How to Clean Your Brushes After Oil Painting

Oil paint doesn't stand a chance!
Tayler Tayler (48)
10 minutes

Painting is a hobby loved by many, but you know what isn't loved by many?

Post-paint brush cleaning.

Since many painters enjoy long artistic sessions, the last thing we want to do when we finish a painting or reach a point where we're happy to take a break is clean our brushes.

But did you know that leaving paint on the brushes for a prolonged period can damage the bristles? Furthermore, oil paint likes to cling to the bristles.

So, how do we safely remove oil paint from our brushes? Let me show you how to do just that.

Paint brush ×1
Paper TowelsPaper Towels ×1
Wide-mouthed Mason JarWide-mouthed Mason Jar ×1
Rags ×1
Dish soap ×1
gloves ×1

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Oil painting.

First thing's first: you need to paint something to have dirty paintbrushes.

So, sit down and try your hand at oil painting. Whether or not a masterpiece comes from your efforts, you'll have some paintbrushes with oil paint clinging to the bristles.

Paintbrushes.

As you've been painting, you've likely been removing the paint from your brush by swishing it around in water or by blotting your bristles on a spare rag. While this is a fine way to remove paint while you're painting (especially if you don't mind your colors running together), this isn't enough to properly clean them once you're finished painting.

Start cleaning your brushes by blotting them on paper towels or a spare rag.
  • Dip your bristles in water.
  • Gently rub them back and forth across a paper towel or a spare rag.
  • Repeat until there's no paint being transferred between brush and rag.
Paintbrush in solvent.

With excess paint removed, you're ready to deep clean using a solvent of your choice.

What's solvent, you might be asking?

A solvent is a liquid substance that can dissolve or disperse another substance, such as paint. It's used frequently in oil painting to thin the paint itself, making it thinner to manipulate on the canvas.

For cleaning purposes, solvent can be used to remove paint from paintbrushes once you're done cleaning, as the thinned paint can be more easily removed from the bristles.

How to use solvent to clean oil paint from your brushes
  • Start by submerging the bristles in the solvent.
  • Remove the bristles and rub them on your paper towel or rag.
  • Repeat this process until you no longer rub paint on the paper towel or rag.
How to remove stubborn paint
  • If your paintbrush had dried, gently push your brush against the bottom of your oil pot.
  • Move the bristles until you feel them flex or bend against the bottom. This will encourage solvent to move deeper into the bristles.
  • Repeat the above steps normally.
Turpentine.

There are a ton of solvents on the market, making finding the right solvent tricky.

Turpentine is a traditional solvent distilled from a pine tree species that can be toxic if ingested. In recent years, painters and art teachers have strayed away from using turpentine to favor more natural solvents, like a citrus solvent and spike oil essence.

Don't let me dissuade you from turpentine, though. It's an oldie and a goodie, but it should be used carefully.

For classic turpentine, this Winsor & Newton Distilled Turpentine is a great option.

If you're searching for a less toxic solvent, this Real Milk Paint Co., Citrus Solvent is a great alternative.

Solvent.

Now that your paintbrushes are nice and paint-free, thanks to your solvent rinse, squeeze the excess solvent back into the container.

This is best done if you have latex gloves as solvent is hard on the skin.

If solvent gets on your skin, be sure to wash your hands after with soap and water.

Clean brushes.

You have a paint-less brush, but now your brush needs to be solvent-free. Solvents can damage bristles when left for long periods of time. This makes the paintbrushes harder to use for future masterpieces.

To wash your brushes of solvent, use hot water and soap.
  • Fill a small container with water and a few drops of liquid dish soap.
  • Swish your brush around in the container for a few seconds.
  • Squeeze your bristles to remove excess water.
Clean brushes.

Boom! You have clean brushes! The only thing you have left to do is let them dry.

This is best done if you can hang them upside down with the bristles facing downward so gravity and air can do a quick job of drying, but you can also place them on any flat surface.

Enjoy those clean brushes!

Acrylic paint- be gone!
Tayler Tayler (48)
10 minutes

Painting might be a beloved pastime by many, but one of the most tedious painting tasks actually happens after the fact: brush cleaning. I'm not talking about a quick whisk is a jar of water.