The Right (and Oh So Wrong) Way to Clean Your Paint Brushes

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Stocking up on paint brushes can put a serious dent in your art budget, especially if you're buying high-quality ones. You want to protect that investment, don't you?

Sure, work your brushes hard while you're painting but when you're done, treat them like royalty with some proper care and cleaning. #Brushgoals.

1. Clean 'Em ASAP

The more focused you are on your artwork, the easier it is to unthinkingly set aside a dirty brush and grab another. Don't. Try to get into the habit of rinsing each brush when you're finished with it. Otherwise, you'll find yourself throwing out ruined brushes way more often than you'd like.

This is especially true when you paint with acrylics, but it even applies to oil paints, which take longer to dry. The longer the brush stays dirty, the more thoroughly you'll need to clean it. Which brings us to the next point.

2. Lather 'Em Up

A simple rinse won't do if you're getting ready to put your brushes away after a painting session. Instead, work soap or shampoo into the bristles all the way down to the ferrule (the metal band that holds the bristles). Then rinse thoroughly with lukewarm water until no paint or cleaner is left. For paint that's super tough to wash out, try dishwashing liquid or even an ammonia-based glass cleaner.

It also helps to wipe your dirty brush with a paper towel before you wash it — this removes a ton of excess paint and makes the bristles easier to clean.

3. Wash the Bottoms, Too

The area near the ferrule is the hardest to clean, so it's tempting to skip it or do a so-so job. Really, don't. If there's paint coating the bottom of the bristles, the tip of the brush will gradually spread apart until it's useless.

4. Never Store Brushes Upside Down in Water or Solvent

For one thing, the pressure on the brush can bend the bristles or spread them out permanently. And once that happens, your brush will never be the same.

It gets worse. If you're working in oils, the solvents can eat away at the glue inside the ferrule. Or the water can cause the wooden handle to swell or crack, also damaging the ferrule.

5. Store Brushes Horizontally

Many artists keep their clean brushes rolled in canvas sleeves with individual pockets for each brush. But you can also keep them in a drawer, on your art desk or even in a shoe box.

If you want to store brushes vertically you can, with the bristle side up. Just don't pack them together so tightly that the tips rest against each other; this can permanently distort the shapes.

Remember: Take good care of your brushes and they'll take good care of you. Get more beginner watercolor painting tips, tricks, and more in this guide!

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The Right (and Oh So Wrong) Way to Clean Your Paint Brushes