How to Properly Clean Your Oil Brushes [Bristle, Sable, and Synthetic] (2023)

Oil painting is an incredibly satisfying form of expression.

Yet most oil artists agree that there’s one part of the process they could live without:

Cleaning dirty brushes.

The cleanup process after oil painting is something that you have to do right away. And though it is definitely not the most pleasant aspect of painting, it’s essential to take the time to do it properly.

There are, as you may have guessed, right and wrong ways to clean brushes. And you can’t rush the process. So if you want your brushes to last, you’ll need to make sure you’re doing it right.

From solvents to soaps, there are all sorts of things you can use to clean oil brushes. And different types of brushes can benefit from unique cleaning products and techniques.

Whether you use bristle, sable, or synthetic brushes, here’s how to properly clean your oil brushes and extend their lifespan.

Products You Can Use to Clean Oil Brushes

There are a variety of products that you can use to clean your oil brushes, including the oil itself.

Solvents, soaps, natural mineral oils, and natural cleaners are all options, and there is a wide variety of each that you can choose from as your key brush cleaning agent.


​Solvents, such as turpentine, paint thinner, and mineral spirits, are the most common brush cleaners for oil painters.

All three options are incredibly effective, but they do have toxic properties. When using solvents to clean brushes, be sure to do so in a well-ventilated area.

(Video) Why Cleaning Your Brushes is a Waste of Time - Oil Painting Advice

Natural Oils

Olive oil. Walnut oil. Linseed oil. Safflower oil. Baby oil …

You probably already use some of these natural oils as painting mediums. And you can use all of them to remove paint from brushes.

and are great examples of mediums that do double duty as brush cleaners.

Natural Cleaners

Want to clean your brushes in a natural, eco-friendly manner?

Three products are great at getting oil paint off brushes that don’t include any nasty ingredients.

Eco-Solve is a natural product that works just like a paint thinner. The best part? It’s soy-based, so it doesn’t have that nasty, paint thinner smell.

Murphy’s Oil Soap isn’t just for cleaning wood furniture and floors - it can remove oil paint. Because it contains pine oil, it works much like the other natural oils listed above.

White vinegar can clean all sorts of household items, including paintbrushes. While you should never let paint dry and cake onto a brush, white vinegar is surprisingly effective at removing hardened, dried paint.


Having some soap on hand is a crucial tool in effectively cleaning paintbrushes.

If you remove most of the paint from your brushes, soaking your brushes in water with dish soap will help remove the remainder of the paint.

Speedball Pink soap is made specifically for cleaning paintbrushes. Not only will it clean your brushes thoroughly, but it can even help to condition and reshape them.

(Video) How to care for your brushes | Winsor & Newton Masterclass

The Masters Brush Cleaner makes cleaning oil brushes easy (and almost fun). This cleaner feels like a hard bar of soap that lathers up to remove all remnants of paint from your bristles effectively.

Depending on how you decide to clean your brushes, you’ll want to have a newspaper, paper towels, and a few empty brush cups or jars on hand.

If you prefer to clean with solvents, we recommend wearing plastic gloves to protect your skin in case of accidental spills or splashes.

How to Clean Oil Paint Brushes

How to Properly Clean Your Oil Brushes [Bristle, Sable, and Synthetic] (1)

Okay, so now that you know what to use to clean your oil brushes, let’s talk about how to clean them.

How to Clean Brushes With Solvents:

  1. The first step in cleaning brushes with solvents is to dip your wet brush into your paint thinner or mineral spirits and swish it around.
  2. Tap your brush on the side of the jar or bottle so that you don’t drip paint thinner everywhere.
  3. Then, wrap your brush in paper towels and pull it through to wipe off any excess solvent and remaining paint. You may have to do this two or three times to get all of the leftover paint off your brush.
  4. When all the paint is gone, dip your brush into a bit of warm water with dish soap to restore and condition the brush hairs’ tip.

Remember: Never leave your brushes in solvent or water for too long. Always remove them promptly so they can dry immediately after washing.

How to Clean Brushes With Natural Cleaners:

When using a natural cleaner, such as Eco-Solve or Murphy’s Oil Soap, you’ll want to take a bit of extra time and care washing the product out of your brushes.

  1. To clean your oil brushes with a natural cleaner, dip your wet brush into your natural cleanser of choice and gently splash it around.
  2. Tap your brush on the side of the jar or bottle to remove excess moisture.
  3. Then, wipe off any excess cleaner and remaining paint with a paper towel. Do this a few times to get all of the leftover paint off your brush.
  4. When all the paint is gone, dip your brush into a bit of warm water with dish soap to restore and condition the brush hairs’ tip.

