How to Properly Clean Your Oil Brushes [Bristle, Sable, and Synthetic] (2023)

Oil painting is an incredibly satisfying form of expression.

Yet most oil artists agree that there’s one part of the process they could live without:

Cleaning dirty brushes.

The cleanup process after oil painting is something that you have to do right away. And though it is definitely not the most pleasant aspect of painting, it’s essential to take the time to do it properly.

There are, as you may have guessed, right and wrong ways to clean brushes. And you can’t rush the process. So if you want your brushes to last, you’ll need to make sure you’re doing it right.

From solvents to soaps, there are all sorts of things you can use to clean oil brushes. And different types of brushes can benefit from unique cleaning products and techniques.

Whether you use bristle, sable, or synthetic brushes, here’s how to properly clean your oil brushes and extend their lifespan.

Products You Can Use to Clean Oil Brushes

There are a variety of products that you can use to clean your oil brushes, including the oil itself.

Solvents, soaps, natural mineral oils, and natural cleaners are all options, and there is a wide variety of each that you can choose from as your key brush cleaning agent.


​Solvents, such as turpentine, paint thinner, and mineral spirits, are the most common brush cleaners for oil painters.

All three options are incredibly effective, but they do have toxic properties. When using solvents to clean brushes, be sure to do so in a well-ventilated area.

(Video) How to clean synthetic paintbrushes and fix hooked tips

Natural Oils

Olive oil. Walnut oil. Linseed oil. Safflower oil. Baby oil …

You probably already use some of these natural oils as painting mediums. And you can use all of them to remove paint from brushes.

and are great examples of mediums that do double duty as brush cleaners.

Natural Cleaners

Want to clean your brushes in a natural, eco-friendly manner?

Three products are great at getting oil paint off brushes that don’t include any nasty ingredients.

Eco-Solve is a natural product that works just like a paint thinner. The best part? It’s soy-based, so it doesn’t have that nasty, paint thinner smell.

Murphy’s Oil Soap isn’t just for cleaning wood furniture and floors - it can remove oil paint. Because it contains pine oil, it works much like the other natural oils listed above.

White vinegar can clean all sorts of household items, including paintbrushes. While you should never let paint dry and cake onto a brush, white vinegar is surprisingly effective at removing hardened, dried paint.


Having some soap on hand is a crucial tool in effectively cleaning paintbrushes.

If you remove most of the paint from your brushes, soaking your brushes in water with dish soap will help remove the remainder of the paint.

Speedball Pink soap is made specifically for cleaning paintbrushes. Not only will it clean your brushes thoroughly, but it can even help to condition and reshape them.

(Video) Tips for cleaning oil paint brushes

The Masters Brush Cleaner makes cleaning oil brushes easy (and almost fun). This cleaner feels like a hard bar of soap that lathers up to remove all remnants of paint from your bristles effectively.

Depending on how you decide to clean your brushes, you’ll want to have a newspaper, paper towels, and a few empty brush cups or jars on hand.

If you prefer to clean with solvents, we recommend wearing plastic gloves to protect your skin in case of accidental spills or splashes.

How to Clean Oil Paint Brushes

How to Properly Clean Your Oil Brushes [Bristle, Sable, and Synthetic] (1)

Okay, so now that you know what to use to clean your oil brushes, let’s talk about how to clean them.

How to Clean Brushes With Solvents:

  1. The first step in cleaning brushes with solvents is to dip your wet brush into your paint thinner or mineral spirits and swish it around.
  2. Tap your brush on the side of the jar or bottle so that you don’t drip paint thinner everywhere.
  3. Then, wrap your brush in paper towels and pull it through to wipe off any excess solvent and remaining paint. You may have to do this two or three times to get all of the leftover paint off your brush.
  4. When all the paint is gone, dip your brush into a bit of warm water with dish soap to restore and condition the brush hairs’ tip.

Remember: Never leave your brushes in solvent or water for too long. Always remove them promptly so they can dry immediately after washing.

