, in which case you will probably need a thoroughly cleaned brush).
This cleaning process is only suitable if you plan on using your brushes again in the next few days after your painting session. If you do not end up painting as expected within a few days, then you will need to take the more thorough cleaning approach, as the oil on your brushes will eventually dry and harden the bristles.
How to Clean Oil Paint Brushes – The Thorough Way
If you are not going to be using your brushes again for a while, you will need to thoroughly clean them after your session.
What You Will Need
- Paper towels / newspaper
- Paint thinner (recommended – Gamblin Odorless Solvent)
- Soap (recommended – Chelsea Classical Studio Professional Artist Hand Soap)
- Some old cups or mugs (or this US Art Supply Brush Holder & Cleaner)
- Oil paint brush cleaner (recommended –Chroma Brush Cleaner, or The Masters Brush Cleaner)
- Gloves (optional)
What To Avoid:
- Paint strippers
- Wire paint combs
Step 1: Rid your paint brushes of as much excess oil paint as possible
The first step is to rid as much excess oil paint from your brushes as possible. First, put some Gamblin Odorless Solvent(or whatever paint thinner you use) in a cup or jar and rinse your brushes briefly through it. Then gently wipe them down using paper towels or newspaper (I prefer paper towels, as they seem to be gentler on the brushes).
After wiping down your brushes, give them a rinse in warm water then repeat the process until the bulk of the paint has been removed.
You do not need to remove all the paint at this stage, just the bulk of it.
Step 2: Break down the remaining oil paint
Unfortunately, many people will stop after the first step thinking they got all the paint. However, after the first step, there will still be a lot of paint in your brushes, even though it may not be clearly evident.
The paint will be sitting deep in the bristles and if this dries, then the bristles will harden and become almost unusable.
First, take your brushes and rinse them again in your paint thinner. Then take the brushes and individually work them on your bar of soap (recommended – Chelsea Classical Studio Professional Artist Hand Soap). This will create a lather that will get deep into the bristles. You should see color bleed into the soap.
Make sure when you are working the brushes on the soap that you are not pushing the bristles into the soap, as this will damage them. Instead, you want to work in a pulling motion.
Then rinse the brushes thoroughly in warm water and repeat this process until there is no more color bleeding into the soap.
If you have used strong colors (like burnt umber or phthalo blue) then you may need to incorporate an oil paint brush cleaner into the rotation, likeChroma Brush Cleaner, orThe Masters Brush Cleaner. These specialized oil paint cleaning products are amazing at breaking down the oil paint.
Step 3: Resting the brushes
Now that your brushes are clean, you should mold the tip into a neat edge and rest the brushes inverted in a brush holder. Never rest your brushes with the bristles folded against anything, as this will cause permanent damage.
I will also mention that some of the cleaning products used are very toxic, so you may want to consider using gloves. Be sure to keep all oil painting products out of reach of children.
How to Clean Oil Paint Brushes Without Paint Thinner
If you are sensitive to paint thinner, then it is possible to clean your oil paint brushes without it.
I would basically just replace the paint thinner with linseed oil. Dip your paint brushes in the linseed oil and proceed through the steps we discussed earlier.
I would also make sure you have an oil paint brush cleaner like The Masters Brush Cleaner to help remove the stubborn oil paint.
It will take longer to clean your brushes but it is certainly possible without paint thinner. The process is basically the same, but you will just need to rinse and repeat a few more times than if you were using paint thinner.
How to Clean Oil Paint Brushes – Other Methods & Recommended Practices
- Pull don’t push your brushes into the canvas. By pushing your paintbrush into the canvas, you are bending and damaging the bristles. Of course, there a times when you need to push the paintbrush to get a certain effect, however, try to avoid it when you can. Instead, try to use a pulling motion with your strokes.
- Never let your brushes sit unattended for more than a day. The paint will dry and the bristles will harden.
- If you want to paint in a rough or textured style, then use your older brushes which have already been worn down. There is no point using your newer brushes for this kind of work. Leave your highest quality brushes for the finer details in your painting.
- Sometimes it is OK to damage your paintbrush if it means creating a better painting. There is no point in having perfect quality brushes if it is at the sacrifice of your own paintings.
If you follow these processes on how to clean oil paint brushes, then your brushes will have a long and prosperous lifespan.
But remember, it only takes one slip-up and your brushes will be permanently damaged. If you forget to clean your brushes and the paint hardens, you can recover them to an extent, but they will always be somewhat damaged.
However even damaged brushes have a place on your supply list, as they can be used for more aggressive painting techniques (applying stains or thick impasto work).