The steps are the same as washing with a solvent, but natural cleaners can leave residue behind. To get rid of that remaining residue, wash your brushes in a bit of dish soap and water as the final step.

How to Clean Brushes With Natural Oils:

  1. The first step is to get all of the excess paint off your brush. Use paper towels or a rag to soak up as much of the paint on your brush as you possibly can.
  2. Then, dip your brush into a jar or container with a small amount of your chosen oil. You don’t need to submerge the entire handle — you only need to cover the bristles up to the ferrule.
  3. In between oil dips, go back to your rag or paper towels and wipe the brush back and forth repeatedly to get all of the remaining pigment particles out.
  4. After a few rounds of oil dips and towel wipes, the result will be clean, paint-free brushes.
  5. Once all paint is removed, clean and rinse your brushes with dish soap and water. Lather a bit of liquid soap directly into the brush hairs at the ferrule to get every bit of paint out.
  6. Finally, rinse your brushes thoroughly and set them out to dry.

Just be careful how you dip your brush into the oil container. You don’t want to push straight down; you want to keep the brush hairs as flat and smooth as possible at all times.

One of the benefits of using a medium like linseed oil or safflower oil to clean your brushes is that you already have it readily available while you paint. And that’s key because sometimes you’ll need to clean brushes during your painting session.

Tips for Cleaning Bristle Brushes

Bristle brushes, such as those made from hog or boar hair, tend to retain a slight residue, mainly when used with oil paints. This is normal, so keep your oil bristle brushes separate from any bristle brushes you use with other media.


After cleaning a bristle brush, it’s best to restore the tip of the brush. You can do so simply by dipping the bristles into hot water, blotting them dry on a towel, and using your fingers to reshape the brush head.

Tips for Cleaning Sable Brushes

After you’ve cleaned your sable brushes, take special care about where and how you store them. You should never store sable brushes in direct sunlight. Whenever possible, keep them in an airtight box.

Because sable brushes have natural bristles, it’s vital to restore the natural oils in the brush hairs from time to time. A few times per year, roll your brush in a small amount of brush conditioner and rinse it thoroughly to help restore those lost oils.

Tips for Cleaning Synthetic Brushes

Most synthetic brushes have nylon and/or polyester bristles. Because they are often less pricy than bristle and sable brushes, many artists do not feel the need to invest a lot of time cleaning them.

However, synthetic brushes can last for months when properly cleaned, stored, and cared for. Clean your brushes the right way, and you can spend money on buying new canvases or paints and not buying new brushes.

Abuse Your Brushes on Purpose

For many artists, the oil painting process is one of constant experimentation — and that includes using different painting techniques.

Do you have old brushes that didn’t dry properly, started to fray, or dried with paint remnants down at the ferrule? Don’t throw them away just yet — you can use them to create some pretty cool effects on your canvas.

Rough, abused brushes are great for creating natural textures, such as grass and trees. If you’re a landscape painter, an abused, overworked brush just may be one of your best tools.

You can also use old brushes to create other effects, such as splatters. New, perfectly clean, and well-maintained brushes are a must for doing detail work, but splattering doesn’t even require the brush to touch the canvas, making an old brush perfect for that effect.

Even if you find a use for your oldest, most beat-up brushes, it’s still essential to clean them. There’s very little you can do with a solid brush full of dried-up, caked-on paint.

How to Store Your Brushes After Cleaning

How to Properly Clean Your Oil Brushes [Bristle, Sable, and Synthetic] (2)

(Video) How to clean synthetic paintbrushes and fix hooked tips

Once your brushes are clean, it’s necessary to put them in the proper position for drying.

Never dry oil paint brushes vertically with the bristles up. As they dry, the excess moisture will run down into the brush’s ferrule, while can cause the handle of the brush to swell. Instead, lay your wet brushes horizontally. Also, wipe down the handles with a paper towel or old rag so that the wood doesn’t crack or swell.

Once your brushes are dry, store them vertically, with the bristles upright. Brush hairs can attract mold over time, so it’s best to store them in a room with proper ventilation.

Brush Cleaning Products to Try Now

Not satisfied with the way your current cleaner is removing oil paint from your brushes? Here are a few recommended products that you may want to try in place of your existing method:

Winsor & Newton Brush Cleaner & Restorer

is safe for use with natural and synthetic brushes. This cleaner doesn’t just remove paint from your brush heads; it also conditions them without leaving any residue behind.

