Friday, January 29, 2016

Brushes: Tips for easy care

As many of you know from the painting workshops I teach, I often provide brushes for the class.  These brushes get abused from all of the use and I do a couple of easy things to keep them in pretty good shape.  

For Acrylic and Oils
1.        For Bristle or natural hair brushes I clean them with a brush cleaner, squeeze most of the water out of them, then use a bit of hair conditioner to shape them. (Yep, plain old hair conditioner.)   I leave the conditioner in the brush.   If you don’t have a brush cleaner, you can use your dish washing soap (like Dawn or Joy) to clean them, and again use the hair conditioner.  **If you have dried on paint…soak the brush in alcohol (the 91% kind) then clean with the soap.  Repeat until you get the paint out and again, use the conditioner.  You may be able to save the brush.

2.       For nylon and synthetic brushes I also clean them with a brush cleaner (or your dish washing soap), but instead of the hair conditioner I use an oily or silicone type brush cleaner (like Bob Ross) and again, use it like the conditioner…I dip it in the solution, wipe it off and shape and leave it on the hairs.  You can also use a bit of fabric softener.   Mostly for the nylons I do this to keep them in shape.  Now, before I use these brushes I dip them in water for acrylics or thinner/mineral spirits to rinse the residue out. 

For Watercolor
3.       My watercolor brushes I clean with my brush cleaner also, but I don’t use the same brush cleaner that I use on my oil brushes.  I don’t want to risk any residue getting on my watercolor brushes.  I also use a bit of conditioner on them, but I rinse out the conditioner before I allow it to dry.  A watercolor brush will last you a long time if you take good care of it.

Also, lay your brushes flat to dry.  Those cups/brush holders are great once your brushes are dry, but don’t let them dry in the upright position.  The liquids can seep into the brush handle and cause swelling in the wood, sometimes loosening the bristles from the handle. 

One more VERY important note.  DON’T leave your brushes standing in thinner or water.  I see this all the time in class and try to mention it to students.  Your bristles will bend and may not go back (even with the conditioning treatment) and the liquids will also soak into your handle.  There’s nothing more upsetting than seeing an expensive sable brush just sitting in a cup of water.  

Happy painting!  


  1. Very good tips, Kim. I like your instructive posts.

  2. Bonjour chère Kim,

    Je suis très heureuse de vous retrouver...
    Ce petit billet est une mine d'or de bons conseils. Merci pour le partage.

    Je vous souhaite un excellent weekend.

    Gros bisous ♡