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How to Clean Paint Brushes

Cleaning paint brushes doesn't have to be a messy job! We have some handy tips to make it a quick and easy process, so read on.

Paint brushes are like any other tool – they won’t work as well if you don’t clean them properly once in a while. It may seem a bit of a specialist topic, but we’ve prepared a straightforward tutorial on how to clean paint brushes.

A quick rinse with tap water does the trick between uses, but most paints are water resistant, and the residues that build up over time will stop the bristles from taking on new paint.

First up, you’ll need to determine the base of the paint you’ve been using. If it’s non-oil based, you’ll just need some warm water and soap. But if you’ve been painting with oils of any kind, you’ll need to add some white spirit into the mix. Acrylics also require special treatment – for these, you’ll need either special brush conditioner, or a conditioning hand soap. No matter what cleaning product you use, remember to read the instructions on the label first, to follow any safety instructions, and to test the product on a small area first.

How to Clean Paint Brushes: A Step-by-Step Guide

Non oil-based paints are easier to remove, so we’ll start with them.

  1. Rinse the brushes thoroughly in cold water until the water runs clear.
  2. Using an empty jam jar or other suitable container, make a mixture of dish soap (we like Vim) and hot water. As ever, take care to keep all cleaning materials well away from your eyes and mouth.
  3. Soak the brushes in the mixture for a few minutes. If there’s any stubborn residue, gently massage the bristles with your fingers to remove it.
  4. Rinse the brushes again.
  5. Reshape the brushes by hand while they’re still wet, and leave them to air dry.

For oil-based paints, use the above procedure but before soaking the brushes in the warm soapy water mixture, you should do the following:

  1. Fill your container with a small amount of white spirit. This shouldn’t be too much – just enough to cover the bristles.
  2. Gently push the brushes into the white spirit and twirl them around, to make sure all the bristles are exposed.
  3. Follow the above list from step 3 onwards.

When it comes to cleaning paint brushes, it goes without saying that you should clean the brushes in a well-ventilated area to avoid inhaling the fumes of the white spirit, keep it well away from your eyes and mouth, well out of reach of children, and also wear gloves to protect your skin.

How to Clean Acrylic Paint Brushes

Acrylic paintbrushes require special treatment:

  1. Start by rinsing them with cold water until the majority of paint is removed and the water runs clear.
  2. Next, gently massage your special brush conditioner into the bristles of each brush. Your can ask anyone at an art store for recommendations.
  3. Rinse them thoroughly, and reshape them manually.
  4. Leave them to air dry.

The trick to cleaning paint brushes is to clean them according to what you’ve been painting with, and to do regular maintenance if you want them to last longer than a day. If you’re still wondering how to clean paint brushes after this article, don’t be afraid to ask other painters for advice!

Top Tip

The most important thing to remember about cleaning paint brushes is that the sooner you start, the easier it will be. If you can’t start the full process right away, leave used painting equipment to soak in a jar or basin of water until you can spare the time. Household dishwashing liquid could be a good start.


No matter what cleaning product you use, remember to read the instructions on the label first, to follow any safety instructions, and to test the product on a small area first.