How to clean your brushes after oil painting


It really is important to clean your brushes well, and few extra minutes can be the difference between a brush that quickly becomes unusable, and one that will serve you faithfully for years.

The way I clean my brushes is as follows:

  • It’s advisable to open a window for the first part of the clean up for some ventilation.
  • Wipe off as much excess paint as possible from all of your brushes on some kitchen paper
  • Then half fill a jar with Sansodor or some other odourless white spirits and then work the brushes back and forth removing as much paint as possible. Do this with each brush individually mind or you really won’t have a chance at removing much paint.
  • When this part is complete the Sansodor, which has likely turned dark with paint, can now be poured into a jar with a lid or other container for recycling. If you leave this for a few days the paint will begin to settle to the bottom. Then the next time you are painting you can pour the almost clear liquid from the top and reuse it. This can be done again and again. In the meantime remember to store it safely ideally, well labeled and certainly out of the reach of children, and ideally with a safety cap. I often reuse the containers the Sansodor comes in for this purpose. Please don’t pour this down the sink as this is terrible for the environment.
  • Now that Sansodor is safely sealed up you should make sure you remove any rags or kitchen paper with paint and any pungent aromas on them, and put them in the bin. With all the unhealthy fumes removed we can proceed to water and soap.
  • I then fill a large jar, sink or basin with luke warm water and swirl the brush around for a bit. (Don’t use hot or if can effect the shape of the brush). Rub your wet brush into your brush soap, working with the bristles and not against them, as if you were painting a brush stroke. Do this until the soap lathers up, and for this to happen, I find it helpful to start with a big brush as this will speed up this process. Then you can either work the soap lather into the brush on the palm of your hand, again with the brush moving towards you and not pushing against the bristles, or use a soap dish like I do. As you do this you’ll see the paint colour the soap. Don’t worry about this, that’s what it’s supposed to do. When you’ve worked the brush into the soap for about 20 or 30 seconds you can then wipe off the excess on some kitchen paper, and then swirl the brush in some clean water. Then press the brush against some clean kitchen paper to see if all or most of the paint has been removed. If not you can repeat the process. It’s also worth noting that you can continue to use the paint coloured soap to clean the next brush so no need to wipe it clean each time, but you might need to add a little soap for each new brush to be cleaned.
  • When you’re happy that most of the paint has been removed lightly dry off excess water with kitchen paper, and to then no harm to shape the brushes back into a point or flat edge with your fingers before leaving them to dry.

The Soaps I use are either "The Masters Brush Cleaner and Preserver" or "Escoda's Brush and Hand Soap (with olive oil)"

Some people also use Washing up liquid but it won't be as kind to your brushes.


PS. A little update as of 7th May, 2024 that might just be of interesting to you. In the last few days I've just begun a new little project involving a new Blog and sister Newsletter for artists and art students with lots of free info. Really all about me sharing what I've learned from other artists, books, videos etc in an email newsletter. More info below if you fancy thinking about signing up! 

Calling this project the The Art Nerdy Journey at least for now, and really looking to see if I can build this into something so appreciate any interesting you might have. Links below!

The Art Nerdy Journey - Blog

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