How To Clean Paint Brushes

Oil-based paint brushes

Art is such a great way to express yourself and spend some downtime. You’re able to explore your creativity and have a good time while doing it. 

Painting is actually known to be therapeutic and calming to the mind when it feels clouded or stressed. You don’t have to be an artist or artistically inclined for painting to be fun and beneficial to you. Instead, embrace whatever you’re making and enjoy this relaxing activity. 

How to clean paint brushes

When you’re done, it’s important to properly clean your paintbrushes. Paintbrushes can be washed incorrectly and end up ruined, meaning the quality of the bristles can be diminished based on how you treat them. It’s possible to make your paintbrushes unusable for future projects and we don’t want that to happen!

We want that brush to hit the paper as many times as possible before needing new brushes, so today we’ll walk you through the best way to clean them. Knowing your way around the different types of paint and art tools can be super helpful for anyone looking to take on a new project!

How To Clean Paint Brushes: The Proper Cleaning Method For Longer Lasting Brushes

Paintbrushes should be cleaned based on the type of paint you are using for your art project. There’s a different cleaning process for oil-based paints than there is for water-based paints. Before diving into the different cleaning techniques, be sure to note that you need to clean your paintbrushes directly after use. Letting your paintbrushes sit in old paint that will eventually dry can be very damaging to your bristles. 

Pro Tip: Having different sets of brushes for the differing paint types is the best practice for keeping your brushes in tip-top shape. 

So, if you’re a pretty versatile painter that enjoys working with different kinds of paint, try using one set of brushes for oil-based and one set for water-based. We bet you’ll be able to notice the differences in your brush’s longevity! 

Let’s first discuss everything you need to know about water-based paint and oil-based paint so you can understand why each requires its own method of cleaning up. 

Water-Based Paint Vs. Oil-Based Paint

In regards to water-based paint, there are two variations of it: latex and acrylic. A lot of people like water-based paint because of its easy clean-up and fast-drying capabilities. Some oil-based paints are known for the strong odors they leave behind, but water-based paint smells are not nearly as harsh. That’s why water-based paints are used for countless interior and exterior surface projects. You’re able to use it for things like coloring your home, repainting structures, recoloring spaces inside, or simple at-home art projects. 

Acrylic paint and latex paint tend to be referred to as the same paint, however, there are slight nuances to both. Acrylic paint has more polymers, making it more expensive and extra durable. Acrylic is known to be worth your while if you’re working on painting something like outdoor furniture or kitchen cabinets. 

Latex paint is better if you’re looking to paint the inside of your entire house because it’s cheaper for its coverage. This kind of paint does well on vertical surfaces but not so many outdoor items. Whether you decide to use acrylic or latex, there are still numerous advantages to using water-based paints. Some of those advantages include: 

  • Even Application – no one wants a blotchy colored wall in their home. Water-based paints are easy to apply and look smooth when finished. 
  • Broad Usage – water-based paints are able to cover concrete, brick, stucco, wood, aluminum siding, galvanized metal, and vinyl siding. 
  • Minimal Odor – the smell of water-based paints is significantly less strong than oil-based paints. 
  • Best Retention – your color of choice is able to steer clear of fading and chalking. 
  • Resistance of Mildew – water-based paints contain additives that help minimize mildew growth and maintain a fresh color. 
  • Easy cleanup – simple soap and water mixture will clean this kind of paint up. 
  • Quick-dry time – depending on what you’re painting, your project could be dry in approximately one to six hours. Start early enough and you’ll be able to put on another coat on the same day! 

The difference in oil-based paints lies within the type of solvent used to make it. Oil-based paints tend to be made up of mineral turpentine, but water-based paint solvent is made up of mostly water. Oil-based paint also contains a base, either linseed or alkyd oil. Linseed is a natural base and alkyd is a synthetic base. 

This kind of paint is extremely durable, making it the best option for various outside housework, large doors, cabinets, or trim. Keep in mind that using this kind of paint comes with its downfalls, just like anything else. It takes much longer to dry than water-based paints and requires a more complicated cleanup. 

Oil-based paint brushesHow long does paint take to dry?

Linseed-based oil paint can take up to a full 24 hours to dry, however, it could dry in as little as eight hours depending on the project. Alkyd-based oil paint is much faster than that and dries similar to water-based paint. You could be all set in about four to six hours, so you may be able to squeeze in an extra coat on that same day. 

However, oil-based paints have plenty of advantages, such as: 

  • Strong resistance to low climates – this kind of paint is more durable than latex (or water-based) in this instance. 
  • Not all oil paint requires a second coat because it provides such good coverage.
  • You’re able to scrub the walls and trims you painted without worrying about the paint chipping. 
  • Provides rich color pigments. 
  • A great option for fixing little imperfections on walls or damaged furniture. 

Ok, now that you have a better understanding of the types of paint and the advantages of both, let’s find out how we need to clean those paintbrushes

Cleaning Brushes After Using Oil-Based Paint

A simple mixture of water and soap unfortunately does not work after using oil-based paints on your brushes. For this, you’ll need to use paint thinner as a solvent (mineral spirits, also known as white spirits, are a very commonly used paint thinner). Some artists use turpentine to clean their oil brushes, however, turpentine is more toxic and flammable than white spirit. 

First, you’ll want to gather everything you need to clean your brushes 

  • Paint thinner
  • Jar / Paint can for the paint thinner
  • Hand soap (“pink soap” has bristle conditioner in it if you want to use that as a substitute)
  • Water 
  • Comb 

Clean paint brushes

Step 1: Remove as much excess paint from your brush as possible before cleaning. To do this, try to use up as much paint on the brush as you can on the surface you’re painting. Then lightly press the bristles against the inside of your paint can while moving it up and down to remove any additional excess. Finally, gently paint the rest of the paint on a paper towel or piece of newspaper. 

Step 2: Fill part of your container with the solvent of your choice to help loosen up the paint. 

Step 3: If you let the paint on your brushes start to dry, you may need to soak your brushes in the solvent for a longer period of time. However, if you’re washing your brushes immediately after use, start to stir your brushes in the solvent. Softly squeeze and wipe the bristles against the edges of your container. Use your comb to brush through the bristles and get rid of any paint leftover. You’re also able to rub the bristles in between your fingers to help get rid of all that excess paint. 

Step 4: Now you’ll want to rinse your brush from the solvent. Clean the brushes in warm, soap water in order to remove any remaining paint or solvent residue. 

Step 5: Dry your brushes so your bristles aren’t soaked in water. You can shake and then dab or use a roller spinner. Spinners help preserve the quality of your brushes but are only really necessary for avid painters who enjoy painting often. For those who do this as a hobby from time to time, you can gently shake your brushes, wrap them in a clean rag, and apply pressure to soak up that additional water. 


Cleaning Brushes After Using Water-Based Paint

Follow the same five steps as we discussed above. The only difference is in Step 2. You won’t need the same kind of solvent for water-based paints as you would oil-based paints. Latex paint really only needs a mix of hot water and liquid dish soap to act as their solvent. 

Fill a container up with hot water and soap and then move on to Step 3 to finish up your paintbrush cleaning process! 

Final Thoughts

Cleaning paintbrushes the right way does not have to be difficult! You need to understand the kind of paint you’re using to figure out the proper solvent to help you clean. Either way, having properly cleaned brushes can be very rewarding in the long run, especially for you avid artists or DIY junkies out there! 

There are also so many beginner canvas art kits out there for anyone looking to dabble around in the art world! Our mom gift guide has a great beginner’s acrylic paint set if you want to check it out here.  

how to clean paint brushes


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