Gamblin Gamsol

Gamblin Gamsol is a mineral spirit solvent that is 100% odorless. It’s perfect for the artist looking for a highly effective way to clean their brushes without having to endure that paint thinner smell.

Mona Lisa Odorless Paint Thinner

Mona Lisa Odorless Paint Thinner is a mild solvent that can clean brushes as well as other accessories, like palette knives. It’s completely odorless (and affordable).

Bristle Magic Brush Cleaner

Bristle Magic Brush Cleaner is non-toxic, non-flammable, and eco-friendly. It can clean oil and acrylic paints from brushes and conditions them to maintain their brush heads for a more extended period.


As an artist, cleaning oil paint brushes probably isn’t the highlight of your day. But there’s no way to avoid it, so you may as well learn to do it the best way possible.

Be sure to gather your supplies and make sure you have the proper cleaning agent on hand before you dip your brush into the paint. If you don’t clean your brushes thoroughly after each and every use, you’ll end up with useless brushes that’ll need replacing before you can paint again.

Need new supplies for painting or cleaning up? Shop Rileystreet for oil brush sets, cleaning agents, and oil paints now. With the right products and techniques by your side, cleaning your oil brushes won’t be such a hassle.

(Video) Tips for cleaning oil paint brushes


What is the best way to clean oil paint brushes? ›

The best way to clean your oil painting brushes while painting is by using a solvent such as odorless mineral spirits or linseed oil (use proper disposal methods with linseed oil). When you are done painting brushes can be cleaned with Savvy Soap, Master's Brush Cleaner, or even Murphy's Oil Soap.

What do you use to clean your sable brush? ›

Clean brushes gently with mild soap or Winsor & Newton Brush Cleaner. Cold water for sable, luke warm for hog and synthetic. Swirl brush against a smooth, shallow surface (never in the palm of your hand, especially with brushes that may still contain oil or solvent).

How do you clean Sable oil brushes? ›

Once all paint is removed, clean and rinse your brushes with dish soap and water. Lather a bit of liquid soap directly into the brush hairs at the ferrule to get every bit of paint out. Finally, rinse your brushes thoroughly and set them out to dry.

Can you use Dawn to clean oil paint brushes? ›

The Dawn liquid quickly and easily removes oil paint from my brushes. When using the dish detergent, I squeeze out some soap into the bottom of the sink, and rub the brushes in the soap puddle to coat them thoroughly.

Can you use rubbing alcohol to clean oil paint brushes? ›

Take a small container and add rubbing alcohol or hand sanitizer to it. Place brushes in the liquid and allow to sit for an hour or so, rinse and lay the brushes flat to dry. You can leave the brushes in longer if they have dried paint on them.

What is the proper way to clean a brush? ›

Fill a bowl with lukewarm water and a tablespoon of either gentle shampoo or clarifying shampoo. Using plain soap and water can dry out the bristles. Swirl each brush tip in the bowl. For a good lather, you can also massage each brush tip in the palm of your hand.

Does hot water ruin paint brushes? ›

Keep your water warm, but not hot, as hot water may cause any remaining paint to clot. Stay away from detergent, as this will damage the individual bristles on your brush. Another thing to avoid is paint stripper.

How do you clean oil paint brushes without paint thinner? ›

Use drying oils such as linseed, safflower, walnut or poppy oil to clean brushes during the painting session. This is because the oil used to clean the brush will inevitably get into the painting and needs to dry like normal paint and mediums to form stable paint layers.

Does brush soap work on synthetic brushes? ›

Masters Brush Cleaner is a great choice, but a bar of ivory soap will work just as well and help to clean and condition your synthetic brushes. Brush soap or Ivory soap will emulsify (break down) the oil in the paint, which will help us to remove and wash away any paint with water.

Do you need to soak synthetic brushes? ›


Unlike natural fibre, shaving brushes those made with synthetic fibre don't require soaking before use greatly speeding up your shave time.

How do you restore synthetic paint brushes? ›

Place the brush in the boiling water. Rotate the brush in the water for approximately 5 minutes. You should begin to notice that the bristles will start to come back together from the heat and water.

What is the difference between a bristle brush and a synthetic brush? ›

Natural bristles are made from some sort of animal hair, such as hog or badger. Synthetic bristles are often made from nylon, polyester, or a combination of both. Natural-bristle brushes are best for applying oil-based alkyd paints, and synthetic-bristle brushes are recommended for water-based latex paints.

