How To Clean Paint Brushes

You’d be surprised how many people Google ‘what is the best way to clean paint brushes’ every day. It makes sense, though. Cleaning the paint off a brush when you’ve finished a job (or when you’re ready to change colours) can be a real chore.

Is it important to clean off your paint brushes? Yes. A disposable brush is a low-quality brush. Learning how to clean your brushes will make it less expensive to use higher quality paint brushes, and allow you to get more professional-looking results. 

 It feels incredibly wasteful to just throw away a brush when you’re done with it, and demoralising to do your best at cleaning it only to have it turn into a paintbrush-themed sculpture by the next time you need to use it. There has to be a better way!

Well, there is. Really, there are two, depending on the type of paint you use. So we’ll look at each in turn – the best way to clean paint brushes which are covered in water-based paint, and the best way to clean paint brushes that are covered in oil-based paint or varnish. 

What Will You Need To Clean Your Paint Brushes?

You won’t need all that much to start cleaning your paint brushes like a pro. Here is your list:

  • One or more decent buckets
  • One or more medium glass jars (pickle or peanut butter jars are perfect)
  • Some rags
  • A wire brush
  • Denatured alcohol or white spirits
  • Ammonia
  • Lacquer thinner
  • Paint thinner Some old newspapers

A paint brush/ paint roller spinner is optional, but highly recommended. It is a small, un-powered, inexpensive handheld device which spins your brush like a centrifuge, pulling excess water or paint thinner right out of it. You won’t regret owning one, we promise (and we don’t even sell them, so you can trust us). 

Step-By-Step Guide: The Best Way To Clean Paint
Brushes Covered in Water-Based Paint

OK, so let’s get started cleaning paint brushes. If you have just finished using water-based paint (all of our paints are water-based), you’ve got one or more brushes that are filled with paint. Modern water-based paints are incredible. They are non-flammable, easy to apply, fast-drying and resist fading or cracking for years. However, they don’t half stick to the brush! If you’ve ever tried to clean a ‘dry’ brush off by running it under a tap, you’ll know how much paint is actually still hiding between these bristles.  

Well, we promised you a better way to clean water-based paint off a paintbrush, and here it is. Just follow these simple steps:

Step 1: Scrape Off Excess Paint From The Brush

This step seems really obvious, and you probably already did this as soon as you finished painting. We could have ‘skipped straight to the good stuff’, but there are a few good reasons not to. 

One, a guide should be complete and detailed. Two, if you somehow didn’t do this, it would make a complete mess out of the rest of the process.

So, scrape both sides of the brush off on the rim of the paint tin when you’re done with it. Just like a butter knife on the side of the butter dish. Then paint as much of the rest off onto dry newspaper as you can. 

Step 2: Wash The Brush In A Bucket of Soapy Water

Now, for the earth-shattering secret of how to wash paint brushes: (dramatic pause) soap and water. 

Yeah, kind of an anti-climax. But the devil is in the details, and getting good results when washing a paintbrush all comes down to technique. Each step really is important. If you skip one, the rest might not work. 

You’ll be getting your hands dirty (or paint-y). Submerge the brush in a bucket of warm, soapy water and work the paint out with your fingers. Use a wire brush or a brush comb to separate the bristles, when you’ve gotten about as far as you can go using your fingers. 

Step 3: Wash The Brush Again In A Separate Bucket of Water

OK, so when you’re washing paint brushes, you’ll be doing a great deal of just ‘washing paint brushes’. You have to change the water a few times to get rid of all the paint that diffuses into the water. 

Not only does this make it easier to get the rest of the paint out of the brush, it lets you see what you are doing again. As a general rule, once you can’t see the brush through the water, change the water. It isn’t super important that the water be warm at this stage, but warm water will probably be a great deal more pleasant for you. 

Step 4: Rinse The Bristles In A Bucket of Clean Water

Is this the same as steps 2 and 3? No! There is a vital, desperately important difference! You don’t have to use soap this time!

Other than that… it really is the same.

Step 5: Wrap The Brush With An Old Towel or In Heavy Paper

This step is all about maintaining the shape of your brush for next time. After all, why spend 20 minutes on steps 2-4 unless you really wanted to use this brush again. Well, the key to making sure it still looks like a paint brush when you get back to it and not a mess-on-a-handle, is wrapping it carefully. 

Either fold up an old, raggy towel as seen in the picture, or do the same thing with newspaper. Wrap it around the bristles, making sure you maintain the rectangular shape you need. Then tie the towel or paper off with string (or sticky-tape). Then it’ll be ready when you need it. 

Our luxury bamboo brushes are easy to clean and made of sustainable materials. 

How To Clean Oil-Based Paint And Varnishes From Paint
Brushes

What do you get when you clean glosses, oil-based paints or varnishes with soap and water? An awful mess and decorated fingers. Because the paints are based on oil rather than water as a base, they don’t dissolve in water. 

This makes the paints more resistant to wear, weather and spilled drinks, but it also makes them very difficult to clean off paint brushes. And as the animal-hair brushes that work best with these kinds of paints can be a bit pricey, it is even more important to clean them effectively. 

Whilst we don’t sell these type of paints ourselves, we definitely don’t want to keep you hanging. You need an entirely different approach to clean off your paint brush, which we’ve detailed below. 

Step 1: Rinse The Brush In Paint Thinner Or Lacquer Thinner

Paint thinners and lacquer thinners were invented as a cleaning fluid for traditional oil-based paints, varnishes and varnishes, and they really do work well. Just make sure to read the manufacturer’s safety instructions carefully before using any kind of paint thinner. Almost all of them are highly flammable, some can cause poisoning if inhaled, and most have the potential to stain or damage delicate clothing. At a minimum, wear protective gloves, goggles and some kind of an apron.

Physically, you’ll be doing everything we suggest in the instructions for cleaning latex paint off a brush, only you’ll be using a small jar of paint thinner or lacquer instead of a bucket of water. You are less likely to need a wire brush or brush comb, though. 

Step 2: Spin The Brush For 20 Seconds

When nearly all of the paint has been rinsed from the brush, remove it from the paint or lacquer thinner and attach it to your paint brush spinner (if you have one). Now make sure the bristles are inside a jar or bucket to catch the spray, and start spinning. 

Step 3: Dip The Brush Into Clean Paint Thinner

You thought it would be that simple? No, just like with the water-based paint cleaning instructions, you’ll be repeating nearly the same actions a few times. 

Dispose of the soiled paint thinner or lacquer thinner according to its instructions and your local regulations, and begin again with fresh thinner or paint brush cleaner solution. This time, agitate the bristles with gloved fingers or against the sides and bottom of the jar for at least 120 seconds. 

Step 4: Spin The Brush Again

Spinning gets much more soiled thinner out from between the bristles of the brush than you can manage by hand. The more you spin, the fewer times you’ll have to go back and rinse the brush again.

Step 5: Clean The Brush In A Bucket of Soapy Water

Many traditionalists will decide to skip this step, and that’s really OK. However, a quick soap and water wash won’t harm a natural-bristle brush, and water washing makes it easier to wrap the bristles as we described above in the instructions for water-based paint brush cleaning.

And, you're done! Remember, if you want to avoid cleaning your brushes or rollers because you're going to get back at it in a day or two, then use clingfilm to wrap your tools and to prevent the paint from drying.

Have a look at our Essential Supplies Kit which includes our sustainable, bamboo brushes in three different sizes.

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