From the best soap to use to drying techniques, here's what two artists had to say.

By Caroline Biggs
June 15, 2020
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Aaron Dyer

Ask any painter and they'll tell you the same: Whether you're painting the walls of your home or a canvas, cleaning your brushes after each use is paramount. "Washing your brushes is important to keep the bristles soft and to clear out color pigment from the paint," explains artist Carly Wilhelm. "Frequent cleaning and conditioning will make brushes last longer and maintain a predictable stroke."

Of course, certain brushes, and more specifically, bristle types require different cleaning techniques. "Some brush bristle types clean much more easily than others," explains Nicole Gibbons of Clare. "Brushes made of synthetic materials, like our poly/nylon blend brushes ($9, clare.com), can usually be cleaned with soap and water, assuming you used a water-based paint." Wilhelm says that brushes made of natural materials, such as animal hair or fur, need to be treated more delicately, especially when washing out oil paint. "Brushes used with oil paints require mineral spirits, paint thinner, or a slow drying oil for a thorough cleaning, followed by soap and water," she says.

Looking for more advice about how to clean your paint brushes like a pro? We asked both experts for tips on what to do, and here's what they had to share.

Clean after every use.

If you aren't washing your paint brushes every time you use them, Wilhelm says you're doing it all wrong. "If you don't clean your brushes frequently, dried on paint will harden the bristles and make once smooth strokes look scratchy," she explains. "Also, when a dirty brush is rewet, old paint residue can mix into new paint and ruin the color." But if you can't clean your brush moments after you've finished using it, don't worry; Gibbons says the next best thing to do is to place the brush in a jar, covering only the bristles with water or cleaning solution (depending on the type of paint used), so they stay wet until you're ready to use them. "Soaking the wooden handle could cause it to warp or cause the ferrule to loosen over time," she adds.

Wash each brush correctly.

To clean water-based paint, such as latex or acrylic, off of your paint brush, Gibbons says you won't need much more than a good liquid dish detergent and warm water. "A lot of pro painters swear by Dawn Ultra Dishwashing Liquid Dish Soap ($20 for two, amazon.com)," she says. "You want to get the bristles as clean and pristine as possible so it will take several washes and rinses until the water runs clear... kind of like cleaning a makeup brush! When rinsing your brush under a faucet, rinse with bristles facing downward so you don't end up warping the handle or forcing paint down to clog into the ferrule."

Treat brushes used for oil paints differently.

For paintbrushes soiled with oil paint, Wilhelm says you'll need to take a different approach when cleaning. "For brushes used for oil paints, dab remaining wet paint off of the brush onto a paper towel or rag, then pour a small amount (about a 1/4") of cleaning solution, such as General Pencil The Masters Brush Cleaner ($11, walmart.com), into a small non-plastic container," she says. "Work the brush bristles back and forth in the liquid until the bristles are clean,"

Try a paint brush comb.

If you aren't already hip to paint brush combs, then now's the time to smarten up. If you find dried paint stuck in the bristles of your brush after washing, Gibbons says they'll get the job done. "A metal paint brush comb is a great tool to loosen up stubborn dried paint residue from bristles," she explains. "It's what professionals use when cleaning their brushes; just comb out from base to tip."

Dry upside down.

Make no mistake about it: How you dry your brushes is every bit as important as how you wash them. "After cleaning, use your hands to spin out excess water then pat dry using a soft cloth," Gibbons says. "House paint brush handles should have a hole in the end to hang your brush facing downward to dry." For smaller paintbrushes, Wilhelm suggests first laying them flat on a paper towel, and then hanging them upside down by the handle with tape or a drying rack, to keep them in tiptop shape. "Never dry brushes standing upright on the handle, doing so will slowly decay the ferrule and handle of the brush," she explains.

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