Cleaning and caring for your paintbrushes
by Aisling D'Art
Keep your brushes clean and dry. That one rule will drastically improve your future
artwork and reduce your painting expenses.
Cleaning your brushes is simple, once you establish a routine.
There are two things to remember: Bristles can break off if bent too far or too
often against the ferrule (the metal band that holds the bristles). And, bristles
are often held in place with glue that can dissolve over time.
Picking bristles out of your wet paint is the surest sign that it's time to replace your
brushes. However, if you treat them well, you'll replace brushes after months or even years
of use, not sooner.
When you are finished painting, wipe the paint out of your brush with a dry rag or paper towel.
(If you are finished with just a few brushes but still working, it's better to take a break and clean those
brushes than to let them sit with paint on them, or in painting medium which will shorten
the life of the glue, the bristles, or both.)
Next, if you're using oil paint, apply turpentine (or a similar solvent) to remove the
worst of the paint residue.
There are many stories of artists becoming allergic to turpentine after years of use. My
mother is one of them. That's one of many reasons to consider less toxic alternatives to
(If you're using acrylics, you'll use just soap-and-water for cleaning.)
After you've removed most of the paint, it's time to take out a brush soap (I use a round
cake of brush soap, sold at most art supply stores) and apply it with warm--not hot--water.
Many brush soaps include a conditioning ingredient to extend the life of natural bristle brushes.
The better soaps will remove even dried-on paint, but allowing paint to dry on your brush will
shorten its life. Do not rely on soap to make up for negligent brush care.
Moisten the soap and the brush, and then rub the brush directly in the soap.
Next, cupping your hand gently, massage the bristles in the center of your cupped palm, mixing
water into the soap. Be careful not to bend or flex the bristles against the ferrule so they'd
fray or break off. (You don't have to be ultra-cautious, just don't deliberately bend the bristles
trying to get paint out of the center of the brush. Massage the brush gently and paint at the
core will generally work its way out.)
Rinse the brush and your hand, and repeat.
Do this until the water runs clear.
Then, if you're using brushes intended for use with oil paints, let the brushes dry horizontally
or hanging bristles down. This is so the water doesn't run into--and remain in contact with--the
base of the bristles where they're held in place with glue.
If your brushes are intended for use with acrylics, you can dry the brushes horizontally, or stand
them--bristles up--in an open container to air dry.
Brushes should be kept clean and dry, away from heat and direct sunlight. With proper care, they
will last for years, even with steady use.