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How To Clean Your Oil Paint Brushes

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Oil paint brushes are expensive and arguably your most important tool as a painter. This post will teach you how to clean oil paint brushes. 

High-quality brushes should last for a very long time if you look after them. But you need to be rigorous with your cleaning procedures as it only takes one slip-up for your paint brushes to be permanently damaged. 

First, I will run through an easy way to care for your brushes if you plan on having regular painting sessions. 

Hopefully, I can help you avoid letting your paint brushes get to a state like this:

How To Clean Your Oil Paintbrushes

How To Clean Oil Paint Brushes – The Easy Way

Having to thoroughly clean your brushes after every session can be a real hassle, especially if you paint often.

If you plan on painting again within the next few days, then you can do the following to care for your brushes:

  • Give your brushes a general wipe-down to remove much of the excess paint (you do not need to remove all the excess paint for this process)
  • Dip the tip of your brushes in a slow-drying oil such as Winsor & Newton Safflower Oil or an artist-grade poppyseed oil. These are slower-drying than the more popular linseed oil. 
  • Rest the brushes on a drying rack

When it comes time to use the paint brushes again in your next session, simply give them a wipe down and they are good to go.

Do not worry much about any leftover paint from the previous session. It should not be enough to significantly change the tone of your colors (unless you are trying to paint something with a pure color straight from the tube, in which case you will probably need a thoroughly cleaned brush).

This cleaning process is only suitable if you plan on using your brushes again in the next few days after your painting session. If you do not end up painting as expected within a few days, then you will need to take the more thorough cleaning approach, as the oil on your brushes will eventually dry and harden the bristles.

How To Clean Oil Paint Brushes – The Thorough Way

If you are not going to be using your brushes again for a while, you will need to thoroughly clean them after your session.

What You Will Need

What To Avoid:

  • Detergent
  • Paint strippers
  • Wire paint combs

Step 1: Rid your paint brushes of as much excess oil paint as possible

The first step is to rid as much excess oil paint from your brushes as possible. First, put some Gamblin Odorless Solvent (or whatever paint thinner you use) in a cup or jar and rinse your brushes briefly through it. Then gently wipe them down using paper towels or newspaper (I prefer paper towels, as they seem to be gentler on the brushes).

After wiping down your brushes, give them a rinse in warm water then repeat the process until the bulk of the paint has been removed.

You do not need to remove all the paint at this stage, just the bulk of it.

Step 2: Break down the remaining oil paint

Unfortunately, many people will stop after the first step thinking they got all the paint. However, after the first step, there will still be a lot of paint in your brushes, even though it may not be clearly evident.

The paint will be sitting deep in the bristles and if this dries, then the bristles will harden and become almost unusable.

First, take your brushes and rinse them again in your paint thinner. Then take the brushes and individually work them on your bar of soap  (recommended – Chelsea Classical Studio Professional Artist Hand Soap). This will create a lather that will get deep into the bristles. You should see color bleed into the soap.

Make sure when you are working the brushes on the soap that you are not pushing the bristles into the soap, as this will damage them. Instead, you want to work in a pulling motion.

Then rinse the brushes thoroughly in warm water and repeat this process until there is no more color bleeding into the soap.

If you have used strong colors (like burnt umber or phthalo blue) then you may need to incorporate an oil paint brush cleaner into the rotation, like Chroma Brush Cleaner, or The Masters Brush Cleaner. These specialized oil paint cleaning products are amazing at breaking down the oil paint.

How To Clean Oil Paint Brushes

Step 3: Resting the brushes

Now that your brushes are clean, you should mold the tip into a neat edge and rest the brushes inverted in a brush holder. Never rest your brushes with the bristles folded against anything, as this will cause permanent damage.

I will also mention that some of the cleaning products used are very toxic, so you may want to consider using gloves. Be sure to keep all oil painting products out of reach of children.

How To Clean Oil Paint Brushes Without Paint Thinner

If you are sensitive to paint thinner, then it is possible to clean your oil paint brushes without it.

I would basically just replace the paint thinner with linseed oil. Dip your paint brushes in the linseed oil and proceed through the steps we discussed earlier.

