How to clean your paint brushes

Fed up of always having to buy new paint brushes because you haven't cleaned yours properly? Artist and signwriter Tony Slade explains how to clean your brushes so they are ready to use again - and again - and again... saving you money and time

A group of paintbrushes after being cleaned
Published: May 13, 2022 at 12:00 am
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People have their own preferred ways to clean a paintbrush, but read on to find out how I normally clean mine.

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Before you start, always remember to read the instructions on the back of the paint tin for safety advice and to see whether you need to use water or white spirit. Trying to clean oil paint brushes with water will not work!

How to clean paint brushes used for water-based paints

Over the sink, turn on the cold tap to a moderate flow and hold the paintbrush under the water, turning to clean both side and pushing the bristles up and down so they splay out. You can also use your fingers and thumb to ease the water down the bristles and clear some of the more stubborn paint.

There will still be some paint in the stock of the brush so you need to push down harder, making the bristles splay out in a wider fan-like shape. By using an up-and-down motion on the brush the idea is to get the water to penetrate right into the stock.

If there are any visible signs of paint in the bristles then you can try to use your thumbnail or something similar to pick and scratch the paint off the bristles, but don’t press hard and avoid using anything like a metal wallpaper scraper, especially on synthetic brushes otherwise this will make the bristles curl out of shape.

Alternatively, a small wire brush could be used pulling it down through the bristles from stock to tip. I usually have one about the size of a toothbrush for just this purpose.

When the water is running clear hold the handle between the palms of your hands with the bristles facing down and rub your hands rapidly back-and-forth as if starting a fire - this will expel excess water.

If you want to be 100% sure that the brush is totally clean you could take it outside and find an old post or garden chair leg and in a side to side motion slap the brush against the post. If this leaves a paint mark, then take the brush back in and run it under the tap to repeat the final cleaning process again. Smooth the bristles into a nice shape and leave to dry.

How to clean oil paint brushes

With solvent-based paints it’s best not to clean them inside if possible. If you do have to then use a dust sheet to protect the floor and try to avoid working in carpeted areas.

You will need two paint kettles, some white spirit, a large jam-jar with a lid, a cloth and some waste cardboard or an old piece of wood.

Pour around a centimetre of white spirit into both of the paint kettles and start cleaning the brush in one of them, pushing up and down on the handle so that the bristles fan out, occasionally turn the brush so that you clean both sides and both edges equally.

Remove as much white spirit from the brush as you can against the side/rim of the paint kettle, or by rubbing between palms as described above.

Repeat the process as above in the clean white spirit. Then either wipe the brush on your rag or onto cardboard or wood -anywhere you wouldn't mind getting paint on.

If this leaves paint on the surface then the brush needs another go in the clean white spirit... if the white spirit is getting quite dirty then add that to the dirtier pot and use more clean white spirit. The brush is clean when no more paint is coming out.

Smooth the bristles into a nice shape using the cloth and leave to dry. Always wash your hands with soapy water afterwards.

Recycle the white spirit you have used to clean the brushes by pouring the dirty white spirit into the jam jar, add the lid and label it clearly. Over time the paint will sink to the bottom of the jar leaving fairly clear white spirit to use for cleaning brushes next time. Never pour white spirit down the sink or into the drains.

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You can follow Tony Slade on Instagram and see his work there

Authors

Tony Slade
Tony SladeArtist, signwriter and carpenter

Tony Slade is an artist and traditional signwriter with over 40 years’ experience. During his career he has developed and honed carpentry, painting, signwriting and artistic skills working on projects producing handmade bespoke signage, pictorial work, shopfront and pub refurbishment, gold leaf application and sub-contract painting. He is now working as an artist producing fine art landscape and seascape paintings.

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