What is the best solvent for cleaning oil paint brushes? ›

Turpentine is the traditional oil solvent choice. Turpenoid is turpentine's odor-free substitute. This 1-quart bottle of turpenoid is an ideal solvent for both thinning oils and varnishes and for cleaning brushes efficiently.

Can vinegar clean oil paint brushes? ›

Most people use oils or solvents to clean their oil paintbrushes. Vinegar is best used for the softening of dried paint on brushes. To do this, soak your brush in vinegar for about an hour, then leave your brush in a saucepan of simmering vinegar for a few extra minutes. Rinse before use.

Does vinegar clean paint brushes? ›

Cleaning Paint-Hardened Brushes

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.

What do you soak paint brushes in to clean them? ›

Mineral spirits or turpentine to remove oil-based paint. Hot water and mild liquid dish soap to clean paint brushes that have been used to apply latex paint.

What is the easiest way to clean paint brushes and rollers? ›

Use warm water and a bit of mild dish soap to clean the paint from your brushes, gently working the soap through the bristles until the water runs clear. Grab a paint brush scraper to help remove all of the paint more quickly, including dislodging any dried paint bits near the ferrule.

How do you clean oil paint brushes naturally? ›

A simple, safe, non-toxic way to clean oil paint out of your brush without using any harsh solvents. Stage 1: Mineral Oil or Baby Oil Stage 2: Mineral Oil and Liquid Detergent Stage 3: Liquid Detergent and Water Nore more mineral spirits or turpentine; just soap and baby oil.

How should brushes be cleaned after brushing? ›

When you are finished brushing your tooth, you should thoroughly rinse the bristles to clean. Be sure to rinse any debris or remaining toothpaste off your toothbrush. If your toothbrush needs a deeper clean (now may be a perfect time to do this), you can boil the bristles for a few minutes or soak in mouthwash.

How do you clean brushes naturally? ›

Baking soda: Baking soda is a popular all-purpose DIY cleaning ingredient for many things, and the same goes for makeup brushes. Fill a cup with enough warm water to cover only the brush bristles, then mix in a tablespoon of baking soda and let sit for at least five minutes before rinsing and wiping your brushes clean.

What are 2 ways to care for a brush? ›

5 Tips for Taking Care of Your Brushes
  • Never let paint dry on your brushes. ...
  • Pat or wipe off excess paint to keep the brush as clean as possible while you're working.
  • For acrylic paint, use a brush cleaner, or soap and water.

How do you clean a synthetic boar bristle brush? ›

To clean a boar bristle brush, first, you need to remove any hair or gunk caught between the bristles. Then, soak the brush in some warm water mixed with a few drops of shampoo. Rinse the brush with cold water and allow it to air dry.

How do you clean a natural bristle paint brush? ›

Natural bristle brushes should not be cleaned in soap and water. Use only the solvent recommended for thinning the coating to keep the bristles from flaring. Then spin, comb, and hang to dry. Never place a brush back into its keeper wet—always allow it to dry completely.

Should paint brushes be stored upside down? ›

Keep The Head Down

Never store your brush bristle side up.

Is hot or cold water better for paint brushes? ›

If there's still a bit of paint on your brushes, rub your brushes on a piece of paper towel to get as much pigment as you can off the bristles. Give your brushes a rigorous clean with mild soap and cold water, one at a time. Cold water is key here because warm or hot water will actually help the paint set.

How do you keep paint brushes looking new? ›

In the middle of a painting project and want to keep your brushes fresh overnight? In this case, there's no need to give them a thorough clean. Simply wrap the head of your paintbrushes and roller in cling film or secure in an airtight plastic bag.

Can you use nail polish remover to clean oil paint brushes? ›

I have found an easy way to clean up my paintbrushes that have left over, hardened paint in the bristles. Now, I do work with acrylics, so I really couldn't tell you the results with oils. I had a bottle of nail polish remover, so I tried it, and to my findings it does work well. Now I can use my paint brush again!

Can you leave oil paint on brushes overnight? ›

Do not leave brushes soaking overnight with the brush resting on its end. This will bend the brush hairs or bristles, permanently altering the shape of the brush. It also causes the wooden handle to swell, crack and possibly loosen the ferrule. Store brushes upright in a ventilated room.

Can you clean an oil painting with water? ›

The simplest way to clean up an oil or acrylic painting on canvas is to use a white cotton cloth soaked in a gentle soapy water; olive oil–based soap works wonders. You'll be surprised to see how much grime comes off. Be gentle with paintings with thick impasto, as you do not want to break hardened paint.

