Project Guide

How to Clean Paint Brushes

Remove the Wet Paint from the Brush
Blue paint drips from a paintbrush into a can of paint.
  • Before painting, be sure to use high-quality brushes that are right for the type of paint you’re using. Use nylon or polyester brushes for latex and natural bristle brushes for oil paints. This will make cleanup easier. 
  • Good brushwork is to allow only about two inches (or “two fingers”) of paint on the brush before painting. The less unnecessary paint gets on the brush, the less paint you will have to clean off later. 
  • When you’re finished painting, remove as much of the paint from the brush as you can – either on the surface you’re painting, the rim of the paint can or on a cloth, paper towel or piece of newspaper. 
  • An additional option is to gently use a brush comb to comb out the paint from the bristles. 
Clean the Brush With Solvent
A person wearing kitchen gloves cleans a paint brush in a small container of solvent.
  • Clean the brush with the appropriate solvent for the type of paint you’ve been using. If you used oil-based paint, clean the brushes with mineral spirits or turpentine. If you used a water-based paint such as acrylic or latex, clean the brushes with warm water or mild dish soap. If you used shellac, use denatured alcohol. 
  • Place enough of the solvent to completely submerge the bristles in a plastic bowl or other small container. Do not dip a dirty brush directly in the solvent’s original container. 
  • Stir the brush in the solvent for 10-30 seconds. 
  • Wipe the bristles against the side of the bowl when finished. 
  • Repeat until no more paint comes off the brush. 

Tip: Be sure to use solvents in a well-ventilated area. 

Rinse the Brush With Water
A person washes a paintbrush with soap under running water in a sink.
  • Having cleaned the brush in the solvent, use lukewarm water to wash out the remaining paint and the solvent itself. 
  • Rinse the brush in a bowl or under running lukewarm water. Add a few drops of liquid dish soap to the water or directly onto the bristles if needed. 
  • If you rinse under a tap, hold the brush with the bristles down, to keep water from entering the ferrule. 
  • Use your fingers to rub or “massage” the remaining residue from the brush. Be sure the solvent is rinsed out of the brush before handling it with bare fingers. 
  • Finally, rinse the brush in warm, soap-free water to remove any remaining soap from the brush. 

Tip: Do not use hot water, which can cause the ferrule to expand and loosen, which may lead to some of the bristles falling out.  

Dry and Store the Brush
Paint brushes hang upside down from a metal rod.

There are a couple of ways to remove water from wet brushes. 

  • Shake the brush vigorously above a paint pail, cardboard box or other container. 
  • Alternately, use a brush spinner to spin the brush dry above a container. 
  • Repeat as necessary. 
  • If moisture remains, blot it on newspaper, paper towel or clean cloth until the brush has dried.
  • To store, lay the brush flat or hang it with the bristles pointing down. 

Tip: When you get new brushes, save the packaging and use it for storage, if possible: the cover will help the brush retain its original shape. 

Cleaning Paint-Hardened Brushes
A paint brush with paint-hardened bristles lies near a drain.

It can be a challenge to remove old, dried paint from brushes, but often the effort is worth it. Effectively washing a “petrified brush” can spare you the cost of buying a new one. 

  • Soak the brush with hardened paint in vinegar for an hour. If the bristles don’t bend, soak for an additional hour. 
  • If it needs more loosening after two hours, submerge the head of the brush in vinegar in a pot, place the pot on a stove and bring to a boil. Afterwards, remove it from the heat and allow it to cool off. Remove the brush with care and use a pot holder or tongs if needed. 
  • Once cool, comb out bristles with your fingers or a brush comb. 
  • Rinse out the loosened paint with water and repeat as necessary. 

Tip: If vinegar is ineffective, try a commercial brush cleaner and follow instructions. Some brushes may need to soak for more than 24 hours. 

Cleaning paint brushes only takes a few minutes but makes a big difference in protecting high-quality brushes and ensuring that your paint projects will look their best.