How to Clean Oil Paint Brushes

How to Clean Oil Paint Brushes

How to Clean Oil Paint Brushes? What Are Some of the Issues That Painters Face When Using Brushes With Dried Paint on Them?

When it comes to painting, artists love to experiment with different types of paints and a variety of brushes to get the desired effect on their canvas. There are various types of art paints and brushes that are available in the market. While different paints come in different textures and properties, and each paint gives significantly different results to your finished art; the different types of brushes allow you to have control over the painting by maintaining the strokes, detailing, making thick or thin lines, filling the art with colors, blending and more. Depending on the impact that these paints and the brushes create on the canvas, the artists decide which type to go with. 

What Are Some of the Different Kinds of Paints Used for Painting?

Talking about the paints here are 5 types of paints

  1. Watercolor: This is one of the most common types of paint that is used by both beginners as well as professional artists. It gives a translucent effect and comes in different forms like cake or palette form, tubes, individual bottles, etc. 
  1. Oil paint: Another common form that is popular among all artists is oil-based paint. Artists prefer this because of its oil base that lasts for a longer period and gives solid coverage. Oil paints dry very slowly giving the painter a lot of time to work with the details in the painting. 
  1. Acrylic paints: These are the ones that can be used on different kinds of platforms be it handmade watercolor paper, regular paper, and even canvas. These paints dry very easily and are extremely pigmented. 
  1. Gouache: Gouache, being a solute is very similar to watercolor with the only difference being it is more blurred/clouded than watercolor. You cannot see the paper or the canvas when a layer of Gouache is applied. This paint is again a great medium for beginners. 
  1. Encaustic: This one is wax-based and is not soluble in water. The painters need to heat this before using it as it is wax-based and use a metal tool to spread the paint on the surface. This paint is super durable but needs a good amount of experience and knowledge to use it effectively.
Clean Oil Paint Brushes

What Are the Different Types of Brushes Painters Use?

There is a wide range of painting brushes when it comes to different materials (of the bristles), shapes, and sizes:

  • Natural Brushes: The natural hair brushes are made out of animal hair or fur (no animal is harmed in the process of making paintbrushes) and are considered to be of the best quality. These brushes work wonders when paired with oil paints. 
  • Synthetic brushes: The bristles of these brushes are made of nylon or polyester and are therefore harder in texture when compared with natural brushes. They are cheaper as well. 

Brushes also come in different shapes and sizes and if you are a painter, you are sure to have a good assortment of brushes in your collection which goes without saying!

How to Clean Oil Paint Brushes

Now, having a good collection of brushes is one thing, but maintenance of these brushes are a crucial aspect in the process of your painting which at times artists tend to ignore thinking that it might be time-consuming or sometimes they do not know how to clean oil paint brushes properly ending up with damaged or distorted bristles. This most commonly occurs when it comes to cleaning oil brushes because cleaning brushes that use other forms of paint can be a bit easier when compared with oil-based paints. 

The further sections of this article will give you detailed steps on how to clean oil paint brushes, paintbrush cleaner, how you can maintain your paintbrushes? How to increase the longevity of the brushes? and more.

What Are Some of the Difficulties That Painters Face When They Use Brushes With Dried Paint on Them?

As mentioned previously, cleaning paint brushes are very important and there are several reasons behind it. There are many issues that you may face if the brushes are not cleaned properly. 

Leftover paint or build-up results in the hardening of the brush as they obstruct moisture retention. This is more common in natural brushes as they are delicate and their bristles are retained with organic oils. The paint or dust build-up in the bristles will dry the brush out.

In the case of synthetic brushes, the dry paint will affect the shape of the bristles and they may even start falling out if not washed regularly and properly. In both the above situations, losing the brush is an appropriate choice because a spoiled brush affects the painting. 

Apart from this, you also have to spend a lot of money every time you need to replace a damaged brush. 

How to Clean Oil Paint Brushes

How to Clean Oil Paint Brushes?

Painting is considered to be a stress reliever and it helps you stay calm and at peace.  To have a smooth and stress-free painting session, have all your painting tools in place and your paintbrushes on the go and create some magic. For this, your paintbrushes should be well-taken care of. So if you do not know how to clean oil paint brushes then take a look at the below tutorial.

