Do you know the best ways to clean oil paint off brushes when you’ve had a great day of painting? 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.
But First – What Do You Use To Clean Brushes With?
But first; what type of cleaner should you use? As the laws of chemistry dictate, water for water and oil for oil. Oil paints involve solvents, the biggest one being our good friend turpentine. Most artists who work exclusively in oils work with turpentine.
There’s a range of debate out there regarding what kind of substances are good for cleaning brushes and what are not. Some of them are chemical based, like turpentine or “turp” as it’s sometimes called, and some things you may recognize right away as they are household products. Case in point – Substances like mild detergent soap and vinegar.
Whatever the case, there’s a world of difference in cleaning oil paint off brushes that are seriously gunked up – yikes – don’t let ’em get to that point; and just general maintenance so you can keep your brush collection in tip-top shape!
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!
Is Turpentine Good For Cleaning Brushes?
Turpentine is often thought of as a “paint cleaner” and it’s in the same camp as odorless paint thinner, which pretty much lives up to its name. It’s mainly used to help the paint flow better while you are working, very much like linseed oil.
I used to have a jar in my setup with a screen thingy in the bottom that would “catch” the paint debris whenever I ran a brush across it, and the sediment would fall to the bottom of the jar so I could have a clean painting experience.
You can use turpentine for light cleaning as well as a tool to help the paint distribute better, as long as you use it sparingly. Never let your paintbrushes soak in turpentine; it can really mess up the bristles, plus the chemical solution can weaken the gluey part that binds the bristles to the ferrule (the metal casing that holds the bristles together).
However, when the “after session” cleanup time came, I had a different game plan to keep my brushes looking their cleanest and best! Read on…
How To Get Oil Paint Off Brushes – The Best Way!
At the end of your session, all you need are two main things – some paper towels, and some mild cleaning soap. I recommend Murphy’s Oil Soap....it is AMAZING stuff – and it’s been around for generations. It’s got a nice scent, is not harsh or abrasive, and leaves things squeaky clean without stripping or chemicals.
You can also use another of my favorites – Pink Soap. Also great stuff, has a wonderful almond aroma, and is gentle and non abrasive. You only need a little squirt per brush or Pink Soap.
Tear a few sheets off your paper towel roll (You should always have a roll nearby in your work station.) Fold a couple of them in half or thirds. Wipe the excess paint off using the paper towel. You may have to flip one side over or refold, and repeat until you see less and less paint residue on the towel.
Anyway, you only need like a teaspoon per brush. Work it into the bristles up to the ferrule part and use a good massaging motion.
You will gradually see some of the paint loosening (telltale sign is some of the color of the paint showing in the suds) Wash that part off with warm water. You may need to repeat this…get another paper towel and rub the bristles across to check for any remaining paint residue. Basically, it should be looking close to how it looked originally!
Repeat this procedure with your other brushes.
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.
More Tips For Cleaning Oil Paint Brushes
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 Paint Off Brushes 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) But it does work if you’re talking about a little greater buildup than may work for the above method.
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 🙂
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.