How to Clean Brushes With Natural Cleaners:

When using a natural cleaner, such as Eco-Solve or Murphy’s Oil Soap, you’ll want to take a bit of extra time and care washing the product out of your brushes.

  1. To clean your oil brushes with a natural cleaner, dip your wet brush into your natural cleanser of choice and gently splash it around.
  2. Tap your brush on the side of the jar or bottle to remove excess moisture.
  3. Then, wipe off any excess cleaner and remaining paint with a paper towel. Do this a few times to get all of the leftover paint off your brush.
  4. When all the paint is gone, dip your brush into a bit of warm water with dish soap to restore and condition the brush hairs’ tip.

The steps are the same as washing with a solvent, but natural cleaners can leave residue behind. To get rid of that remaining residue, wash your brushes in a bit of dish soap and water as the final step.

How to Clean Brushes With Natural Oils:

  1. The first step is to get all of the excess paint off your brush. Use paper towels or a rag to soak up as much of the paint on your brush as you possibly can.
  2. Then, dip your brush into a jar or container with a small amount of your chosen oil. You don’t need to submerge the entire handle — you only need to cover the bristles up to the ferrule.
  3. In between oil dips, go back to your rag or paper towels and wipe the brush back and forth repeatedly to get all of the remaining pigment particles out.
  4. After a few rounds of oil dips and towel wipes, the result will be clean, paint-free brushes.
  5. 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.
  6. Finally, rinse your brushes thoroughly and set them out to dry.

Just be careful how you dip your brush into the oil container. You don’t want to push straight down; you want to keep the brush hairs as flat and smooth as possible at all times.

One of the benefits of using a medium like linseed oil or safflower oil to clean your brushes is that you already have it readily available while you paint. And that’s key because sometimes you’ll need to clean brushes during your painting session.

Tips for Cleaning Bristle Brushes

Bristle brushes, such as those made from hog or boar hair, tend to retain a slight residue, mainly when used with oil paints. This is normal, so keep your oil bristle brushes separate from any bristle brushes you use with other media.

(Video) DON'T RUIN YOUR OIL PAINT BRUSHES! Proper Care & Cleaning + My Favorite Brushes

After cleaning a bristle brush, it’s best to restore the tip of the brush. You can do so simply by dipping the bristles into hot water, blotting them dry on a towel, and using your fingers to reshape the brush head.

Tips for Cleaning Sable Brushes

After you’ve cleaned your sable brushes, take special care about where and how you store them. You should never store sable brushes in direct sunlight. Whenever possible, keep them in an airtight box.

Because sable brushes have natural bristles, it’s vital to restore the natural oils in the brush hairs from time to time. A few times per year, roll your brush in a small amount of brush conditioner and rinse it thoroughly to help restore those lost oils.

Tips for Cleaning Synthetic Brushes

Most synthetic brushes have nylon and/or polyester bristles. Because they are often less pricy than bristle and sable brushes, many artists do not feel the need to invest a lot of time cleaning them.

However, synthetic brushes can last for months when properly cleaned, stored, and cared for. Clean your brushes the right way, and you can spend money on buying new canvases or paints and not buying new brushes.

Abuse Your Brushes on Purpose

For many artists, the oil painting process is one of constant experimentation — and that includes using different painting techniques.

Do you have old brushes that didn’t dry properly, started to fray, or dried with paint remnants down at the ferrule? Don’t throw them away just yet — you can use them to create some pretty cool effects on your canvas.

Rough, abused brushes are great for creating natural textures, such as grass and trees. If you’re a landscape painter, an abused, overworked brush just may be one of your best tools.

You can also use old brushes to create other effects, such as splatters. New, perfectly clean, and well-maintained brushes are a must for doing detail work, but splattering doesn’t even require the brush to touch the canvas, making an old brush perfect for that effect.

