Caring for your artist brushes

by Art Materials on Aug 11, 2021

Caring for your artist brushes

Artist brushes are a (daily) tool used by oil, acrylic and watercolour artists to paint masterpieces and express themselves visually. High-quality paint brushes become investment pieces of a treasured art supplies collection that is built up over time. For many artists, their brushes are an extension of their arm and they are pedantic about caring for them so that these little art tools can serve them for many years. 

Paintbrush care and cleaning disciplines will impact the life expectancy of any brush, saving you money as well as affecting the quality of your paint projects.  And a well-cared-for artist’s brush will streamline your efficiency and experience. 

(If you are a novice to the world of art and need some ‘art geek’ basics on artist brushes, then our previous blog is just for you). 

Regardless of your preferred paint medium, the general TLC principle for all artist brushes is to clean them frequently. Never let the paint dry on your bristles or ferrule and never let your brushes sit for extended periods of time in water or cleaning solvents as they will warp, blend and fray. 

Not only do different paint mediums require a different type of brush to paint correctly, but each medium also requires different cleaning methods. 

Paintbrush care for oils

Artist brushes used for oils require a strict calming routine and it takes some work to get the paint out of the bristles. If oil paint is not cleaned regularly from the brushes and left to dry thoroughly, the brushes are likely to become unusable. 

Paintbrush care for oils

Oil paints require a cleaning solvent solution, vegetable oil or turpentine to get the job done. 

  • Blot any excess paint from the brush onto a cloth or old newspaper.
  • DIp the brush into the solvent or oil and work into the brushes with your fingers to remove any paint from your brush.
  • Blot and repeat until all the paint is removed. 
  • For any dried oil paint, soak overnight in a brush cleaner. 
  • Finish by washing the brush with an artist’s soap and water.
  • Hang brushes up by their handles so any excess moisture can run off the bristles. If stored while wet, they can develop mildew. 

(TIP: Avoid cleaning oil brushes with detergent, as this will damage the individual bristles).

Paintbrush care for acrylics

Although acrylic paints are a relatively new kid on the art block, this versatile medium is popular amongst artists of all levels. A major advantage to acrylic paints is that they are water-based so the paintbrush cleaning routine is much simpler than oils. 

Paintbrush care for acrylics
  • As soon as you have finished painting, remove the brushes from the water container and give them a squeeze with paper towel and then rub any excess pigment from the bristles on the paper towel. 
  • Using mild soap and cold water, wash each brush individually. (Avoid warm or hot water as it will help the paint to set).
  • Rinse until the water runs clear. 
  • For any stubborn residual paint in the bristles, take a bar of artist’s soap and stroke the wet bristles across the top and then rub the bristles with your fingers to loosen any leftover paint that may have collected at the ferrule. 
  • Rinse again and blot on a clean piece of paper towel. 
  • Dry the ferrules and handles, reshape the bristles and let the paintbrushes dry standing upright in a jar.  Only store when completely dry. 

Paintbrush care for watercolours

Artist brushes for watercolour painting require a relatively simple cleaning regime. One thing to be aware of is when pigment particles build up at the base of the brush (where the ferrule joins the bristles), they can push the bristles apart which stops the point of the brush from forming.  

Paintbrush care for watercolours
  • Remove the brushes from the water when finished painting and wipe your brush clean on a lint-free cloth and then rinse under running water. 
  • Using mild soap and cool to warm water, swirl the brush in the palm of your hand and rinse again. 
  • Repeat until the water runs clear. 
  • Dry the ferrules and handles, reshape the bristles and let the paintbrushes dry standing upright in a jar.  Only store when completely dry.

(TIP: Watercolour brushes are delicate, so avoid strong soap which could damage the bristles by removing natural oils. Do not use hot water as it may cause any remaining paint to clot).

The Art Materials Company

From brushes and paints to canvases and easels, The Art Materials Company is your leading online craft & art supplies store where you can explore your creative muse & give expression to your inner artist. 

Explore all our artist brush cleaning materials to ensure your paintbrushes are well cared for, cleaned and maintained.

PS - If you are looking to share a little creative love and inspire a friend, then an Art Materials gift voucher is the perfect motivation to unleash another’s artistic spirit.