I also note there are some affiliate links to Amazon in this post. This means if you purchase anything through Amazon I will receive a small commission at no additional cost to you. These funds are used to maintain and grow this website.
I hope you found this post useful. If you have any tips for how to clean oil paint brushes then please share them in the comments.
You may also be interested in:
Oil Painting – The Ultimate Guide For Beginners
Oil Painting Tips For Beginners
Oil Painting Supplies List
Acrylic Vs Oil Painting
Want to Learn More?
You might be interested in myPainting Academycourse. I’ll walk you through the time-tested fundamentals of painting. It’s perfect for absolute beginner to intermediate painters.
Thanks for Reading!
I appreciate you taking the time to read this post and I hope you found it helpful. Feel free to share it with friends.
Draw Paint Academy
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You might be surprised, but Dawn dish soap is actually the BEST for removing oil paint from your brushes. Pour a quarter size amount of soap in your palm, take your dirty brush and scrub into the soap in circular motions. Press and scrub really hard. Rinse your brush, and repeat until the soap suds are clear.How do you store oil paint brushes between sessions? ›
Simply wrap the head of your paintbrushes and roller in cling film or secure in an airtight plastic bag. Seal around the handle with masking tape and store in a dry place for up to two days.What action should be taken when paint brush is oily? ›
To begin, take your bar of soap and run it under the faucet to get it wet. Then drag your brush back and forth, flat side down, across the soap, working the oil out of the brush. Be careful not to push the brush directly down because it will bend the bristles. Simply drag it along, flat, in each direction.How do you clean up after painting with oil-based paint? ›
The easiest way to remove a thin layer of dust, grime or residue is with a soft cloth and soapy water. Due to its low pH level and mild properties, olive oil-based soap is often considered the most effective soap to use. Make sure you don't use anything that contains alcohol as this could remove some of the paint.What do you do with brushes after oil painting? ›
Once all paint is removed, clean and rinse your brushes with dish soap and water. Lather a bit of liquid soap directly into the brush hairs at the ferrule to get every bit of paint out. Finally, rinse your brushes thoroughly and set them out to dry.How do you keep oil-based paint brushes from drying out? ›
Wrap your paintbrush or roller in aluminium foil to prevent drying out overnight or cover it in plastic wrap for a shorter period of time. Whether you're a DIY or professional painter, it's smart to maximize the use of your roller or brush.Does oil paint leave brush strokes? ›
Oil-based paint is a popular choice when painting wood surfaces. When using oil-based paint, it is challenging to achieve a smooth surface with no brush marks. However, as long as you practice patience and attention to detail a flawless finish can be achieved.Should I wash my paint brush after every use? ›
The best thing you can do for your brush, no matter which medium you like to use, is to clean it frequently. Never let the paint dry in the bristles. Clean the brushes between every new colour and after every use.What is the best way to clean a brush? ›
Soak the brush
In a bowl or sink, add some soap to warm water, and swish until you have a sudsy solution. For synthetic brushes, any soap will work. Plastic and rubber are tough materials, so dish soap, shampoo, and body wash are all fine to use.
How Long Can You Leave Oil Paint on Brushes? Oil paint can be left on your brush for about an hour. If you intend to use your brush within a day or two after your first use, you can coat the bristles in oil (without cleaning your brush completely), and you will still be able to use it.
Paints. Oil-based paints are considered hazardous waste. DO NOT DUMP oil-based paint down the drain or place in regular trash. Oil-based paints may be combined with solvents and linseed oil for disposal.How do you clean oil paint brushes without paint thinner? ›
To finish cleaning your brushes, you'll need to remove all traces of vegetable oil as it is a non-drying oil (unlike linseed and walnut oil). Take your bar of soap and, with lukewarm water, lather up your brush. Use your fingers to gently work the soap into the brush, and then rinse thoroughly.Does oil-based paint wash off with water? ›
Oil-based paint will not wash off with water: it requires the use of a solvent. This solvent should never, under any circumstances, be washed down a drain (inside or out) or poured outside. Always wear gloves when working with a paint thinner or solvent.