Even if you find a use for your oldest, most beat-up brushes, it’s still essential to clean them. There’s very little you can do with a solid brush full of dried-up, caked-on paint.

How to Store Your Brushes After Cleaning

How to Properly Clean Your Oil Brushes [Bristle, Sable, and Synthetic] (2)

(Video) How To Clean Your Acrylic Paint Brushes - Cleaning Synthetic & Sable Brushes For Miniature Painting

Once your brushes are clean, it’s necessary to put them in the proper position for drying.

Never dry oil paint brushes vertically with the bristles up. As they dry, the excess moisture will run down into the brush’s ferrule, while can cause the handle of the brush to swell. Instead, lay your wet brushes horizontally. Also, wipe down the handles with a paper towel or old rag so that the wood doesn’t crack or swell.

Once your brushes are dry, store them vertically, with the bristles upright. Brush hairs can attract mold over time, so it’s best to store them in a room with proper ventilation.

Brush Cleaning Products to Try Now

Not satisfied with the way your current cleaner is removing oil paint from your brushes? Here are a few recommended products that you may want to try in place of your existing method:

Winsor & Newton Brush Cleaner & Restorer

is safe for use with natural and synthetic brushes. This cleaner doesn’t just remove paint from your brush heads; it also conditions them without leaving any residue behind.

Gamblin Gamsol

Gamblin Gamsol is a mineral spirit solvent that is 100% odorless. It’s perfect for the artist looking for a highly effective way to clean their brushes without having to endure that paint thinner smell.

Mona Lisa Odorless Paint Thinner

Mona Lisa Odorless Paint Thinner is a mild solvent that can clean brushes as well as other accessories, like palette knives. It’s completely odorless (and affordable).

Bristle Magic Brush Cleaner

Bristle Magic Brush Cleaner is non-toxic, non-flammable, and eco-friendly. It can clean oil and acrylic paints from brushes and conditions them to maintain their brush heads for a more extended period.


As an artist, cleaning oil paint brushes probably isn’t the highlight of your day. But there’s no way to avoid it, so you may as well learn to do it the best way possible.

Be sure to gather your supplies and make sure you have the proper cleaning agent on hand before you dip your brush into the paint. If you don’t clean your brushes thoroughly after each and every use, you’ll end up with useless brushes that’ll need replacing before you can paint again.

Need new supplies for painting or cleaning up? Shop Rileystreet for oil brush sets, cleaning agents, and oil paints now. With the right products and techniques by your side, cleaning your oil brushes won’t be such a hassle.

(Video) Brush Shape and Paint Application - How to Choose the Right Oil Paint Brushes Part 2


How do you clean synthetic oil paint brushes? ›

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 clean an oil brush? ›

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 clean sable nail brushes? ›

What is the best way to clean acrylic nail brushes?
  1. Fill a shallow dish with some monomer nail liquid.
  2. Leave your brushes to soak – it might take anywhere from 2 hours to overnight, depending on how stubborn the acrylic is.
  3. Gently rinse the bristles with warm water.
Oct 3, 2019

What is the best way to clean a paintbrush? ›

Use warm water and a bit of mild dish soap to clean the paint from your brushes, gently working the soap through the bristles until the water runs clear. Grab a paint brush scraper to help remove all of the paint more quickly, including dislodging any dried paint bits near the ferrule.

How do you clean synthetic oil? ›

How to remove oil stains
  1. If the spill is still wet, cover the stain with clay cat litter, sand, cornmeal, cornstarch or baking soda. ...
  2. Once the spill has dried, sweep up the absorbent material. ...
  3. Use a stiff brush, such as a broom, and scrub the area with a paste made of baking soda and water.

Should you use brush soap on synthetic brushes? ›

Masters Brush Cleaner is a great choice, but a bar of ivory soap will work just as well and help to clean and condition your synthetic brushes. Brush soap or Ivory soap will emulsify (break down) the oil in the paint, which will help us to remove and wash away any paint with water.

