How To Clean Oil Paint Off Brushes With the Best of Them
The care you take of your artist quality paintbrushes is so very important, if you want to have the same set you’re using – oh, say 10 years from now 🙂 Learn how to clean oil paint off brushes as you go (as opposed to all at once) and you’ll save yourself tons of headaches down the road!
A good quality set of paintbrushes not only needs clean bristles after putting in an honest day’s work, but they’re somewhat like our hair – they need to be cared for regularly from day one, and given ongoing treatment. Like, as you go, and after you’ve put in a happy day’s work.
Why is it so important to know how to clean oil-based paintbrushes?
Has this ever happened to you…one time or another you get careless (to err is human, etc., etc) and forget to tackle one of your beloved brushes…before you know it, it can’t be just cleaned – “de-gunked” is more like it.
A brush in which paint has dried and accumulated in the bristle area and the ferrules (the metal casing) can become about as unworkable and useless as a chocolate teapot, sadly.
Don’t let that be your story; learn how to clean your oil-based paint brushes as you go – not waiting until they desperately need it – and it’ll pay off!
But first; what type of cleaner should you use? As the laws of chemistry dictate, water for water and oil for oil. Oil paints require solvents, the biggest one being our good friend turpentine. Most artists who work exclusively in oils work with turpentine.
Does turpentine really remove oil paint from brushes?
There’s a slight misconception that the famous product turpentine or “turp” (as it’s called) is a brush cleaner – but is it? To be honest – no.
Turpentine is actually used for thinning paint. The same goes for linseed oil, another product traditionally used to increase paint viscosity. Linseed oil is thicker than turpentine and makes the paint flow like gangbusters and decrease drying time.
So, to clean oil paint off your brushes, you need to use the right kind of stuff, and that stuff is not simply “paint thinner” aka “turp”. Don’t worry, this process will be easier than you think!
How to clean oil-based paint brushes
This procedure is recommended AFTER your painting session for the day-and follow it at the end of every session.
If you have a jar filled with thinner and one of those paint screens in it, gently push it across the screen edge to remove excess paint/liquid (which will fall naturally into the bottom of jar)
Keep a roll of paper towels and a plain rag nearby. Use either of them to wipe off any excess paint.
You can use dishwashing soap, shampoo, or Murphy’s Oil (great stuff!), or any other artist-recommended non-solvent cleaner. Place a dab of said product into your palm and work it gently into the bristles.
Use your fingers and a firm massaging motion to loosen up remaining paint residue. This might take a minute or so depending on how much residue there is.
Rinse out the product thoroughly under warm (not hot) water. Use another clean paper towel or rag to absorb excess moisture and dry the bristles. Gently straighten the bristles as needed so they retain their shape.
Store clean brushes upright or side by side with good ventilation so they can dry more thoroughly.
Some Brush Cleaning Do’s and Don’ts
Don’t let your brushes rest on their bristle end continuously 24-7. It will cause them to warp. Let them sit at a slant or lay them flat down on a paper towel or cloth or setting bristle upright in another jar.
If you place a sponge or screen to dam the liquid thinner from the sediment that will naturally drop from the paint residue of the brush, it will be easier to clean off and on.
You can purchase these screens or create your own. The sediment will sit at the bottom and your brushes should be unaffected by the clumps of residue.
Need help storing your paintbrushes? ⇒See my post Tidy Up: Best Artists Brush Holders To Get Organized for some good ideas!
Cleaning oil-based paintbrushes with vinegar
Do you want to clean brushes on the cheap with something ordinary? Try white vinegar – I know of people who swear by it, that it works very well to help loosen paint and works great if you were painting a few days ago and just got a little careless with your routine.
This won’t work as well if you’re trying to salvage really gunked brushes….(I can attest to that one)
To do this heat the vinegar on a stovetop burner and let the brush rest up to the ferrule part (but be sure the handle part is not in the water.) Keep the heat somewhat low, every thirty minutes or so you can check and see if the paint is loosening.
I used a fine-tooth comb to run through the bristles and the paint came out easily! Try this sometime 🙂
Cleaning paint off with soap
I like Murphy’s Oil soap as it’s great for this purpose – not harsh, won’t cause bristles damage, smells pleasant. Now if you really want to give your brushes the TLC they deserve, I suggest Pink Soap. It pretty much lives up to its name, being pink and all, and it’s free of harsh chemicals that could disfigure the brush bristles.
It has a pleasant almond-like aroma to it and no greasy feel to it. You just work it into the bristles and the ferrule, a good little massage action, and rinse it out, easy-peasy, and a must for all you artistes out there.
It comes in several different sizes; from 1 oz, 8 oz, and 12 oz. Since it is not solvent based, it does not have the chemical makeup to cut through layers of dried paint it is strictly a good maintenance product.
Now you know how to remove oil paint from brushes and keep the gunk at bay, and how to do so with minimal hassle!
Take great care of your brushes and they’ll take great care of you, too! It’s cheaper overall to invest in a few solution products, take a little time to apply them, immerse them, and don’t forget to “fluff” the bristles a little.
Also be sure to store your brushes upright at all times with the handles in the bottom of the container of your choosing, or you can store them in a case that allows them to lay flat and not on top of each other, and get some ventilation as well in case of some subtle product odor remaining.