There are a few things that you need to keep handy before you start cleaning your brushes:

  • Some pieces of clean cloth or paper towel
  • Small-sized buckets or mugs
  • Paint thinner
  • Oils and vinegar

Here’s a step-by-step process that explains ‘how to clean paint brushes with the help of a paintbrush cleaner or solvent.

(Note: Some paint thinners are strong and may affect your skin, therefore, it is always advisable to wear gloves when cleaning brushes using paint thinner).

Step 1

Removing the excess wet paint from the brush

Once you are done with painting, take out the excess paint from the brush immediately before it dries up. Do that by sliding the brush on the inner rim of the paint container or wipe it off with a cloth or paper towel. 

Step 2

Cleaning the brush with paintbrush cleaner, paint thinner, or solvent

  • What solvent you should use will depend on what paint you have used. For oil-based paint, you need to use mineral spirits or turpentine. 
  • Pour some solvent into a cup or a mug and soak the bristles completely so that no part is left outside. (do not place the brushes in the actual container of the solvent, it will spoil the entire solvent at one go). 
  • Rinse the bristles thoroughly but gently or swirl the brush in the solvent for about a minute.  
  • Wipe the brush with care and rinse it briefly with warm water.
  • Repeat the process until all the paint build-up comes out and the brush is clean. 

Step 3

Washing the brush further: (optional)

  • If you see more paint in between the bristles, then you need to follow this step. 
  • Use oil paint brush cleaner (General Pencil Masters Brush Cleaner & Preserver). It is a great product to clean tough stains from the brushes. This is generally used for darker shades of oil paint. 
  • Swirl the brush in the brush cleaner until a lather is formed. Let it sit for about a couple of minutes.

Step 4 

Rinsing the brush with water

Rinse the soap in a mug of warm water. Be careful while handling the brush. Washing the brush with running water? Then hold the brush with the bristles facing down. This prevents the water from entering into the ferrule. Avoid hot water to wash the brush as it will damage the bristles and expand the ferrule which will loosen up and the bristles will fall out.

Step 5

Drying the brushes and storing the properly

  • Remove the excess water with the help of cloth to a blotting paper. Make sure not to pull the bristles hard as this may damage them. 
  • Shape the bristles into a pointed tip with your fingers- this will help retain the shape of the brush. 
  • Hang them with the bristles facing downwards. Once the brushes are completely dry, store them in a clean and dry box or a case. 

How to Clean Oil Paint Brushes Without Solvent or Paint Thinner (or With Natural Solvent)?

Some painters who are sensitive to chemical-based solvents often consider cleaning their brushes with natural cleansing agents that do not have chemicals mixed in them. There are a couple of things that you can do in this case: 

  • Cleaning with linseed oil 
  • Removing paint with baby oil 
  • Vinegar wash

How to Clean Oil Paint Brushes With Linseed Oil?

Linseed Oil, or usually called flaxseed oil, is popular in different industries for its natural cleaning properties. It is a great alternative to chemical-based paint thinners. This is either mixed with other oils or solvents or used alone. Linseed oil has several benefits. It forms a great base when it comes to painting, varnish, or removing any other stains. It is also one of the readily available items because a lot of people use it at home as a food ingredient for health benefits as well. 

Now, the question is how to clean oil paint brushes with linseed oil? Once you have removed the leftover paint, pour linseed oil in a small cup, dish, or on a thick rough textured paper. Soak the bristles in the oil and leave it for a while. Keep rotating the brush to make sure that the entire bristles are covered with the oil. Start rubbing the bristles slowly and carefully until all the paint buildup goes off. Repeat this process until you have a clean brush. Remember that painting brushes are delicate so do not over rub them or rush when you are cleaning as this may damage the bristles. 

Once done, you can as usual use a paintbrush cleaner or soap to remove the oil and rinse the brush with warm water. 

How to Clean Oil Paint Brushes With Baby Oil

Do you know that baby oil has a wide range of uses, one of which is removing the stubborn paint off the paintbrushes? It is also a safe medium to use if your hands are sensitive to chemicals and proves to be safe for your brushes too!

You need to follow the same method as you used for linseed oil. Coat the brush with an ample amount of oil and start removing the paint from the brush. You may have to repeat this step a good number of times as this is a natural cleaner may take a bit longer than usual. Wash it with warm water and a paint soap later. 