Can I use Dawn dish soap to clean my brushes? ›

Deep Clean With Liquid Soap

If a brush is entirely caked in foundation or a sponge is soaked in silicones and oils, on the other hand, Surratt says that Dawn dish soap “works wonders” for degreasing.

How long should you soak your brushes for? ›

While you don't want the water to be boiling (that could ruin the bristles of your brush), a good warm bath temperature will help to break up any makeup and also begins to kill bacteria. Allow your brushes to soak in the water for at least 15 minutes.

How do you keep oil paint brushes soft? ›

After cleaning most of the oil residue from the brush, lather a bit of fresh soap into the bristles and don't rinse it yet, as you'll want it to set with the soap in. Then wrap the bristles in a paper towel to dry—leave it to absorb the moisture.

Is it OK to let paint brushes soak in water? ›

Do not soak. Once the bristles are clean, use a Purdy Brush Comb or Brush and Roller Cleaner to straighten bristles and place in its protective keeper.

How do you revive synthetic? ›


Boil a pot of water with a small amount of synthetic hair conditioner and then let it simmer. Carefully dip the hair into the water for a few seconds, making sure to move it around. Let the wig dry and style as usual.

How do I keep my brush sharp? ›

Brushes can lose their shape very quickly, especially when they are left to dry in the wrong position. Always store your brushes in an upright position and NEVER EVER leave them facing downwards in water or turps overnight.

Are sable brushes synthetic? ›

Innovative synthetic bristle blend

The Professional Watercolour Synthetic Sable brush delivers excellent colour carrying capacity, the ability to make a variety of marks and resilient spring and shape retention.

How long do synthetic brushes last? ›

Average Lifespan

Blended Synthetic Brushes – These brushes are easy to clean and maintain, especially when working with latex paint. These brushes are typically made of nylon and polyester, which offers premium durability and excellent shape retention. These brushes should last you 2-3 years with proper care.

Are synthetic brushes good for oil? ›

Synthetic brushes:

work well with acrylics, oils and watercolors. tend to hold and release a lot more paint. splay more easily/faster. leave a smoother finish, and few to no brush marks.

Can you wash oil paint down the sink? ›

Paints. Oil-based paints are considered hazardous waste. DO NOT DUMP oil-based paint down the drain or place in regular trash. Oil-based paints may be combined with solvents and linseed oil for disposal.

How do you clean oil based paint brushes without thinning? ›

Fill a small cup or jar with regular (non-foaming) dish soap so it is slightly deeper than the head of your brush. Mix your brush in the soap, coating as many bristles as possible. Remove brush and wipe on a paper towel or newspaper.

Can you throw away paper towels with oil paint on them? ›

To get rid of any unwanted paint, including palette scrapings, collect them on a paper towel or rag. Then dispose of rags and paper towels contaminated with paint and solvents, or which have been used to clean brushes and palettes, in fire-safe trash containers.

What solvent can dissolve oil paint? ›

Turpentine is the traditional oil solvent choice. Turpenoid is turpentine's odor-free substitute. This 1-quart bottle of turpenoid is an ideal solvent for both thinning oils and varnishes and for cleaning brushes efficiently.

Why is my paint brush hard after cleaning? ›

No matter how carefully you clean your paint brushes, there are times that they will get hard. This most often happens because even the smallest amount of paint left on the paint brush bristles can harden and cause bristles to stick together.

How do you clean paint brushes and keep them soft? ›

How to Keep Paint Brushes Soft
  1. Boil in vinegar. ...
  2. Scrape off excess paint. ...
  3. Boil again. ...
  4. Rub conditioner through the bristles. ...
  5. Place all brushes in plastic bags.
  6. Place the bags in hot water. ...
  7. Rinse the brushes.
5 Sept 2016

What is the easiest way to clean paint brushes? ›

All you'll need to clean your brushes is some warm water or mild dish soap. Clean the brush with the appropriate solvent for the type of paint you've been using. If you used oil-based paint, you'll be cleaning your brushes with mineral spirits or turpentine.

Is vinegar good for cleaning paint brushes? ›

White Vinegar Method:

Once boiled in a pot, place your dried out paint brush in the white vinegar solution. Let your brushes sit in the solution for around 20 minutes or so. Wash them with soap and warm water, using your hands to remove the hardened paint.

How do you hide brush strokes in oil painting? ›

All you have to do is run a dry roller over the brushed-on paint to smooth out any stroke lines. You can use the same roller for an entire project. It shouldn't soak up too much paint as you work over the brushed areas.


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