Brush Cleaning Tips for People who Hate Cleaning Brushes

Jul 10, 2023

I’ve got three young children and they all love to paint. I’m not going to lie, it warms my heart that they have such an affinity for creative pursuits.

But in the spirit of full honesty here, I also cringe a bit whenever they’re wrapping up a painting session. I wouldn’t consider myself a neat freak by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, my husband would confirm I’m much closer to “slob” on the general housekeeping scale (don’t judge, I have my ADHD doom piles reasons). But I am a recovering control freak… and the state in which my children leave their paintbrushes is enough to push me over the edge.

Brush cleaning is this strange space in which my nitpicky control freak side and lazy slob side collide. It would probably keep me up all night thinking about paintbrushes that aren’t clean; but the thought of actually having to go through the meticulous steps of cleaning them after every painting session, especially when I paint daily, is almost too much to bear.

Sooooo…. what’s to be done, then?

Well, as much as I’m admittedly not a fan of Bill Gates, he pretty much nailed it when he said, “I choose a lazy person to do a hard job. Because a lazy person will find an easy way to do it.”

Professional artists who faithfully show up everyday in their studio aren’t exactly the type I’d label as lazy. But as I’ve already established about myself, I’ll skip a step—particularly a cleaning step—if I can get away with it.

I’m sure you don’t want to spend any extra time cleaning your brushes than you absolutely need to. So let me give you some tips that’ll help along the process and making brush cleaning as easy as possible.

Tip #1: Tough love

It’s important to treat your brushes with love and care so they’ll last for quite some time. But love and care doesn’t always mean the ultimate in gentility. Sometimes… you just gotta mash that brush down in your water or solvent jar.

Often artists, particularly beginners, are a bit afraid of harming their brush so they try cleaning it with a gentle swish in water or solvent. This simply won’t do the trick. Sure, you don’t want to beat the snot out of the thing — but don’t be shy about firmly dabbing it on the bottom of your cleaning jar to get as much paint out of the bristles as possible.

This one step, if taken, will eliminate a majority of your cleaning woes.

Tip #2: Cotton really is the fabric of your life

While paper towels are better to use with water-based materials since they dry your brushes better, when it comes to oils you can't beat cotton. Whether it's an old t-shirt, mechanic cloths, or kitchen dish rags… what matters is that it's 100% cotton.

Once you've gotten as much paint out of the bristles as you can and pressed the brush against the side of your jar to get the excess solvent out, using a clean cotton rag to wipe and dry your brush is the next step. And I don't mean a gingerly swipe; with the rag in your hand, wrap it around the bristles and squeeze, wiggling the brush a bit as you wring out the solvent.

Then reshape the bristles a bit and you're good to return it to its holder.

Tip #3: Paint more

Generally speaking, you only need to deep clean your brushes with gentle soap at a sink if you're not going to be painting for more than a few days. So as simplistic as this sounds: paint more.

If you're painting regularly—preferably daily—then the two tips above are all you'll ever need to keep your brushes in good shape. Every so often, you may want to give them a proper clean for good measure (especially if it seems your colors are getting muddy). But otherwise, keeping up with some quality dabbing and a good rag wiping is enough.

This is too easy. It feels like it should be harder.

But it isn't. It really is that easy to keep your paintbrushes clean.

We're all human, of course. And sometimes, things happen. So if your brushes have dried with paint still in them, don't throw them out just yet. You can still save them. And once they've been restored, just follow these tips to keep them in good shape.

Don't like using solvent? Learn all about non-toxic oil painting.

Written by Julie Briggs

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