In this article I’ll be talking all about cleaning your acrylic brushes then the fine points of preserving and conditioning the bristles. Now even though, unlike oil paints, you’re not going to be worried about the use of turpentine, it’s still very important to take good care of those brushes.
There are products that are great for cleaning that are different from those to use with oils, and there are a few products I recommend in the case of both cleaning in between painting sessions and then what to do if you’ve got a “gunk” problem. So let’s dive in…
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Cleaning Brushes While Working
Cleaning “as you go” is the best approach. A device like a small bucket or jar with a bristle scrubbing screen is a good idea and for pennies on the dollar you can make one too just like this! First things first. I like to keep moistened paper towels at my work station, I just spritz it with a little water so while I’m working with a number of brushes I can stall the chance of paint residue drying on them prematurely.
This is a practice you should adopt too as you know the expedient nature of acrylic paints drying.
Resist the temptation to leave brushes in their water compartment. It can warp the bristles and depending on how deep the water, could weaken other parts of the brush. Always lay your brushes flat while working. Having a good brush compartment holder can help keep individual brushes in their place as you work so they won’t be submerged any more than they should.
Always wipe off excess paint after you are through for the day, I use a dry paper towel for this., try to get as much of it off as you can, you want to be sure you rinse as little as possible down the sink to minimize plumbing problems.
Two of my favorite products for cleaning acrylic brushes are Mona Lisa Pink Soap and Murphy’s Oil. The former is a great product that comes in a small bottle and like the name implies, yes it’s pink. And it smells great too, almondy like. Murphy’s Oil Soap is a household brand that has been around for generations and is time tested.
It’s used for cleaning wood mainly, but it does great on brush bristles as it is gentle and won’t strip off or damage parts of the brush, remember many brush handles are made of wood. Soap designed for household use like Dawn or Ajax, these are a no bueno, they are too harsh and not suited for this.
With either products, dab a small amount onto your surface, it can be one side of your palette or a sheet of wax paper, work the bristles into the solution gently and rinse off. Be sure you have removed as much of the residual paint before doing this.
Then store your brushes with the bristles UPRIGHT so they can dry. Doesn’t matter if you have a special mug or jar for this, they need to be exposed to air as well.
It’s not that different from the products used on your own hair, you’d avoid products that strip moisture out and only use those that retain it.
Later on you may want to consider the use of a brush conditioner or preservative. These kinds of products keep the bristles supple and minimize fraying and loss of or straggle hairs. Sometimes I color my hair which makes it dry and I have to apply conditioner periodically – sorry a little off-topic, but the concept is pretty similar.
Can You Get Dried Acrylic Paint Out of Brushes?
Now we’ll get into brushes that HAVE come under the curse of “forget-itis” as in got a little careless and didn’t get to the cleaning part quickly enough, something we’ve all been guilty of at some point. No judgement here.
The trouble with paint when it gets on brushes and stays there is that not just the bristles are affected but sometimes the metal casing (the ferrule – this post explains brush anatomy well) and that makes it tougher to clean. One product I really like for “de-gunking” is white vinegar. A household staple no household should be without as it cleans everything under the sun practically.
Fill a saucepan with water and vinegar parts equally and heat slowly on the stovetop, place your brushes in so they are at a sideways angle (tricky to do but if you can get as little of the other parts not submerged the better). Keep your eyes on the stove as it should get hot but not start to boil. A flat comb can be used to run through the bristles, go in both directions running the comb though until you see paint particles loosening up.
As a cautionary note this works better if you’re talking about paint that has set up for a few days…(as opposed to a few years – THAT brush or brushes will probably have a date with the wastecan, sorry) it won’t be too much to tackle. In other words, if it’s semi-gunked on paint this is not a lost cause. Hopefully if you take the steps mentioned in the earlier paragraphs, you won’t get to that point/ Just remember to take good care of your brushes (as they don’t come cheap, remember) and they should take good care of you too.
Are there any other brush cleaning products you’ve tried that I haven’t mentioned that you’ve had success with? Let me know in the comments section, and how well it worked, or if there’s any to avoid (I’m sure there are others!) Hope this advice helps, and good luck to you, fellow artistses.