How to Clean Varnish and Mediums Off Paint Brushes

How to Clean Varnish and Mediums Off Paint Brushes

Your paint brushes are an important investment. Clean them thoroughly after every use and they will work better and last longer. It may seem like a headache at times, but putting in the effort really does pay off long-term.

There are various methods for cleaning paint brushes, but as a general guideline:

  1. Wipe off any excess paint using a cloth or soft tissue. Squeeze the bristles gently from the ferrule edge outwards, being careful to avoid pulling on the bristles.
  2. If you’ve been using oil, rinse the brush in turpentine or brush cleaner. If you’ve been using a water-based medium, lukewarm water will do. Never use hot water, as it can expand the ferrule, causing the hairs to fall out.
  3. Wipe the brush once again with a cloth or soft tissue to remove any stubborn paint. Dab your brush gently onto a piece of soap or General’s Brush Cleaner & Preserver and then lather in the palm of your hands. (Note: if using toxic pigments or solvents you might like to lather in a small container.)
  4. Rinse and repeat until you are sure that all colour and soap has been removed.
  5. Use your fingers to gently reshape the brush into its original form.

To ensure safe and effective cleaning of your brushes there are other tips that you can follow.

These include:

  • Leaving brushes to dry flat. If you are washing multiple brushes, don’t crowd drying brushes. If necessary, wrap the bristles in a piece of tissue or toilet paper when wet. Once dried, the paper will contract, pulling the bristles into shape.
  • Making sure brushes are dry before storing them. If stored airtight, damp brushes can develop mildew.
  • Rinsing straight away. This is especially important with acrylic paint which dries quickly. The longer the brush stays dirty, the more thoroughly you’ll need to clean them.
  • Avoiding harsh soap on water colour brushes. Strong soap may damage the bristles by removing natural oils.
  • Dampening brushes before applying acrylic paint. This will help keep the paint from sticking to dry bristles.
  • Softening natural bristle by dipping it in clean oil (the one you use as a medium) after you have cleaned it.
  • Soaking your brushes in fabric softener periodically will help restore softness and pliability to their bristles, keeping them from becoming brittle and breaking off.

How varnish can affect paint brushes

Varnish can protect a painting from dirt and dust and can even out the final appearance of your work, but if left on your paintbrush it will cause it to become a useless solid block of stiff, glued together bristles. The good news is that most brush cleaners on the market today are strong enough to dissolve dry varnish when applied with the right cleaning instructions.

To clean varnish from your brush while it’s still wet:

  1. Press the brush up against the side of the container that holds your varnish, gently squeezing as much varnish out as possible.
  2. Wet your brush and then swirl it in General’s Brush Cleaner & Preserver to form a lather.
  3. With your fingers, rub the cleaner into the bristles gently from the ferrule edge outwards.
  4. Rinse with clean warm water and repeat if necessary.

How to tell when it’s time to replace your paint brushes

As tedious as cleaning your brushes thoroughly EVERY time you use them is, a worn out paint brush won’t produce the results you want. Clean them well and they will last, however surface friction can still take its toll over time. These below signs will suggest it’s time to replace a paint brush due to wear and tear:

  • An uneven brushmark. Unless you’ve got a trembling hand, uneven brush marks are a telltale sign that the hairs have slowly worn away. Your brush is no longer able to produce the fine lines it once could.
  • Stubby and unresponsive. Stiffer-haired brushes such as hog tend to wear down the fastest, especially when used on coarse surfaces such as unsanded gesso. What starts as a long-haired brush ends up stubby and unresponsive.
  • Stray hairs in paint. Shedding hair is never a good thing and while you can pick hairs out with your fingernail, it’s a frustration that can be avoided. If your brush shows signs it’s balding, it’s time to go or be kept aside for expressive, textured works only.
  • Spread out. No matter how you put down a stroke, stray hairs will always create a jagged edge and unwanted colour. It might have been your favourite brush once, but even the best will suffer from midlife spreading. A bit of wax might help tame your brush temporarily, but you’ll soon have to update.

Looking after your brushes to increase their longevity

Ready to take cleaning your paint brushes seriously? Get the most from your favourite painting and creating tools and keep them clean with the range of cleaning supplies available at Discount Art N Craft Warehouse. Whether it’s the perfect brush washer or a full cleaning kit, we have everything you need for cleaning paint brushes, knives, painting palettes and more.

Cleaning supplies are a must for any artist, and with trusted brands like General’s, Art Spectrum, Chroma and Winsor & Newton, there’s no excuse not to look after your brushes. Check out the range at Discount Art N Craft today and ensure your tools last as they’re supposed to.