How to Clean A Paint Brush (6-Simple Steps)

Have you been wondering how to clean a paintbrush? You've come to the right place!

In this ProPaintCorner guide, you'll discover...

  • The simple six-step process to clean a paintbrush 
  • What materials you'll need
  • Other considerations when cleaning a paintbrush

And much more!

How to Clean A Paint Brush (6-Simple Steps)

What Do You Need to Know About Cleaning Paint Brushes?

There are many ways to clean paintbrushes.

The way we're about to share here is the best way that we've come across that handles everything including acrylic paint, oil-based, and latex-based paints.

This simple six-step method will remove nearly all pigment from your brushes.

It works with any kind of paint, with natural bristle brushes and artificial bristles alike.

Choose the appropriate solvent

The first preparatory step, before you actually begin cleaning, is solvent selection.

This is generally pretty easy because there's one for oil-based paints and another for every other kind. 

If your paint is oil-based, you'll need either shellac, turpentine, or a formula that's advertised to work specifically with oil-based materials.

If the paint on your brushes isn't oil-based go ahead and use any sort of paint thinner. 

Mask-up

Some of these solvents that you'll run into on step two in this process can be really toxic and all it takes is inhaling a little bit of it in a small period of time, without proper ventilation. 

The type of mask that you select, whether a full-on respirator or another type will depend on the specific paint thinner material used. 

Look at the recommendation on the product you select for advice on this. 

The US Consumer Product Safety Commission has detailed some guidelines on the proper safety approach when using paint thinner, and other toxic chemicals in crafting, DIY, and hobbyist activities such as this.

Did you know: While more brushes are being made with synthetic hair, paint brushes can be made from ox, goat, and even sable hairs!

Supplies You'll Need When Using Cleaning A Paint Brush

For your brushes to end up their cleanest, with the least wear and tear on their ferrules, handles, and bristles, have these supplies at hand.

  • Paint stripper or appropriate solvent
  • Drop cloth
  • Nitrile gloves
  • Safety goggles
  • Plastic bowl or small bucket
  • Paper towels or cheap rag

Read More >> How Do You Paint Without Leaving Brush Strokes?

How to Use Clean A Paint Brush (6-Simple Steps)

  1. Remove Excess
  2. Solvent Dip
  3. Soapy Water
  4. Warm Water Rinse
  5. Shake, Blot, Or Spin Dry
  6. Air Dry

Before you do anything, go ahead and put on your safety goggles, nitrite gloves, and a respirator if you intend on using turpentine or any other noxious chemical solvents. Safety first!

Step 1 - Remove Excess 

You'd be surprised at just how much paint you can get off, and out of, the brush simply by scraping the brush head along the edge of the paint can, just as you do while painting.

It's common sense in hindsight once you've painted for some time, but as a new painter, this is truly not obvious. 

By removing as much excess paint as possible before you resort to chemicals and solvents, you end up using less solvent and get the brush clean faster.

Latex paint and other water-based materials will come off very easily with this simple approach.

Once you've scraped, grab a few paper towel sheets folded over and blot the brush to see if any additional pigment will come off.

If so, try scraping a few more times, removing any last remainder.

You can also use an old rag for blotting, but make sure it's one you don't mind getting paint covered.

Step 2 - Solvent Dip

Now you're going after the difficult to reach paint particles that have lodged themselves deeper in the interior of the bristle bunch.

This is where solvents come into play. You could use anything from turpentine to shellac, or mineral spirits. Generally, these are best for oil paint and other oil-based materials.

Most of the time, it'll make sense to simply grab a product advertised as paint thinner as that formula will work with nearly all paint types. 

Simply make sure that the product that you get is advertised as one that will be effective on the particular type of paint that you're intending to clean off your brush. 

Read More >> How Do You Get Primer/Paint Off Your Hands?

Step 3 - Soapy Water

Once you've scraped, blotted, and solvent-soaked your brush, it's time to start washing the solvent out along with any last remaining paint.

We do this by submerging the brush in a small container filled with warm water made sudsy with stirred in dish soap. 

Swish it around, gently pushing the brush hairs in a flexing manner against the side of your soapy water container. This should help expel any last remaining paint that may have been remaining in the brush.

Feel free to use hot water rather than warm, provided it isn't too hot to the touch. 

Generally, a little above room temperature is warm enough provided you've done everything correctly up until this stage.

You'll be able to tell if your brush is clean if you're no longer seeing any pigment seeping into the water and that the water remains clear.

Feel free also to dump out your soapy rinsing water and make a new batch whenever needed. 

Soap is cheap and water is free, so why not make sure you're really getting all that paint out. 

Step 4 - Warm Water Rinse

Now, it's fair to say that most of the paint that was in your brush is now fully pushed out. 

For most brushes, and for most painters, we're at a stage here where it's like horseshoes and hand grenades. We're close enough!

At this point, we take our brush and simply run it under a faucet with running lukewarm water. 

Use your hand to gently flex the brush bristles this way and that to ensure that no more pigment is lodged within it. 

Once you see that the running water is staying fully clear and that no additional pigment is coming off the bristles of the brush, you're ready to start drying.

Read More >> What Are The Best Paint Brush Cleaners?

