How to Clean Paint Brushes Correctly So They Keep Their Shape

By Alexa Erickson


High-quality paint brushes are designed to be used for several jobs, over and over. And while they may treat your projects right, if you don’t care for them back by properly cleaning them after each use, the bristles on paint brushes will end up misshapen and harbor flecks of paint that will cause a bumpy finish on your next project.


Rather than waste your money and time getting new materials, spend a few extra minutes cleaning your paint brushes once you're done. Here’s how to clean your wet brushes properly, broken down by paint type, and how to clean brushes where the paint has already dried.

three clean paint brushes

Photo via Jenni Ingram


How to Clean Water- or Latex-Based Paint off Paint Brushes

The process for cleaning water- or latex-based paint off paint brushes starts right when you’re done with your project and while the paint is still wet on the brushes. Because paint is still wet here, be sure to keep on your painting clothes and wear rubber gloves to keep paint off your hands.


Tools and Materials Needed

  • Hammer or mallet
  • Wire paint comb
  • Latex gloves
  • Running water
  • Newspaper or paper towels


Step 1: Clean Off Excess Paint

Remove excess paint from the brush by dragging each of the wet paint brushes across the top of the open paint can. Once you’re done, reseal the can with a hammer or mallet.


Step 2: Rinse and Comb the Brush

Rinse the paint brushes under warm, running water. Use a wire paint comb to brush through the bristles on each brush and release any hidden paint, especially near the base of the brush closest to the handle.


Rinse each of the brushes again, massaging the bristles, until the water coming out of the bristles is clear. It’ll probably take a few minutes for the water to come out completely clear of paint.


Step 3: Knock Excess Water Off the Brush

Turn off the water, then knock each brush against the side of the sink to remove excess moisture. Blot each brush against a newspaper or paper towel and then allow them to dry horizontally on a flat surface.


How to Clean Oil-Based Paint off Paint Brushes

Since water and oil are immiscible, you’ll need something a little stronger to clean oil-based paint off brushes: paint thinner. Paint thinner is the most effective agent here, but if you're sensitive to it (i.e. chemicals give you headaches or rashes), you can use linseed oil in its place.


Tools and Materials Needed

  • Paper towels
  • Paint thinner (or linseed oil)
  • Rubber gloves
  • 3 containers (coffee cans work great)
  • Newspaper
  • Wire paint comb
  • Latex gloves


Step 1: Create Workstation

Before cleaning the paint brushes, lay down a few layers of newspaper on a work surface. Then, place several paper towels on a section of the newspaper to blot the brush on later.


Step 2: Fill Containers with Paint Thinner

Put on rubber gloves. Place the three containers on the newspaper, then fill each container halfway up with paint thinner.


Step 3: Remove Excess Paint

Even if you have multiple dirty paint brushes, you'll want to clean one at a time. Use a wire paint comb to comb out excess oil paint from the brush, allowing the extra paint to fall back into the paint can or tray.


Step 4: Place Brush in First Container

Swirl the dirty paint brush around the paint thinner in the first container, then allow it to sit and soak for five minutes.


Step 5: Remove Brush, Blot on Paper Towels

Remove the brush from the container, then press the bristles of the brush into the paper towels to blot off the thinner.


Step 6: Repeat the Soaking and Blotting Process

Place the brush in the second paint thinner container, repeating Step 4. Then, repeat Step 5. Do this same process with the third container.


Step 7: Remove Excess Paint Thinner, Let Dry

With gloves still on, squeeze the excess paint thinner off of the brush and back into the paint thinner container. Blot the brush on a clean paper towel. Allow the brush to dry horizontally on a flat surface. Repeat Steps 3-7 with any more brushes you need to clean.

several dirty paint brushes

Photo via Angela Davis- A to Z Custom Creations


How to Clean Dried Paint Off Paint Brushes

When paint dries on a paint brush, it results in a petrified state that almost seems permanent. Luckily, you can use vinegar to remove all types of hardened paint (water, latex, and oil) from your paint brushes.


Tools and Materials Needed

  • White vinegar
  • Saucepan
  • Liquid dish soap


Step 1: Boil Vinegar

Boil one cup of white vinegar in a pot. Once it comes to a boil, place the brush or brushes in the hot vinegar, bristles-side-down. Let sit for 20 minutes.


Step 2: Wash the Brush

After time’s up, wash the brushes in warm, soapy water. Use your hands to comb through the bristles to loosen up and remove the paint. Allow the brush to dry horizontally on a flat surface.


Paint Brush Storage and Use Tips

How you store paint brushes is also important for ensuring their longevity. You can make your own casing for the freshly-washed brushes: Once you clean and dry the brush properly right after you use it, fold a grocery bag or other paper bag around the bristles of the brush. Tape the paper closed at the handle of the brush. Try to avoid squeezing the bristles when wrapping it, otherwise the paint brush will lose its shape.


If you plan to use the brush again in a few hours to a few days, place the wet brush in a plastic bag. Squeeze as much air out of the bag as you can and tie off the bag with a knot.


When dried and ready for storage until their next use, store your paint brushes with the bristles upright in a jar, vase, or cup. Avoid storing them bristle side-down, which can cause the hairs to bend and break.


Do you have a painting project coming up? Share your ideas below!

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