How do you clean an oil painting safely? ›

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 is a synthetic bristle paint brush? ›

Synthetic bristles are made from polyester, nylon, or a combination of both. But they can also be made from lycra, spandex, or rayon. Synthetic brushes are made to mimic the properties of natural hair brushes without using animals.

Do you need to soak synthetic brushes? ›


Unlike natural fibre, shaving brushes those made with synthetic fibre don't require soaking before use greatly speeding up your shave time.

What is the difference between a bristle brush and a synthetic brush? ›

“The difference between real and synthetic makeup brushes is the source from which the bound fibers of the brush head are made,” celebrity makeup artist Bob Scott tells Teen Vogue. “Real or natural brush fibers are made from various animal furs and hairs. Synthetic brush fibers are made from nylon and other plastics.”

How do you clean oil paint brushes without solvent? ›

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.

How do you clean oil paint brushes without chemicals? ›

Use drying oils such as linseed, safflower, walnut or poppy oil to clean brushes during the painting session. This is because the oil used to clean the brush will inevitably get into the painting and needs to dry like normal paint and mediums to form stable paint layers.

Can you clean oil paint brushes with alcohol? ›

Rubbing alcohol is a powerful solvent that can easily clean away a layer of oil paint.

Are sable brushes good for oil painting? ›

Sable fibres are thin, elastic and particularly tapered, with a very soft and long tip. These features make it excellent for many painting techniques: tempera, oil colours, acrylics, watercolours.

How do you clean oil-based paint brushes with vinegar? ›

  1. Pour vinegar into your pot. ...
  2. Place your brush into the pot of vinegar. ...
  3. Bring your pot of vinegar to a boil and let it simmer for a couple of minutes. ...
  4. Remove your pot from the heat and let it cool for a minute or two.
  5. Take the brush out of the vinegar. ...
  6. Using your fingers, comb the brush bristles.

Can I use Dawn to clean my paint brushes? ›


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.

How do professionals clean their paint brushes? ›

Soak the brush with hardened paint in vinegar for an hour. If the bristles don't bend, soak for an additional hour. If it needs more loosening after two hours, submerge the head of the brush in vinegar in a pot, place the pot on a stove and bring to a boil. Afterwards, remove it from the heat and allow it to cool off.

What should clean synthetic oil look like? ›

Color: Caramel or tan.

This is what color your car's oil SHOULD be – when it's put in your car, it's caramel, amber, or tan colored. If it stays that way, it means your car is in good shape and the oil is clean and free of debris, so it can do the job it's meant to do.

Does synthetic oil clean? ›

Synthetic oils, such can help clean your engine, prevent sludge buildup, and improve fuel economy. Synthetic oils have fewer impurities than conventional oils, thereby increasing the overall longevity and performance of your engine. Less sludge means smoother operation from the get-go.

Does full synthetic oil get dirty? ›

Over time, petroleum-based oils will degrade or break down from the heat and pressure inside the engine. As this occurs, the chemical composition of the oil changes and it becomes contaminated.

Do synthetic brushes last longer? ›

Synthetic brushes usually last the longest,” says Schlip. Natural hair, on the other hand, is more delicate. “Synthetic bristles can be made out of nylon or taklon, which are great for applying liquids and can handle a little more wear and tear.

Are synthetic brushes good for oil painting? ›

Oil brushes: Both natural and synthetic brushes can be used for oil painting. Natural hog bristle brushes are great because they have good stiffness and can hold more paint than synthetic brushes could. Thus one brush load of paint goes a longer way and one is not required to pick up more paint all the time.

How do you clean brushes without damaging them? ›

Fill a bowl with lukewarm water and a tablespoon of either gentle shampoo or clarifying shampoo. Using plain soap and water can dry out the bristles. Swirl each brush tip in the bowl. For a good lather, you can also massage each brush tip in the palm of your hand.