Step 5 - Shake, Blot, Or Spin Dry

How one dries a paintbrush is absolutely something that remains a topic of debate, and preferences.

Fortunately, there is one consensus. That consensus is that the brush must be effectively dried, and that means about 80% dry or more, approximately.

Shake it?

Shaking is alright if you have a good technique or happen to know your particular brush real well. 

You often see painters doing a sort of hammer motion with the brush and banging the curved part where the ferrule and handle meet into the palm of their other hand.

While effective, some say this method is bad long-term for the health and resistance of the brush.

Blot it?

Blotting works alright as well, but it doesn't generally get the brush as dry as you'd want. A conscious effort at blotting and you'll generally be in good shape provided that you got the most of the paint out of the brush prior to this point.

Spin it?

You may have either seen or, if lucky, may have even picked up the brush spinning technique. You basically put the brush upside-down, handle facing up to the sky, pressed between your two palms. 

Then you proceed to make a type of motion as if you were spinning a stick to start a fire in the woods. 

Centrifugal force will cause the bristles to expand and shoot out any liquid in a circular pattern all over you and anything in a tight radius around you.

Or, you can pick up one of these paint spinner gadgets for pretty cheap. Not necessary at all, but some painters do swear by them.

Go back?

It should go without saying that if you still can visually see paint particles, pigment, or deep tinting of your bristles, you're not ready to continue drying the brush.

If this is where you stand, revert to step two, the solvent dip, and continue ahead through the remaining steps, hopefully with no remaining paint the next time.

Step 6 - Air Dry

Now that you've performed whichever form of drying ritual to which you've been initiated, you're ready to walk away.

Set down your brushes, not touching or overlapping, on a fresh dry handtowel, or some layered paper towel pieces. The excess water will be absorbed by the paper towels and will then evaporate.

Within a day your brushes will be fully dry and ready for their next DIY paint job or professional paint job, either way.

Other Considerations When Cleaning A Paint Brush

This, unlike other DIY and basic home improvement tasks, isn't very easily avoidable. If you use a brush and don't intend to immediately throw it out, you'll need this ability. 

Here are a few additional pro-tips that we believe will aid you in always ending up with clean brushes.

Supposing you've invested in some quality brushes, you'll want every advantage and tip related to cleaning brushes that you can find. 

A few extra minutes spent with brush cleaner at the end of your painting project will pay you dividends in the way of saving on not buying new brushes as frequently, and not leaving brush marks because you have clean bristles each time you paint.

Remove paint once dry?

Technically, there could be a Step 7, but it's optional and it doesn't always apply.

Nonetheless, here it is.

Once your brush has fully air-dried, we're able to test for additional remaining dried paint in the bristles and actually remove most of it with this simple trick.

Simply fan through the dried bristles against the palm of your hand, or use two fingers to sort of flick through all the bristles, like you would scanning the pages of a book.

This flicking motion will actually cause any dried paint particles that evaded your cleaning efforts to become dislodged and flung out of the brush.

Once in the habit of it, you'll likely find yourself doing it nearly every time you clean and dry a paintbrush.

The brush comb

Like the mustache comb, it's a comb that's fallen out of fashion. 

That said, the brush comb is a cheap and simple tool that many still swear by today as an essential component in their paintbrush cleaning kit. 

Here's a perfect example of a cheap, simple brush comb that you might pick up and try next time.

If you go for it, treatment with the brush comb would come after step six.

Here are some last pointers from Purdy that should fare you well in your efforts to master paintbrush combs, and other brush cleaning techniques, tips, and tricks.

Go slow at first, and spend the time necessary each time you paint, during the cleanup, caring for your brushes. 

They're the link between your hand, the paint, and the wall. 

A brush, properly cared for, is a painter's best friend.

Meet Your Pro Paint Corner Author

RJ Parker

RJ Parker

My first job as a painter’s assistant at the ripe young age of 13 charted a path ahead in my life that would gravitate around painting. Now as a freelance handyman and writer, I paint both with the brush and with words. If I’m not edging-in trim or rolling on a top-coat, you might find me out in the fields tending to a flock of goats. Literally. No lie. Or, perhaps you may catch me engaged in my other favorite pastime, eating. It’s fair to say that I’ve painted outside the lines, so to speak, prior to finding my natural stroke. Now, these misadventures and mishaps that I’ve experienced don’t have to happen to you. My mission at ProPaintCorner is to continue painting remotely through the advice, inspiration, and confidence that I give to my readers.

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RJ Parker

RJ Parker

My first job as a painter’s assistant at the ripe young age of 13 charted a path ahead in my life that would gravitate around painting. Now as a freelance handyman and writer, I paint both with the brush and with words. If I’m not edging-in trim or rolling on a top-coat, you might find me out in the fields tending to a flock of goats. Literally. No lie. Or, perhaps you may catch me engaged in my other favorite pastime, eating. It’s fair to say that I’ve painted outside the lines, so to speak, prior to finding my natural stroke. Now, these misadventures and mishaps that I’ve experienced don’t have to happen to you. My mission at ProPaintCorner is to continue painting remotely through the advice, inspiration, and confidence that I give to my readers.

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