The simplest way to clean up an oil or acrylic painting on canvas is to use a white cotton cloth soaked in a gentle soapy water; olive oil–based soap works wonders. You'll be surprised to see how much grime comes off.Can I leave oil paint brushes overnight? ›
Do not leave brushes soaking overnight with the brush resting on its end. This will bend the brush hairs or bristles, permanently altering the shape of the brush. It also causes the wooden handle to swell, crack and possibly loosen the ferrule. Store brushes upright in a ventilated room.Can you use rubbing alcohol to clean oil paint brushes? ›
Take a small container and add rubbing alcohol or hand sanitizer to it. Place brushes in the liquid and allow to sit for an hour or so, rinse and lay the brushes flat to dry. You can leave the brushes in longer if they have dried paint on them.Does spit clean oil paintings? ›
Yes, you read that right. Historically, human saliva, which can be considered a mild enzymatic solution, is a commonly used cleaning agent at art museums.What do artists use to clean their brushes? ›
Dishwashing liquid is preferred by some artists, while others prefer a specialized soap. When choosing a soap for cleaning brushes, manufacturers of art materials are your best bet, since they produce specialized soaps that won't harm the bristles of the brush.Can you rinse paint brushes in sink? ›
Many people wash their paintbrushes in the sink with running water or clean them outside with a hose. These practices not only increase your water bill but can damage your septic system and pollute the groundwater supply.What is the best product to clean paint brushes? ›
- Winsor & Newton Brush Cleaner & Restorer. ...
- General Pencil Masters Brush Cleaner and Preserver. ...
- Speedball Pink Soap Brush Cleaner and Conditioner. ...
- Bristle Magic Paint Brush Cleaner. ...
- Weber Odorless Turpenoid.
Don't rest your paintbrush with bristles down in a cup of water. This is another important point - never leave your brush with the hairs down in a cup of water - not even for a few minutes. This will cause the hairs to bend and/or fray and go all wonky, and the effect is irreversible.What is the best paint brush to avoid brush marks? ›
Use brushes with nylon-polyester bristles. A brush about 2.5 inches wide is a good choice for cabinets. Some painters like the angled bristles of so-called sash brushes.How long should you stir oil-based paint? ›
Stir Until the Paint is Smooth
If you're stirring by hand, you may need to stir for five to ten minutes. If you have an electric mixer, then this will be much faster. You'll be able to tell once the paint is fully mixed.
If you're looking for a quick and easy application process, you can opt to use a roller to get the job done. However, if you want to achieve a high-quality final product, you'll want to use a brush instead. It will take more time to finish, but you'll be able to guarantee complete and smooth coverage of your trim.Can I use Dawn to clean my paint brushes? ›
WASH, RINSE, REPEAT
I prefer to avoid the toxicity of turpentine or mineral spirits when cleaning my brushes, and instead I use Dawn dish detergent or Master's Brush Cleaner and Preserver. The Dawn liquid quickly and easily removes oil paint from my brushes.
TIP: HOW TO CLEAN PAINT BRUSHES
For wet paint, you'll need nothing more than warm water and Dawn Dish Soap to get the brushes clean. This works for craft paint, latex, oil-based paint, and even stain. Not only is Dawn gentle on the bristles, it's also gentle on your hands, unlike many harsh paint solvents.
Fill a small cup or jar with regular (non-foaming) dish soap so it is slightly deeper than the head of your brush. Mix your brush in the soap, coating as many bristles as possible. Remove brush and wipe on a paper towel or newspaper.How many times can you use the same paint brush? ›
A good, well-maintained paint brush can be used several times, over a period of several years. For example, all the paint work I have done in the last seven years was done with the same paint brush! However, it is less advisable to reuse a paint roller.What happens if you don't wash your brushes? ›
"If you don't wash your makeup brushes enough, you spread dirt and bacteria from your face, to your makeup, then back to your face," explains Laramie, pro makeup artist and founder of Book Your Look. "If you've been breaking out and you've tried or ruled out everything else, your makeup brushes could be at fault."Should you wet your paint brush first? ›
Before use, flick the bristles back and forth to remove dust. Then moisten the brush in water if you are about to use water-based paint, or mineral turpentine if you are about to use an oil-based paint. Make sure you remove excess liquid before painting.
