How to Clean a Paintbrush

Four Methods:SolventFabric SoftenerVinegar (for Paint-Hardened Brushes)Liquid Dish Soap (for Oils)

Wondering how to get the paint off of your brush? There are a lot of ways to do it. These time-proven methods to clean a paintbrush thoroughly and keep it usable for a long time are adaptable to almost any type of paint. Read on to learn how to clean your paintbrush.

Method 1

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    Wipe the brush on a rag or paper towel to remove as much paint as possible. Getting rid of the excess paint makes the job of cleaning your brush a lot easier.
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    Rinse the brush in the appropriate solvent. It's okay to use the dirty solvent from your painting session. Pour it into a bowl or bucket and gently run your brush back and forth through the solvent to release the paint. You can wipe it along the sides and bottom of the container as well. Here are your solvent choices:
    • Use mineral spirits for most oil-based paints.
    • Use water for water-based paints like acrylic, watercolor, or latex, and also most white glues and wood glues.
    • Use denatured alcohol for shellac.
    • Check the product's label if you're not sure what kind of paint you have. It will contain instructions for what solvent to use.
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    Wipe the brush again with a rag to remove any remaining solvent. You may skip this step if the solvent is water.
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    Rinse the brush under running water. You may want to rub the bristles of the brush between your fingers, but be very gentle with sable brushes.
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    When the brush is clean, shake or blot out the extra water. Reshape the bristles to the correct form, then store the brush upright in a container so that the bristles are not deformed when dry.

Method 2
Fabric Softener

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    Wipe the excess paint from the brush. Run the brush over a paper towel or a cloth to get rid of as much paint as possible.
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    Mix together a gallon of warm water and 1/2 cup fabric softener. This solution will help loosen the paint from the brush, making it slip right off.[1]
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    Swish your brush through the solution. Swish it around for several seconds, until you see the paint coming off.
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    Shake off the excess fabric softener solution.
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    Reshape the bristles and stand the brush up to dry.

Method 3
Vinegar (for Paint-Hardened Brushes)

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    Soak the brush in vinegar for an hour. Check to see if you can bend the bristles back; if you can't, keep soaking it for another hour.
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    Place the brush in an old pot and cover it with vinegar. You want the vinegar to completely cover the brush's bristles.
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    Bring the vinegar to a boil on the stove. Let it simmer for a few minutes with the paintbrush.[2]
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    Remove the brush and let it cool. It will be very hot to the touch at first, so be careful.
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    Comb the brush bristles. You can use your finger or an old comb. Place it at the base of the bristles and pull through to comb out the loosened paint. Keep doing this until the hard globs of paint have all come loose.
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    Rinse the brush. When the paint is loose, rinse the brush in running water to wash it all away.
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    Repeat as necessary. You may need to do another vinegar boiling session and comb the brush again to get it back into shape.
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    Let the brush dry. Place it upright in a jar and reshape the bristles.

Method 4
Liquid Dish Soap (for Oils)

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    Squeeze as much paint as you can out of the brush. Do this into a paper towel or rag.
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    Squeeze liquid dish soap into the palm of your hand.
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    While warm water is running, swoosh the brush in a circular motion in your palm. Rinse and repeat until the soap no longer shows any signs of paint. This will require about three goes at least.
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    Reshape your brush. Let it dry thoroughly before using again with oil paint.
    • Lay it down so no water is trapped in the brush head causing loosening of bristles and/or chipped, warped handles.
    • This is optional, but you can also clean with mineral spirits every few months, for a deeper clean.


  • If you are using latex (water based) paint and the color is deep, such as a dark green, black, etc, you may find that although cleaned, the bristles retain a "greasy" feel to them, and the brush feels like it is still full of paint. That's because it is! To correct this, simply clean the brush in mineral spirits. A couple of swishes should remove the oil based tints.
  • If you use acrylic (latex), acetone (nail paint remover) or denatured alcohol can be used to save a dried up brush. Simply soak it for a minute or two in acetone, then wash off with soap. Repeat till the bristles are soft and clean. Use tweezers to remove those frizzy hairs on the side.
  • Do not leave a brush on its bristles or in water. Instead, wrap a paper towel around the bristles, fold the end under, and lay it flat until it dries. Wrap a rubber band around the bristles when done. This tends to train the bristles, making the brush easier to control on the next job.
  • Hot water can be used to help straighten stray nylon/poly brush filaments. Hold bent or stray filaments under hot water, you should see signs of improvement within 60 seconds, then quickly run cold water over the filaments to set the new position. Do not attempt this procedure with china bristle.
  • If you paint with artists' oils every day, you may find daily cleaning too time-consuming. Try wrapping your brushes in plastic wrap or storing them in a resealable plastic bag. Leaving your brushes in solvent continuously will greatly shorten their useful life.


  • Don't forget to wash your hands after cleaning your brushes.
  • Even if you use turpentine for your oil-painting mediums, you should use mineral spirits for the solvent. It's much less toxic.

Things You'll Need

  • Used paint brush
  • Solvent for paint used
  • Soap
  • Water
  • Rags or paper towels

Article Info

Categories: Painting