The Artist’s Studio: 5 Tips for Caring for Your Brushes

You might have noticed that some paint brushes are very expensive! Most of the time the reason is that they are of very high quality, and worth the investment. But a good brush is only worth it if you can get the most use out of it. If you treat your expensive paint brushes just like your inexpensive ones, you are wasting your investment.

Here are five tips to help you care for and extend the life of your brushes.

Cartoon of Paint Brush with Green Paint

1. Clean your brush immediately after using it.

When you are having an artistic moment, it may be tempting to leave a dirty brush to sit for a while while you grab another one to complete your masterpiece. Resist! Especially in the case of painting with acrylics, forgetting to clean a brush often means buying a new one.

And while it’s true that painting with oils, the paint will take longer to dry on the brush than acrylics or watercolors, the longer one sits out, the more thoroughly you’ll need to clean it. After too many sessions of neglect and non-thorough cleanings, an oil brush too will be ready for the trash bin.

Cartoon of Brush Being Washed out with Shampoo

2. Between painting sessions, clean your brushes with brush cleaner, soapy water or shampoo.

When you know you’ll be putting your brushes away for a while, a simple rinse in water (or mineral spirits for oils) isn’t good enough. Work brush soap or shampoo into the bristles of the brush all the way down to the ferrule, and rinse thoroughly with lukewarm to cool water until no trace of paint or suds are left. Some folks use dishwashing liquid and even ammonia-based glass cleaner for particularly stubborn water-soluble paints.

3. Do your best to clean the base of the bristles.

The area near the ferrule is often the hardest to clean, but it’s actually just as important for maintaining a brush’s shape as the tip. Any paint residue that coats the bristles at their base will prevent them from coming together at the top. Gradually, your brush tip will become more and more spread apart until it no longer holds its shape.

Cartoon of Paintbrush in Water, Large "NO!" Symbol in Front

4. Never store your brushes vertically in water or solvent.

There are a few good reasons not to do this. The pressure on the brush can permanently misshape the bristles, bending them or spreading them out so they no longer come to a point. If they are left too long to rest on the bristles, most brushes will never regain their original shape.

The other reason not to do this has to do with the the ferrule. If you are working in oils, the solvents you use to clean your brush could also eat away at the glue inside the ferrule holding the bristles to the handle. With acrylics or watercolors, water can eventually cause the wooden handle to swell or crack, also potentially damaging the ferrule.

If you’ve ever picked up a brush from a jar of cloudy solvent or water only to find a handle without a ferrule or bristles, you know what I’m talking about.

5. Store clean brushes vertically head-side-up or horizontally.

Make sure that brushes aren’t resting against the tips of other brushes, or they can become deformed. Many artists keep their brushes rolled in canvas sleeves with individual pockets for each brush, or in drawers. As long the head is undisturbed, a brush should be fine stored vertically with the head up or horizontally. Avoid packing them up too tightly.

Be sure to take a look at our paint brush primer to learn more about the anatomy of a paintbrush bush and the six main types of brushes available.

If you take good care of your brushes, they should last you for many paintings. What is your best advice for caring for your paint brushes?

16 Comments

Jill

thank you for writing this up! While I do in fact practice these techniques for my brushes, this is a helpful reminder!

Reply
Steve

clean your brushes with Murphy’s oil soap, it’s sold in every department and most grocery stores. I’ve been using it for a few years now, I’ll never use anything else. It will clean brushes you thought were beyond help.

Reply
Dianne W. Ballesty

I can become quite obsessive about reclaiming brushes. One trick I use is to repoint to bristles using heavy body hair gel and then wrap the point with sewing thread. Once it is dry the brush will be repointed. However, if it has been overly damaged it will not retain it’s new point.

Reply
Michele Simpson

I have been using these methods since high school and still have some of the same brushes I had then. They are in really good shape and I’m 65 years old!

Reply
TinaAStoffel

Cleaning with Murphey’s Oil Soap is the best option I have found .It’s natural with no chemicals, removes the oil wonderfully. I have been careful not to leave my brushes upside down too long so that the ferrules won’t rust.abstract canvas prints

Reply
Tazz

I just went and bought a pack of 6 paint brushes for £15. I’m not so good at storing them, and I don’t use them very often. I end up drawing loads more, anyway, I really end up forgetting how to store them, they’re acrylic ones. If you do these will they affect different sorts of brushes? Like different color and makes.

Reply
Robert Lopez

I use ivory soap, really works great, but I paint in acrylics.

Reply
Robert Lopez

I use ivory soap, really works great, but I paint in acrylics.

Reply
Linda Stewart

I like this post very much! I love painting and I have a few portraits but of course I am not a real artist, I just draw because it makes me feel happy. Thanks a lot for sharing all the ways I should maintain my brushes. Regards!Camberwell Carpet Cleaners Ltd.
Linda Stewart

Reply
Rajpal

To store brushes after cleaning, drive a small brad nail into the ferrule and bend it over at a right angle, then you can hang it, bristles down, over any lip, bucket or jar to dry without hairs bending over.
Also soaking the bristles for an hour in a budget hair conditioner greatly softens old bristles. Be sure to rinse well afterward. The old conditioner can be wiped off and reused. Trim off any wayward hairs with a pair of scissors and your brushes will last way longer.

Reply
Jeanne B.

One correction: store DRY brushes bristles up. When drying brushes, either lay flat in such a way that the bristles are flying free in the air, or hang them bristles-DOWN.

The way a brush is constructed, the bristles are secured to the base of a wooden handle with a metal ferrule. If wet, just-cleaned brushes are left to dry in a jar with the bristles pointing up, moisture will drain downward, pooling at the base of the bristles within the ferrule where the bristles meet the handle wood. This can cause the wood to rot, and the ferrule to become loose, resulting in a broken brush.

Hanging brushes bristles down wicks the moisture away from the wooden handle base and allows it to drain off, thus your brushes stay in good shape and will last a lifetime.

So the proper steps are:
1. Wipe off excess paint with a lint-free rag (blue Scott shop towels are good for this).
2. Dip into fresh, clean solvent (turpenoid).
3. Swish solvent-covered brush around in your palm to loosen paint.
4. Use fingernails to separate bristles and massage out any paint particles.
5. Swish brush on a bar of hand soap or brush cleaning soap, then swish around in palm to remove solvent and remaining paint.
6. Rinse well in warm water.
7. Gently squeeze out excess water.
8. Blot with a fresh lint-free rag.
9. Use fingers to reshape brush.
10. Hang upside down (bristles down) or lay horizontally to dry.
11. Store upright or horizontally.

Also, to make for easier cleanup, always “season” brushes (except those used for drybrush blending) with a little painting medium at the beginning of the session, and wipe off excess before using.

Reply
Kathy

Could someone please tell me a way to soften my brushes. A lot of them are stiff and will not bend or flow easily on the canvas. I paint with acrylics. Been paining for 30+ years. But I do not know how to properly care for my brushes.

Thanks Kathy

Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>