Tips On How to Clean Your Brushes

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One of the most important tools an artist has is his brush.

These delicate instruments need particular care and since some of these little fellows can cost upwards of $100.00, it pays to see that they are taken care of properly.

Below are tips and tricks for cleaning Oil, Acrylic and Watercolor Paint Brushes!

Oil And Acrylic Brushes

Oil and acrylic painters use many of the same brushes. Since there are many styles of painting, there are a tremendous number of brush types to suit each of those styles. There are two basic materials for brush bristles, synthetic and animal hair.

Coarse bristled brushes are hard and can take a fair amount of abuse. These brushes can be vigorously scrubbed and stay in good shape for a long time.

Many artists also use medium hard synthetic bristles for the bulk of their work. These are the real workhorses, and are cleaned often.

Detail painting is done with fine, soft hair brushes. The finest of this category is Kolinsky sable, which uses long soft hair of the Siberian Kolinsky. This expensive and delicate brush commands care and attention. In general, sable brushes must be treated gently, as they do not hold up to abusive treatment or careless storage.

Watercolor Brushes

Watercolor brushes can be either synthetic or soft hair bristles. A watercolorist may have an odd coarse bristle brush in his tabouret for scrubbing out color areas or roughing up a surface, but his painting is done with very soft bristle brushes.

Artists’ Commercial Brush Cleaning Product

Many commercial soap products are specifically formulated for cleaning brushes. They have conditioners and are purported to extend the life of costly natural bristle brushes.

  • Mona Lisa Pink Soap
  • Da Vinci All Natural Brush Soap with Conditioner
  • The Masters Brush Cleaner & Preserver
  • Grumbacher Brush Soap
  • Escoda Artist Brush & Hand Soap
  • Jack Richeson Linseed Studio Soap

Grocery Store Cleaning Products

A number of artist’s opt for cleaning products purchased in the cleaning aisle of the local grocery store. These products have been used for years by many artists, and have shown good results. Whether an artist uses specially made brush cleansers or goes with the home cleaning products, the point is to make it a regular part of your painting session to clean your brushes.

  • Dawn Dishwashing Detergent
  • Fels Naptha
  • Ivory Soap
  • Murphy’s Oil Soap

Paint Solvents

Turpentine is widely used by oil painters for cleaning brushes. It is inexpensive and can also be used as a paint medium. However, it is highly flammable, has noxious odors and can damage the eyes and lungs. Turpenoid is a safe substitute that has relatively little odor and is less toxic.

Acetone is odorless and has little toxicity, but dries very rapidly. Mineral spirits, a petroleum distillate, are often used for cleaning oil painters’ brushes.

Step By Step Cleaning Guide

Use paper toweling or newspaper to remove all excess paint from the brush. This is important, as many artists save their turpentine or mineral spirits to reuse. The more loose paint removed by wiping means less paint in the paint thinner jar.

Dip the brush in the solvent, work it with your fingers or the bottom of a small dish and wipe with paper towel. Alternate swishing the paintbrush in the solvent and wiping it with paper. If the paint has dried near the ferrule, use your fingers and fingernails to work the solvent into the dry paint.

When visible traces of paint have been removed, use a cleaning soap to finish the job. Wet the brush with water. If using a liquid cleanser, place a drop on the palm of your hand or directly on the bristles. If the cleanser of choice is a bar soap product, wet the bar and draw the bristles across the surface of the soap. Work the brush in the palm of your hand to create lather and get the deep down cleaning into the ferrule to remove every trace of paint.

Rinse with water, then carefully dry and shape the brush. If you feel the need, a conditioner can be applied to soften and protect the hairs. Brushes should be left out to dry properly. Do not seal the brushes into an airproof case after washing. Moisture remaining in the hairs and beneath the shoulder of the brush can cause corrosion or damage to the ferrule, or soften the glue used to hold the bristles.

Clean all brushes regularly

To many, this is an onerous job better left to atelier assistants. However not many artists have the luxury of an aide-de-camp, so they must contend with it on their own.

Even watercolor brushes can use an occasional cleaning to remove paint that may have dried in the ferrule. There’s nothing worse than trying to paint a clear lemon yellow, only to have it tinged a pale orange by the presence of dried alizarin crimson in the base of the brush. A little time spent in cleanup can save a lot of time repairing spontaneous color bursts, as well as considerable cash from owning brushes that last.

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