How to clean oil paint brushes step 4

"If your brush stays dirty and is damaged you’ll end up with an imprecise tool to paint with."

- Kevin Murphy

Keeping your oil paint brushes clean is an important lesson to learn early on as an artist. Paint can easily accumulate and dry near the base of the brush near the ferrule causing damage to the bristles. If your brush stays dirty and is damaged you’ll end up with an imprecise tool to paint with.

In this article, you’ll learn:

  • Why cleaning your oil paint brushes is important

  • How to clean your oil paint brush

  • Why hot water damages oil paint brushes

Step One: Take your paint brush to a sink with running water.

How to clean oil paint brushes step 1

We're going to use a bar of soap to begin cleaning your oil paint brushes. We don't want the brush wet, we're going to let the soap emulsify (break down) the oil in the paint. That's going to help us to remove and wash away any paint with water. Remember that oil is impervious to water. That means that if you just take your oil paint brush and put it in water, the water is going to bead right off of it. So what we need to do is break down the oil with soap and then wash it away. 

Step Two: Drag your brush back and forth along a wet bar of soap.

How to clean oil paint brushes step 2

To begin, I take my bar soap and I just run it under my faucet and get it wet. I then drag my brush back and forth. I don't have to do anything else. I don't push the brush because it'll bend the bristles. It's always a drag in each direction. You'll see the soap will start to sort of foam up. As I'm working I would roll the brush to get any excess soap off of it.

Step Three: Rinse your paint brush and repeat.

How to clean oil paint brushes step 3

Your brush is going to get covered with some murky foam which is the soap and paint coming off the brush. Just rinse the brush and then come back and repeat what you’ve done so far. When you're first learning how to clean oil paint brushes you may be tend to stop cleaning before you get every last bit of paint out, so make sure to continue this step until the brush comes clean. 

Step Four: Knowing when your brush is clean.

How to clean oil paint brushes step 4

You’ll know your brush is clean when there's no paint coming off it. Nothing at all. It will be completely pristine. When I'm done I would just run everything under warm water. And then what you're going to do is going to take the brush, you're going to just very gently pitch it and make it flat the way it was when you first got it and you get a nice and flat just like that. Let it dry that way and then in the morning, it'll be ready to go.

Why you should never clean your brushes with hot water.

When learning how to clean oil paint brushes never use very hot water.
The glue that holds your brush together inside the ferrule will break down under hot water and paint brushes tend to stiffen up under cold water. So instead of hot or cold water you want you to use reasonable comfortable warm water to clean your brushes.

Common Questions 

Can I use dish soap? It does a pretty good job on brushes but I recommend you purchase a bar of Ivory soap which will last you longer. Be careful what you buy. Ivory soap is probably the best one. If you want to get a liquid soap, you can get like Murphy's oil (no, I don't have stock in that company). But Murphy's oil is a pretty good soap and any dish detergent that you would use to clean greasy dishes. You don't want to use soap that's heavily perfumed if you can help it; it's just more additives in the brush you don't need.


Take good care of your brushes. They're going to take good care of you if you take good care of them. Don't beat them up and clean them well every night. If you do this you’ll be developing good habits. Take care of your materials, which are your tools. Just like you sharpen your pencils, clean your brushes properly.

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