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Cleaning Brushes

Cleaning Brushes

by American Artist


What is the best way of cleaning brushes?

A well-made brush, if properly cared for, will last an extremely long time. However, if it is not cared for properly, even the most expensive, high-quality brush will quickly become completely useless. One of the best things you can do for your paintings is to keep your brushes clean from the start.

To begin, if you are working in oils, you should have a good brush-cleaning device-a container that holds a plastic or wire scouring pad – into which you will pour solvent. You can buy a brush cleaner in your art-materials store or make one by simply placing a short coil of wire or a plastic scouring pad in a jar or metal container with a lid.

You should use this brush cleaner both while you are working and when you are done with your painting session. To do so, fill the container with solvent; then, while painting, you can rub your brush against the pad without damaging the bristles. Be sure to cover the brush cleaner when it is not in use and to change the solvent when it gets dirty.

After you are done painting for the day, wipe your paint-filled brush on a rag or paper towel to remove excess paint. Rinse your brush in mineral spirits or turpentine, or, of course, in water if you have been using water based paint.

Then wash your brush in soap and water as follows: Wet the brush with warm water, not hot; rub the bristles of the brush lightly on a piece of mild soap such as Ivory; then rub the bristles on your palm (wear a rubber glove to protect your skin) until the brush lathers and the color moves off the bristles into the lather; rinse the brush in more warm water.

Repeat this process as many times as necessary until the soap lather remains white and the bristles return to their natural color. Pay special attention to the base of the brush where the bristles meet the ferrule-no paint should be left there to dry. (If small amounts of paint remain at the ferrule, the brush hairs will eventually splay due to the buildup of pigment there.) Then rinse the brush thoroughly. Lightly squeeze the bristles between your fingers, shaping them so that they dry in the correct position. Never use your mouth to shape a brush of any kind.

If you have brushes covered with dried paint, you can immerse them in full-strength detergents such as Wisk for an hour or two. This will loosen the dried paint and allow you to clean your brush with soap and water and make it almost as good as new. However, this procedure may not work, in which case the brush may have to be discarded. It is not advisable to submerge a brush in water or soap for long periods of time since the water will penetrate the brush handle through the ferrule and swell the wood. This will crack the lacquer as well as possibly split the ferrule.