Cleaning Paint Brushes and How to Clean Oil or Water Based Paints Out of Brushes

Summary: How to clean and restore paint brushes when you have been using water based or oil based paints. In order to get maximum value from your brushes you should clean the paint from them after use. This project explains how you can care for your brushes and remove old oil or water based paint from the bristles or look after them over night so they are ready for use the following morning.

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Cleaning and restoring paint brushes can be a real chore but life can be put back into those expensive brushes you thought you would have to throw away. To get maximum value from your brushes you can follow the instructions below.

Cleaning brushes immediately after use is the best option if possible, but if you are continually using the same brushes during the day, with breaks only for lunch and tea, then remove as much surplus paint as possible and wrap the brush in cling film. Stopping the air getting to the bristles will allow them to stay workable for quite some time.

To clean the paint brushes after use, get as much paint out as possible by brushing it on newspaper, wiping with a rag and pushing the brush hard against the edge of the paint pot and sqeezing out as much paint as possible. You can even lay the brush flat on the newspaper and push down the length of the bristles with a paint scraper.

Rinse any water based paints under a running tap. Slightly warm water is best and work your fingers through the bristles as you flush. A drop of fairy liquid will not hurt and the water should be crystal clear before you finish.

When you have been using oil based paints, put on some household rubber gloves and tip some white spirit into a paint kettle or bowl. Put the brush in and work the white spirit into the bristles well. Repeat in clean white spirit until it remains fairly clear. Only a little white spirit is needed in the bottom of the bowl or kettle but remember white spirit is cheaper than good paint brushes. When you are sure the brush is clean, swap the white spirit for hot, soapy water, work the bristles thoroughly and finally rinse out under a warm tap. Shake as much of the water out as possible and run the brush gently up and down a sheet of newspaper. Wrap the brush, in its natural shape, in 5 or six sheets of newspaper thickness and hold together with an elastic band.

If a brush has been left for a long time then it should be soaked in brush restorer ( See directions on the restorer) until soft, then the above instructions should be applied.

Different paints can be removed as follows:

  • Cellulose: Amyl acetate, bought from the chemist will act as well as the more expensive, off the shelf, acetone
  • Varnish: Methylated spirits
  • Rubber: Petrol
  • Polyurethane: Paraffin or white spirit
  • Oil: Paraffin or white spirit
  • Washable distemper: Weak solution of vinegar

Always double check the cleaning instructions on the paint you are using, and once the brush is clean, lay flat with an elastic band keeping the bristles in place. Do not stand your brushes on their bristles even if in water for re-use on the next painting session. Drill a small hole through the handle and pass some string through to hang them. Wrapping your brushes in cling-film will keep them in use for the next session also.

Proprietary products can be purchased for cleaning brushes of all paint and varnish types, and special storage boxes can be used to keep brushes moist and usable for a long time. Special cleaning aids are available which clip into an electric drill and "spin" the surplus paint out....Take some time to look around at the various products available, they generally work out cheaper than buying new brushes all of the time.

Please remember to dispose of any used brush cleaning fluids in a sensible manner. Avoid pouring them down the drain especially storm drainage gullies which discharge straight in a watercourse.

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