All you'll need to clean your brushes is some warm water or mild dish soap. Clean the brush with the appropriate solvent for the type of paint you've been using. If you used oil-based paint, you'll be cleaning your brushes with mineral spirits or turpentine.How do I deep clean my cleaning brushes? ›
At least once a week, mix a solution of one-gallon hot water and one-half cup chlorine bleach and allow the sponges and brushes to soak for five to 10 minutes. Note: Do not soak brushes that have wooden bases or handles. Dip them in the solution quickly and then allow them to air dry.How soon can you oil out a painting? ›
The age-old advice to wait at least six months before varnishing oil paintings is a good practice but one that many artists resist.Can you use baby oil to clean oil paint brushes? ›
Baby oil and linseed oil works well in cleaning your oil paint brushes. Aside from cleaning, it also conditions the brush bristles. Wipe off the excess oil paint from the brush with a paper towel or rag.Should I put my paint brush in the fridge or freezer? ›
If you're using latex paint, brushes and rollers can be frozen overnight, saving you the arduous task of cleaning them until you're done with the project. Simply put the brush or roller into a plastic bag and stick it in the freezer.Does Dish Soap remove oil paint? ›
You might be surprised, but Dawn dish soap is actually the BEST for removing oil paint from your brushes. Pour a quarter size amount of soap in your palm, take your dirty brush and scrub into the soap in circular motions. Press and scrub really hard. Rinse your brush, and repeat until the soap suds are clear.Can you throw away paper towels with oil paint on them? ›
Many oil painters don't use enough paint rags or paper towels in a studio session to be concerned about them building up. Simply hang up one or two used paint rags when done painting for the day allowing them to dry out. Once dry, paint rags can be reused or safely disposed of in household garbage.Can you wash oil painting rags? ›
Don't Wash! While paintbrushes and rollers used for oil-based painting can be safely cleaned using paint thinners, it's not so easy to clean old oily rags. In the spirit of reducing waste, some people try to wash their old shop rags in their home washing machine. This is not recommended.Can I clean my oil paint brushes with olive oil? ›
For cleaning, you can actually use vegetable oil from the supermarket, which will help keep costs down. Here's a great cleaning routine for your brushes: Blot the excess paint from your brushes on to a rag or some old newspaper. Dip them into a little oil and work the oil into the bristles with your fingers.What paint thinner to use on oil paint brushes? ›
Turpentine is the traditional oil solvent choice. Turpenoid is turpentine's odor-free substitute. This 1-quart bottle of turpenoid is an ideal solvent for both thinning oils and varnishes and for cleaning brushes efficiently.
A simple, safe, non-toxic way to clean oil paint out of your brush without using any harsh solvents. Stage 1: Mineral Oil or Baby Oil Stage 2: Mineral Oil and Liquid Detergent Stage 3: Liquid Detergent and Water Nore more mineral spirits or turpentine; just soap and baby oil.What to use to clean brush after painting? ›
All you'll need to clean your brushes is some warm water or mild dish soap. Clean the brush with the appropriate solvent for the type of paint you've been using. If you used oil-based paint, you'll be cleaning your brushes with mineral spirits or turpentine.How do you get oil paint off brushes without paint thinner? ›
A simple, safe, non-toxic way to clean oil paint out of your brush without using any harsh solvents. Stage 1: Mineral Oil or Baby Oil Stage 2: Mineral Oil and Liquid Detergent Stage 3: Liquid Detergent and Water Nore more mineral spirits or turpentine; just soap and baby oil.Does rubbing alcohol clean oil paint brushes? ›
Rubbing alcohol is a powerful solvent that can easily clean away a layer of oil paint.What should brushes be cleaned in after using a finishing material? ›
The step for cleaning a brush is the same for all types of finish. Wash the brush in soap and water until the soap sudses to its maximum, and wrap the brush in paper to keep it clean and cause the bristles to dry straight.Can I leave oil paint on my brushes overnight? ›
Do not leave brushes soaking overnight with the brush resting on its end. This will bend the brush hairs or bristles, permanently altering the shape of the brush. It also causes the wooden handle to swell, crack and possibly loosen the ferrule. Store brushes upright in a ventilated room.Can I use baby oil to clean oil paint brushes? ›
Baby oil and linseed oil works well in cleaning your oil paint brushes. Aside from cleaning, it also conditions the brush bristles. Wipe off the excess oil paint from the brush with a paper towel or rag.Should I clean my brush between coats? ›
In between paint coats or short breaks, avoid washing your roller/brush, instead, wrap it with cling wrap to keep it fresh.How do you prevent oil-based paint from brush marks? ›
Additives like water or linseed oil can help smooth out your paint and prevent brush marks. If you don't have additives on hand, try using a roller instead! It's faster, easier, and less messy than using a brush. Rollers are great for getting large sections of paint on walls without having to worry about brush marks!How long does it take for paint to dry before a second coat? ›
Adding a Second Coat
After your first coat of paint is dry, it's safe to recoat typically after four to six hours. A good rule of thumb is to wait at least three hours to recoat your paint or primer if it's water-based. Waiting 24 hours is best for oil-based paint and primer.
Most people use oils or solvents to clean their oil paintbrushes. Vinegar is best used for the softening of dried paint on brushes. To do this, soak your brush in vinegar for about an hour, then leave your brush in a saucepan of simmering vinegar for a few extra minutes. Rinse before use.What solvents are used to clean oil paintings? ›
Martin & F.
Turpentine is the traditional oil solvent choice. Turpenoid is turpentine's odor-free substitute. This 1-quart bottle of turpenoid is an ideal solvent for both thinning oils and varnishes and for cleaning brushes efficiently.