Give Your Brush a Vinegar Wash

So far we have been talking about how to clean paint brushes with wet paint on them. If you are wondering how to clean a dried paintbrush, then Vinegar is the answer to it. It is a great cleaning agent when it comes to tough stains and pigments. Although all the methods mentioned above may work for dried paint as well, vinegar may make the process way easier. 

Pour some vinegar into a cup and immerse the stiff bristles completely in it. Leave it on for an hour. If the stiffness persists, soak it for another hour. (If the bristles are too tough then you can put the brushes in the vinegar and place the container on the stove to bring it to boil. Then remove it from the stove and let it cool down on its own). This takes a long time but is definitely worth giving a shot if you want to save your brush. Once the bristles have softened, rinse it with water and dry it out carefully

While cleaning the paintbrushes is important and you now have the different ways on how to clean oil paint brushes, there are a few things that you can do to maintain your brushes and take care of them well. 

Some Proven Tips and Tricks for Paint Brush Care and Maintenance

Do Not Let the Paint Dry on Your Brushes 

As mentioned before, make sure to clean your brushes after every painting session and do not leave them on for days. Working with acrylic paints? Be extra careful because acrylic paints lose moisture pretty fast making them more difficult to clean.

Do Not Use Hot Water to Clean the Brushes 

Hot water can damage the bristles and expand the ferrule leading to falling out of the bristles. Always use warm water instead. 

Avoid Harsh Detergents, Paint Strippers, and Wire Paint Combs 

All of these are not recommended for cleaning the brush as these may damage the bristles. You need to handle your paintbrushes gently and with care.

Use Old Brushes for Dry Brushing Technique 

The dry brush technique is a common technique that is used by painters to add texture to the painting. It is used with dry thick paint and involves pressing the bristles against the canvas. This may lead to bending of the bristles that can ultimately damage the brush. So when you use this technique use an old brush. Do not rest your brush in the cup with bristle tip down while painting or even after you are done with painting. This would lead to bending of the bristles and will reduce the life of the brush.

Dry Your Brushes by Keeping the Bristle Tip Down 

After cleaning is done, remove as much moisture as possible. After that, either hang your brushes in a brush stand or just place them horizontally and let them dry. Drying the brushes with pointing the bristles upward will dampen and clog the ferrule with dust particles and the bristles may also get de-shaped. 

Use Water-mixable Paints

Water mixable oil paints are easier to clean when compared with complete oil-based paints. There may be a minor difference in the luster when compared with pure oil paints which an experienced artist figures out. When it comes to cleaning, do it by rinsing in mild soap and warm water.

Cleaning brushes with natural cleansers like oils will add life to your brush when compared with cleaning them with chemical-based solvents. 

Avoid Dipping the Brush Till Its Ferrule in the Paint Bottle

Make sure to dip only the bristle part of the brush in the paint and not up till the ferrule. This will not only save a whole lot of paint but also make cleaning easy. It will also protect the ferrule from getting deterioration by the washing process.


Paintbrushes are priceless assets for a painter and keeping them in a good state is crucial to give them a long life and yield better performance in return. Therefore, you need to make paintbrush cleaning a part of your routine and enjoy doing it as much as you enjoy painting. However, if for some reason your paintbrush is worn out or has been damaged, do not dispose of them right away. Who knows they may prove to be an essential part of your creation because worn-out brushes make great tools for textured painting, dry painting, scraping off extra paint from your canvas, mixing colors, and much more! All this should answer your question, “How to clean oil paint brushes?”

Frequently Asked Questions(FAQs)

What are natural solvents or natural cleaners that are used to clean paint brushes? 

Natural solvents are nothing but different oils that are chemical-free and can be used to clean the paint build-up in the brushes. These are linseed oil, baby oil, etc. Vinegar is also considered a natural cleaner that is used to clean brushes.

What should you do if you have an emergency and have to go in the middle of your painting session?

Even if you have an emergency, it is always advisable to give your brush a brief cleaning with water by swirling it in the water a couple of times. Once you are done place the brush on a horizontal surface before you go.

How or where can you store brushes after cleaning?

Once your brushes are cleaned and dried you can either keep them in the brush case or place them in the brush stand hanger by keeping the bristle tips down. It is always recommended to keep them in a clean dust-free place to avoid dust build-up which may affect your painting by disrupting the smoothness. 

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