Artist paint brushes are not only expensive, they also perform the important task of transferring the art you see in your head to the canvas. Proper care of your brushes will ensure they remain in tip-top condition for channelling your creativity and, by extending their life-span, save you money.

Don’t Wait

Brushes should be cleaned immediately after use. If paint is allowed to dry on the brush the bristle structure may become degraded. In addition, the extra physical stresses involved in removing dried-in paint may cause bristle damage and breakage as the delicate fibres are forced back and forth against the edge of the ferrule.

While You’re Working

Brushes that lie idle for any length of time during a painting session should be protected from drying paint by immersion in:

  • Water, if your brush is designed for use with acrylics.
  • Solvent, if your brush has natural bristles and you are using oils.

It is preferable by far, when immersing brushes, to prevent bristles being bent or crushed by using a brush holder that holds the brush vertically suspended in the liquid. Further, brushes should only immersed to the beginning of the ferrule. Soaking brush handles in water or solvent will cause the wood to swell and weaken.

Cleaning Your Brushes

If you are painting with acrylics you can clean your brushes with water alone, but if you use oils you should follow the four steps below.

Wiping – wipe the paint from the bristles using a cloth. Stroke down and away from the ferrule, never towards it.

Solvent – place the head of the brush in a container of solvent and agitate to remove paint. Wipe with a cloth.

Brush Soap – brush soap cleans any remaining paint from the bristles of your brush and removes traces of solvent. Some brush soaps also contain conditioners which improve the texture of the bristles.

Wet both the soap (if it is a solid cake) and brush with warm water, apply the soap to the bristles, rub the brush gently against the palm of your hand to thoroughly work the soap through, rinse and repeat until the brush is clean.

Drying – after washing, reshape the head of the brush and then lie it horizontally to dry. If you have a brush holder you can also dry the brush vertically, head-down. Natural hair brushes designed for use with oils should not be dried head-up. The bristle glue in these brushes is not always fully waterproof and the extended contact with water that head-up drying involves could lead to bristle loss.

Brushes designed for use with acrylics may be safely dried head-up, as the glues used in these brushes are waterproof.


Natural hair brushes will benefit from conditioning every so often. Some artists use hair conditioner for this purpose, but a more traditional agent is lard oil. Apply one or two drops to a clean, dry brush head and work in gently with the fingers. Wrap the brush in a cloth or Glad Wrap and leave for a week.

Worth the Effort

Cleaning and car takes a little time and work, but this effort will pay off handsomely in the feel, performance and endurance of your art brushes.

Learn more about cleaning artist brushes in this video.



  1. Meltemi says:

    UK. Use acrylics? Wipe off the excess with tissue…work a little ‘Swarfega’ a rapid hand cleanser [grime, oil, grease & paints]… rinse out under a running dry the brush

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