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

Posted by on Sep 2, 2013 in Painting | Comments


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?

Comments

  1. Jill says:

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

  2. Steve says:

    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.

  3. Dianne W. Ballesty says:

    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.

  4. Michele Simpson says:

    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!

  5. TinaAStoffel says:

    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

  6. Tazz says:

    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.

  7. Robert Lopez says:

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

  8. Robert Lopez says:

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

  9. Rita Chafe says:

    great tips thank you!

  10. Rita Chafe says:

    great tips thank you!

  11. Rita Chafe says:

    great tips thank you!

  12. Rita Chafe says:

    great tips thank you!