I would also make sure you have an oil paint brush cleaner like The Masters Brush Cleaner to help remove the stubborn oil paint.

It will take longer to clean your brushes but it is certainly possible without paint thinner. The process is basically the same, but you will just need to rinse and repeat a few more times than if you were using paint thinner.

  • Pull don’t push your brushes into the canvas. By pushing your paintbrush into the canvas, you are bending and damaging the bristles. Of course, there a times when you need to push the paintbrush to get a certain effect, however, try to avoid it when you can. Instead, try to use a pulling motion with your strokes. 
  • Never let your brushes sit unattended for more than a day. The paint will dry and the bristles will harden. 
  • If you want to paint in a rough or textured style, then use your older brushes which have already been worn down. There is no point using your newer brushes for this kind of work. Leave your highest quality brushes for the finer details in your painting.
  • Sometimes it is OK to damage your paintbrush if it means creating a better painting. There is no point in having perfect quality brushes if it is at the sacrifice of your own paintings.

Summary

If you follow these processes on how to clean oil paint brushes, then your brushes will have a long and prosperous lifespan.

But remember, it only takes one slip-up and your brushes will be permanently damaged. If you forget to clean your brushes and the paint hardens, you can recover them to an extent, but they will always be somewhat damaged.

However even damaged brushes have a place on your supply list, as they can be used for more aggressive painting techniques (applying stains or thick impasto work).

I also note there are some affiliate links to Amazon in this post. This means if you purchase anything through Amazon I will receive a small commission at no additional cost to you. These funds are used to maintain and grow this website.

I hope you found this post useful. If you have any tips for how to clean oil paint brushes then please share them in the comments.

You may also be interested in:

Oil Painting – The Ultimate Guide For Beginners

Oil Painting Tips For Beginners

Oil Painting Supplies List

Acrylic Vs Oil Painting

If you are new to oil painting, you may also be interested in my Painting Academy course.

Thanks for Reading!

Feel free to share with friends. If you want more painting tips, check out my fundamentals course.

Happy painting!

Dan Scott

Draw Paint Academy

Read more of my articles. 

12 comments on “How To Clean Your Oil Paint Brushes”

  1. I star trying to paint only some months ago, I do not anything about paint with acrylics or oils, I used color pencils to do my paints, now I am discovering a new way to express my feelings.

    I found all the information very useful, Thank you Very much.

    Painting help me a lot since I was diagnosis with Parkinson’s Disease.

    JUana Ramirez.

    Reply
  2. Really useful information on brush cleaning, will be using it from now on! Another thing that any artists would find useful is https://nuuuk.com I’ve been using vertical brush holders for a long time and found out that its hard to use when in the art process. The horizontal one is one of my favorite art tools when working.

    Reply
  3. Thank you Dan for good information on cleaning oil paint from brushes. I first dip my brushes in odorless mineral spirits and wipe off excess paint, then I put Murphy’s oil soap (a liquid vegetable oil soap that is used to clean wood and leather saddles) into a jar, about 1/2 inch deep and put the bristles into that, and after a few minutes I add a bit of warm water to it, and swish the brushes in it. The Oil Soap really dissolves a lot of paint from the brushes. Then rinse with warm water, and then use Sunlight bar soap with water, similar to your method, to remove the oil and final paint colour. Works quick and easy, and I think I use less odourless mineral spirits because of the Murphy’s oil soap.

    Reply
  4. Thank you so much, I am learning a lot. Please tell me how do a go about ordering through amazon and connect you to my purchase so you can get credit for it? I do not use Amazon to much.
    Ty

    Reply
    • Thanks Bertha! All you need to do is click on the link on this page then purchase through Amazon. It will automatically give credit. Appreciate the support! Thanks, Dan

      Reply
  5. This is very informative regarding proper care of oil painting brushes. I have never painted with oil. Paint, I’ve painted with tempera and acrylic. Good options for cleaning wit and without solvents. Care of brushes if you need to stop for a short period without having to thoroughly clean brushes.

    Reply
  6. I read that linseed oil is just Flaxseed oil with some additives to help clean brushes more easily. Organic Flaxseed oil is cheaper than Linseed oil. However I have found no references to flaxseed oil being used as a brush cleaner. What am I missing?

    Reply

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