A Guide to Maintaining Your Oil Paint Brushes

The oil paint brush is the most important and also the most expensive tool for an oil painter. In this article, you'll learn the proper technique for maintaining your oil painting tools.  

If you take good care of your brushes, even the best ones can last for years. However, you must be extremely thorough when cleaning your brushes, as even a single slip-up can ruin your work.  

If you intend to paint frequently, I will first explain how to take care of your brushes in a simple way.  

If you follow my advice, your paint brushes will never look like this again.

How To Clean Your Oil Paintbrushes

The Quick and Simple Way to Clean Oil Paint Brushes

If you paint frequently, you may find it inconvenient to have to thoroughly clean your brushes after each session.

Care for your brushes as follows if you intend to use them again in the next few days:

  • Start by wiping off the majority of the excess paint from your brushes (this step does not require you to completely clean your brushes).
  • Use a slow-drying oil, such as Winsor & Newton Safflower Oil or artist-grade poppyseed oil, to coat the tips of your brushes before painting. These take more time to dry than the standard linseed oil.  
  • Hang a drying rack for the paintbrushes.

After each painting session, simply clean the brushes with a damp cloth and they will be ready for use again.

Expired paint from a previous session is not a major concern. It shouldn't be enough to noticeably alter the hues you've worked so hard to create (unless you're going for a pure color straight from the tube, in which case you'll want a clean brush).

You should only use this method to clean your brushes if you intend to use them again within a few days of your painting session. The oil on your brushes will dry and harden the bristles if you do not use them to paint within a few days.

An In-Depth Guide to Cleaning Oil Paint Brushes

After your session, make sure to give your brushes a good cleaning if you won't be using them for a while.

Items Required

The Things You Should Stay Away From

  • Detergent
  • Chemicals used to remove paint
  • Brushes made of metal wire for painting

Remove as much oil paint from your brushes as you can before proceeding.

The first step is to clean your brushes thoroughly of any leftover oil paint. You should begin by placing some Gamblin Odorless Solvent (or your preferred paint thinner) in a cup or jar and briefly rinsing your brushes through it. Then, using paper towels (I find them to be kinder to the brushes) or newspaper, wipe them down gently.

Wipe off the excess paint, then rinse the brushes in warm water and repeat as necessary to get the paint out.

At this point, you need not strip the surface entirely of paint; just the major portions.

Second, you must dismantle the remaining oil paint.

To make matters worse, many people will give up after the first stage, mistakenly believing they have covered all of the surface with paint. In spite of this, even after the first stage, there will be a substantial quantity of paint still in your brushes.

If the paint is allowed to dry while still in contact with the bristles, the bristles will harden and become almost unusable.

To begin, dip your brushes once more into the paint thinner and clean them. Then, use the brushes to meticulously decorate a bar of soap (we recommend Chelsea Classical Studio's Professional Artist Hand Soap). You can then use the resulting lather to scrub stubborn gunk out of the bristles. Soap color bleed is what you should see.

Avoid damaging the brushes by forcing the bristles into the soap while working with the soap. The correct motion to use is a pulling one.

Brushes should be washed in warm water until no more color transfers to the soap.

Oil paint brush cleaners such as Chroma Brush Cleaner and The Masters Brush Cleaner should be part of your routine if you frequently use pigments with a high pigment loading (such as burnt umber or phthalo blue). These oil paint cleaners are fantastic at dissolving the oil paint.

How To Clean Oil Paint Brushes

Third, put the brushes down to rest.

Brushes that have been cleaned should have their tips shaped into a point before being stored inverted in a brush holder. The bristles will be permanently damaged if you let your brushes rest with their bristles folded against anything.

Some of the cleaning products are very toxic, so you should probably wear gloves while working with them. Keep all oil painting supplies out of the reach of children.

Avoiding the Use of Paint Thinner When Cleaning Oil Paint Brushes

It is possible to clean oil paint brushes without paint thinner if you are allergic to the solvent.

The paint thinner could be substituted with linseed oil, in essence. You can now proceed with the steps we discussed by dipping your brushes in linseed oil.

In addition, you should have an oil paint brush cleaner, such as The Masters Brush Cleaner, on hand to get rid of the dried oil paint that refuses to come off the brush.

Brush cleanup without paint thinner is possible, though it will take longer. Similar steps are taken, but more water is used in the rinsing process than with paint thinner.

For information on the tools and materials I recommend, please visit the "Supplies" page. )

Alternative Techniques and Best Practices for Cleaning Oil Paint Tools

  • Don't force your brushes onto the canvas; instead, pull them. You can ruin your paintbrush's bristles by forcing it into the canvas. There will be times when you need to "squirt" paint to get the desired effect, but you should refrain from doing so if at all possible. Try to pull rather than push when you stroke.  
  • Maintain a strict 24-hour no-brushes policy. Brush bristles and painted surfaces will eventually harden.  
  • Use your older, more worn-down brushes if you want to paint in a rough or textured style. Your more modern brushes are useless for this task. Don't waste your best brushes on the big strokes.
  • It's acceptable to ruin a paintbrush on occasion if doing so helps one produce a better finished product. In the end, it doesn't matter how high-quality your brushes are if you can't trust them with your own artwork.

It's been my experience that oil paint brushes have a shorter lifespan than other types of brushes, but that can be avoided by following the steps outlined here.

But keep in mind that one misstep is all it takes to ruin your brushes for good. It is possible to salvage some usable brush hairs from brushes left in paint until it dries and hardens, but the bristles will never be as healthy as they were before.

Still, even worn out brushes have a place in your toolkit, as they can be put to use for more aggressive painting methods (such as staining or thick impasto work).

Please also note that this post contains Amazon affiliate links. Simply put, this means that at no extra cost to you, I will receive a small commission from any purchases you make through Amazon. The proceeds will go toward the upkeep and expansion of this website.

I sincerely hope this post was informative for you. If you know of an effective way to clean oil paint brushes, please share it in the comments.

The following links may also be of interest to you:

The Definitive Resource for Novice Oil Painters

Advice for Novice Oil Painters

Equipment List for Oil Painting

Painting with Acrylics vs. Oils

Excited to Find Out More?

My Painting Academy course might be something you're interested in. Let me guide you through the tried-and-true basics of painting. Ideal for those with no prior painting experience to those with some

You're Welcome for Reading

Thanks for taking the time to read this, and I sincerely hope you found the information contained herein to be informative. Don't be shy about sending it to your pals.

Have fun with your painting!

Dan Scott

Training to Be a Painter

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