How do you clean a 60 year old oil painting? ›

Cloth- Use a gentle cleaning solution of water with a few drops of dishwashing soap. Dip the cloth in the water and wring it out until the cloth is only slightly damp. Lightly blot the painting to pick up dust and grime. Be sure not to make the cloth excessively wet as this can ruin the oil paint.

How do conservators clean oil paintings? ›

We use cotton swabs dipped in a solution of the surfactant, soap, and water, typically. Wet the swab, and then wipe the swab in typically circular motions over small areas of the canvas at a time. And this is a very controlled way to remove the sticky, grimy substances that accumulate on a painting surface over time.

Can you use Murphy's Oil soap to clean oil paintings? ›

My brushes last longer and are always ready to use. I use Murphy's Oil Soap all the time to clean my oil painting brushes. It cleans the brushes up perfectly and the oil in the soap helps to condition the brushes as they are being cleaned. I have used it for years and have found it to be an excellent cleaner.

Does rubbing alcohol clean oil paint brushes? ›

Rubbing alcohol is a powerful solvent that can easily clean away a layer of oil paint.

What does Bob Ross use to clean his brushes? ›

Bob Ross brushes and knives must be cleaned with the Bob Ross odourless thinners or any art brand of thinner or turps only. DO NOT USE WATER as it can reduce the life of the brushes and palette knives and cause the paint on the handles to crack and come off.

How do you clean oil brushes without solvents? ›

Use drying oils such as linseed, safflower, walnut or poppy oil to clean brushes during the painting session. This is because the oil used to clean the brush will inevitably get into the painting and needs to dry like normal paint and mediums to form stable paint layers.

Can you use olive oil to clean oil paint brushes? ›

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.

Does baby oil 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.

What brushes do professional oil painters use? ›

The classic brushes for oil painting are made from pig hair (hog bristle brushes). Some common types are filbert, flat, round, bright and fan brushes.

What is the difference between sable and bristle brushes? ›

Again, it is your choice. Sable is also used for blending and for fine detail in oil color. Unlike bristle, sable does not show brush strokes. Although natural bristle brushes can be used with acrylics, sable is not recommended.

Is sable brush synthetic? ›

Innovative synthetic bristle blend

The Professional Watercolour Synthetic Sable brush delivers excellent colour carrying capacity, the ability to make a variety of marks and resilient spring and shape retention.

How do you take care of oil paint brushes? ›

Wipe the brush on a paper towel—the friction will remove any excess paint. Then rinse the brush in warm water, and lather it with the Master's Brush Cleaner. Regular conditioning will keep your brush painting like it's new for years on end. Rinse thoroughly to get the soap out and wrap the tip in paper towel.

How long should a sable brush last? ›

With only a little care, they can last a long time. Sables and other high quality natural bristles can even last a lifetime or several lifetimes.

What do professional makeup artists use to clean their brushes? ›

The best way to do this, is to use rubbing alcohol on a cotton ball and wipe round the ferrule and handle. After you've cleansed your brushes, to further disinfect and ensure they are thoroughly sterilised, you can also spray the rubbing alcohol or 70% isopropyl alcohol over the bristles.

What brand does Bob Ross use? ›

The formula used by Bob has today been branded and is available for purchase as Bob Ross Liquid White Oil Paint - 250ml.

What thinner does Bob Ross use? ›

Odourless Thinner. Bob Ross's odourless thinner is another essential. You can use any other type or artists' paint thinner, but this one is so popular because it is odourless. Fill a bucket with the thinner to clean your brushes.


1. You're Wasting Your Time Cleaning Brushes // Non Toxic Oil Painting
(Chris Beaven )
2. Why I Use Natural Bristle Brushes for Oil Painting - Artist Advice
(Draw Mix Paint)
3. Brush Care Tips: How to Remove Paint from the Ferrule of your Sable Brushes
(That MrShy)
4. Brushes for Oil Painting: From Bargains to Splurges
(School of Realist Art)
5. The BEST brushes for Oil Painting, and how to clean them!
(Andrew Tischler)
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