Whether you channeled your inner Picasso on a canvas or gave your bedroom a makeover, either way, painting is fun. At the end of it, you are so excited that you go running off to show your artwork to friends and family and forget about cleaning up the mess. Then, the next time you pick up your paintbrushes for a project, they’ve hardened with dried paint clumped up around the bristles.
The paint can also build up at the base of the bristles around the ferrule (the metal that covers the handle where it meets the bristles) and be hard to clean later. Moreover, the dried paint can ruin the shape of the brush.
Ideally, paintbrushes should be cleaned as soon as the job is done, especially if you’ve used oil paint. Not only will this keep your brushes ready for the next task, it will also extend their life by years.
Those who paint a lot know for a fact that paintbrushes are expensive. Fortunately, it’s not very difficult to salvage your brushes, even after the oil paint has dried up. All you need is some patience, a solvent that can cut through the oil in the paint and a little elbow grease.
Here are six methods you can use to clean paint brushes easily.
- Method 1: Mineral Spirits or Paint Thinner
- Method 2: Rubbing Alcohol
- Method 3: Acetone
- Method 4: Kerosene or Gasoline/Petrol
- Method 5: Turpentine Oil
- Method 6: Liquid Dish Soap (for Fresh Paint)
Method 1: Mineral Spirits or Paint Thinner
Mineral spirits and paint thinner are petroleum products used as solvents for paints and varnishes. While both are more or less the same and work equally well for cleaning paintbrushes, the mineral spirits can be slightly more expensive. So, keep paint thinner handy if you paint often.
Note: Whichever product you choose, make sure that you use it in a well-ventilated area. The solvents give off fumes that can irritate your nasal passages.
Step 1. Soak the dirty brush in paint thinner
- Hold the brush, bristles pointing downward, over a bowl.
- Pour paint thinner over the bristles of the paintbrush. The thinner should be enough to soak the bristles completely up to the ferrule.
- Give the brush a good whirl and move it back and forth until the paint starts coming off.
- Let the bristles soak in the thinner for 5 minutes.
Step 2. Rinse the brush with water & wipe it with an old rag
- Hold the brush over an empty bowl.
- Pour water over the bristles to rinse out the paint and thinner.
- Put on a cleaning glove and rub off any leftover paint.
- Use an old rag to soak up all the water from the bristles.
- Hang the brush on a hook until it dries completely.
Once dry, you can use a brush comb to untangle the bristles. Store the brush in its case until needed.
Method 2: Rubbing Alcohol
Rubbing alcohol, or isopropyl alcohol, can also be used to clean paint brushes. The alcohol will reactivate the paint, which can then be easily removed from the brush. In fact, you can also use rubbing alcohol as a disinfectant and stain remover.
Step 1. Soak the brush in rubbing alcohol
- Pour enough rubbing alcohol into a bowl to submerge the bristles of the brush completely in it.
- Drop the brush in the alcohol and let it soak for 1 to 2 hours, depending on how dry the paint is.
Step 2. Swirl the brush in the alcohol & wipe it dry
- Vigorously swirl the brush in the alcohol to remove the loose paint from the bristles.
- Hold the brush over the bowl to collect the dripping paint and alcohol.
- Use an old rag to wipe off any leftover alcohol or paint from the bristles.
- If paint still remains, repeat the process using fresh rubbing alcohol.
- Allow the brush to air-dry completely before you store it away.
Method 3: Acetone
Just like rubbing alcohol, acetone can be used to clean paint brushes. In fact, many nail polish removers use acetone as the active ingredient to dissolve the polish and get it off your nails.
Single-Step Method: Swirl the brush in acetone & wipe it dry
- Pour acetone into a bowl. The quantity should be enough to drench the bristles completely.
- Swirl the brush around in the acetone. Continue moving it back and forth until the paint starts coming off the bristles.
- Hold it over the bowl to allow the liquid to drain out.
- Wipe off any remaining liquid with a paper towel and allow the brush to air-dry completely.
Method 4: Kerosene or Gasoline/Petrol
If you want to save money, you can use kerosene or petrol/gasoline to clean up your brushes. While they work equally well, they will be much cheaper than paint thinner or mineral spirits.
Also, to keep the bristles as good as new, you will have to wash them with liquid soap after removing most of the paint using kerosene or gasoline/petrol.
Things you’ll need:
- Kerosene or gasoline/petrol
- Dawn liquid dish soap
- Warm water
- Paper towel
Step 1. Swirl the brush in kerosene
- Pour some kerosene into a bowl. Determine the quantity according to the size of your brush.
- Soak the paintbrush completely in the kerosene.
- Swirl and dab the brush until the paint comes off.
- Hold the brush over the bowl to allow the kerosene to drain out.
- Wipe off any remaining liquid with a paper towel.
- If some paint still remains, repeat the process as needed.
Step 2. Clean the brush with a warm soapy solution
- Pour 1 cup of warm water into a bowl. Use more water for bigger brushes.
- Mix in 5 to 8 drops of Dawn liquid dish soap.
- Swirl the brush in the soapy water.
- Rub the bristles with your fingers to remove any remaining paint or solvent.
- Rinse the brush under running water and dab it on a paper towel.
- Allow the brush to air-dry completely.
Method 5: Turpentine Oil
Oil cuts through oil and in order to remove oil-based paint, you can use some turpentine oil. It isn’t as toxic compared to the other solvents.
Single-Step Method: Swirl the brush in turpentine oil & wipe it clean
- Pour some turpentine oil into a bowl.
- Swirl the dirty brush in the oil until the paint starts dissolving.
- Continue to dab and swirl a few times until the paint comes off.
- Wipe off any remaining paint with a paper towel.
- Allow the brush to air-dry and store it in its case.
Method 6: Liquid Dish Soap (for Fresh Paint)
There is no hack that’s better than washing the brush while the paint is still wet. All you’ll need is some warm water and Dawn dish soap for cleaning. Dish soap is gentle on the bristles, yet it can cut through the oil paint easily.
Single-Step Method: Swirl the dirty brush in a warm soapy solution
- Pour 1 cup of warm water into a bowl. Increase the quantity according to the size of the brush.
- Add 1 teaspoon of Dawn liquid dish soap and mix well.
- Swirl the brush in the soapy solution until all the paint comes off.
- Shake the brush to remove any excess liquid.
- Dap the brush on an old rag to soak up any remaining water.
- Allow it to air-dry completely.
- Before starting any of the cleaning methods, stroke the brush against an old rag or a paper towel to remove as much paint as possible. This will help clean the brush quickly and with less solvent.
- Rubbing alcohol and acetone can dry out the bristles. To counter this, follow the cleaning method with a soapy water rinse to moisturize the bristles.
- You can apply hair conditioner on the bristles if they are too dry and tangled after cleaning them.
- Before storing it away, run a brush comb through the bristles to keep the brush in shape.
- Use separate brushes for water-based and oil-based paints.
- Store the cleaning bowls with your paints and brushes, so that you do not end up serving any food in them.
- Always make sure to clean the paint off your skin once you have finished painting.
- Always keep the brushes in their jackets/cases to keep their shape intact.