How to Clean your Acrylic Paint Brushes
While cleaning paint brushes isn’t the most enjoyable part of creating a masterpiece, in order to look after your brushes and get longevity from them, it’s a must.
The good news is that acrylic paint is easily washable when the brush is wet. Let it dry and acrylic paint can be very difficult to remove, leading to ruined or compromised paintbrushes.
Keeping your brushes clean
Here are 3 simple tips to keep your brushes clean:
As you work
Your usual cleaning process may be restricted to the end of your painting session, but in actual fact, your cleaning duties start as soon as you pick up a paintbrush.
As you paint, keep an eye on the ferrule of the brush (the part that holds the bristles to the handle) and if you see paint go into it, wash it thoroughly straight away. Once you’ve finished using your brush, rinse it, blot it, and then rest it (while wet) on a piece of paper towel during your project. This will keep the brush moist throughout your creative session so that no paint dries on it.
If you store your brush in dirty water while not in use, the water will pool in the ferrule and into the wooden brush handles, compromising the brush over time. Also, leaving a brush standing on its hairs for a long time can cause the bristles to bend and lose shape.
At the end of your painting session
After you’ve finished painting gather all the brushes you have used and give them a squeeze with your paper towel. 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. Rinse until the water runs clear.
Next, take a moisturising bar of soap and stroke the wet bristles across the top. Grasp the tip of the bristles between your index finger and thumb and wiggle the handle of the brush while holding onto the hairs. This will create suds to push soap up into the ferrule, which will grab any stubborn paint you may have missed earlier.
Now, rinse again and then blot on a clean piece of white paper towel. If any trace of paint remains, repeat the process.
Before your brushes dry
While your brushes are still damp, brush the very tip of the brush over the bar of moisturising soap. Use this added moisture to reshape the brushes gently. For flats, pinch the chisel edge flat and tap the sides until they are back to their original shape. For rounds and liners, squeeze the hairs gently into a point, being careful not to twist them.
Place the brushes lying down on a clean paper towel or bath towel. Don’t leave upright to dry as sometimes suggested, as again, water can get into the ferrule and loosen the glue holding onto the bristles. Don’t worry about the soap that remains on the tip of your brush; this soap will harden and will serve as a protective barrier for the bristles.
Removing dried paint
If you’re like the millions of other artists that sometimes forget to clean their paintbrushes and you’re left with dried paint on your brush, there are a few things you can do.
You could try rubbing alcohol onto the bristles, be warned however, that this can dry out the brush hairs. If you do choose this method, make sure you apply moisturising soap to the bristles as mentioned above.
Ideally, you want to use a purpose-made cleaning product, such as Chroma Incredible Brush Cleaner, specifically formulated to break through hardened acrylics, oils or lacquers. Suitable for use on both synthetic and natural brushes, it’s a handy product to have on your art supply shelf.
Another great product is Winsor & Newton Brush Cleaner and Restorer, which thoroughly cleans dried acrylics without damaging the brush head or fibres.
Protecting the environment
You should never rinse your paint brushes under running water. Why not? Because many professional-grade paint pigments are toxic, like the cadmium oxides used for reds, oranges and yellows. Even if you use “non-toxic” paints, the pigments and polymers are still problematic for the wastewater treatment process. Also, acrylic paint debris tends to build up over time, which can eventually block drainage pipes.
The solution to this is to dispose the material as solid waste. Learn how in the video below.
Key points to remember
Keeping your paintbrushes happy essentially comes down to a few major rules.
- Never let paint dry on the paintbrush
- Don’t get paint on or in the ferrule
- Don’t rest your brushes bristle-side down in water or solution
- Keep brush bristles moist
- Store lying down on paper towel or a bath towel.
Sticking to these 5 steps may seem monotonous or unnecessary, but keeping your brushes clean will extend their life, ultimately saving you money. Remember, your paint brushes are some of your most valuable artist tools, so it’s imperative that you keep them in good shape so that they can serve you well. Cleaning your brushes keeps your tools fresh, and your creations beautiful.