How to Ruin Paint Brushes

Updated on September 25, 2018
Robie Benve profile image

Robie is an artist who loves sharing what she's learned about art and painting in the hope that it might help other creatives.

Some common mistakes can quickly ruin paint brushes. How you clean and store paint brushes has a huge impact on their lifespan and how they stay in shape. Great tips for beginner artists. Photo:Brush shelf in art supply store
Some common mistakes can quickly ruin paint brushes. How you clean and store paint brushes has a huge impact on their lifespan and how they stay in shape. Great tips for beginner artists. Photo:Brush shelf in art supply store | Source

Proper Brush Cleaning and Storage Are Key

Artists’ paint brushes can be quite expensive, and once you invest a small fortune to get all the shapes and sizes you need for your art-making, the last thing you want is to ruin your newly acquired, precious tools.

Listed here are the five main things you should avoid if you want to keep your brushes in good shape.

Don't Do These 5 Things

1. Letting Paint Dry on the Brush

It is always easier to clean paint off the brush when it’s still wet. Once dry, it becomes almost impossible to completely remove paint from the bristles.

To avoid any risks of paint drying on the brush, keep your brush moist during painting sessions, and clean it as soon as you are done.

Paint left on the brush will make hairs stiffer and the bristles will lose their shape.

When using acrylic paint keep the bristles moist with water, but don't leave brushes soaking in water for a long time (see #2). Oil paint is slower to dry, so there is no urgency to keep the brushes moist (with thinner) during the painting session, but you need to clean them properly when you are done.

If oil paint dries on the brush, try soaking the bristles in a good degreaser for a few minutes then rub them on the palm of your hand, adding soap as needed.

Caution: I recommend always using rubber gloves when handling paint. Many pigments are toxic or carcinogenic. I avoid contact with my skin as much as I can.

Anatomy of a Brush

Parts of a brush
Parts of a brush | Source

2. Leaving Brushes Soaking for a Long Time

The brush is made of different parts, kept together by glue and/or pressure.

You don’t want to let the paint dry on the brush, therefore it’s useful to keep the brush wet during the painting session, but leaving a brush soaking in water for a long time can damage it, irreversibly. Even worse than water is a brush left soaking in an oil thinner solution.

The damages of soaking:

  • Too much moisture and the weight of the whole brush resting on the bristles cause bristles to bend and deform.
  • Liquid penetrates under the ferrule, soaks the unvarnished part of the handle, and soften the glue, possibly causing the ferrule to detach from the handle. In the long run, the glue that holds the bristles and the brush together can also dissolve, causing the ferrule to come off, or hair starts shedding while you paint – and it’s so frustrating to remove hairs from the painting.
  • Fluid penetrates under the handle varnish, making it flaky. When a brush loses the varnish, the texture of the handle is different, but also pieces of varnish may peel and fall in the paint and get on your painting surface – another frustrating removal.

Store paint brushes upright
Store paint brushes upright | Source

3. Not Cleaning the Bristles Properly

Whether you use oil paint or a water-based paint, not cleaning the bristles thoroughly can shorten the life of the brush.

First, take the excess paint off with a cloth rag or paper, then clean and wash the hairs until no trace of paint is left.

Make sure you clean at the base of the bristles too, rubbing them between your fingers with soapy water. A buildup of old paint at the base of the brush “shortens” the hairs, making them thicker and less flexible.

4. Storing a Wet Brush Upright

After you wash your brushes carefully and rinse them well, they need to dry. The best position to dry is lying flat, in a dry environment and far from sources of heat.

Most people store their brushes in a jar or holder of some sort, bristles up; that’s great, but only after they are completely dry.

When the brush is still wet, if you keep it standing upright, the water captured in the bristles will run down under the ferrule and create problems, like loosen the grip of the ferrule on the handle, and on the hair of the brush.

5. Storing a Brush Bristle-Down

Once you have your valuable brushes clean and dry, make sure you store them in a way that does not put any pressure on the bristles. Hairs are flexible and a prolonged pressure keeping them bent or spread out will irreparably ruin the shape of your bristles.

So never, ever store your brushes standing on their hairs, always on their handles.

I use a bamboo roll-up case for my oil paint brushes, it fit nicely a lot of brushes, and it's tall enough for the long handled ones, which I use the most.

For my acrylic brushes, I keep the bulk of them in my studio in a tin can, standing bristles-up, as you can see from the image above. When I need them on the go, I take my "travel kit" of brushes, which is a set of brushes that came in a handy black case, but I could have bought the case on the side.

Questions & Answers

  • How do I remove glue stuck to a paintbrush?

    I have heard people saying that glue dissolves with acetone nail polish remover. That's an easy product to get, and it's inexpensive. You may want to give it a try.

  • What do you do regarding oil brushes if you have to break for an hour?

    After one hour the oil brush is still workable and ok to use. If the break is longer, like a few hours, then you can clean any extra paint from the brushes with a paper towel and place them in a jar with bristles resting on a paper towel saturated with safflower oil. That will keep them moist and ready to go for a longer time.

  • How do you use tubes of paint colours?

    Paint from any tube you purchase can be used as is, right out of the tube. Just apply to your painting surface with some kind of tool, most people use brushes to paint, but you can use palette knives, fingers, sponges, etc.

    You can mix different hues together to obtain the color you need, as long as it's the same kind of paint, i.e., mix oils with oils, acrylic with acrylics, watercolors with watercolors, etc.

© 2012 Robie Benve


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment
    • Robie Benve profile imageAUTHOR

      Robie Benve 

      10 months ago from Ohio

      Hi Rebecca, I know a lot of very good artists that say they don't buy expensive brushes because they treat their brushes so harshly it's not worth it. That's totally ok. With all the people out there complaining they haven't found their voice and are still looking for a signature style, it's wonderful that you've had yours forever. :) I would buy inexpensive stiff bristle brushes and not worry about it. This article may help you choose

      Thanks for your comment!

    • profile image


      10 months ago

      Great tips !!

      I’m having an issue with the fact that I’m a very rough painter. Meaning when I paint I press down hard and and move quickly. It’s a habit of mine for as long as I can remember. It’s my style of painting. My problem is my expensive brushes are ruined since the bristle is being shaved away:(

      Would you know which brush hair in specific can handle the pressure from my painting?

      (I was investing in sable hair but it seems it’s not for me bec I ruin it in the end of the day)

    • Robie Benve profile imageAUTHOR

      Robie Benve 

      21 months ago from Ohio

      Hi Hannah, that's interesting. My guess is that the instructor was more afraid of the sure damage the acrylic paint would have done if left to dry up on the bristles, than the potential damage done by keeping the brushes in water too long. It sounds like those brushes could have some stories to tell. :)

    • profile image


      21 months ago

      I recently attended a painting class and the "artist" kept putting my brushes in the cup of water. Isn't that wrong? The brushes provided were awful and I'm thinking this is partially the reason.

    • profile image


      2 years ago

      thank you it does

    • Robie Benve profile imageAUTHOR

      Robie Benve 

      2 years ago from Ohio

      Hi Mike, how long were you thinking? I think your design is great if used while painting or shortly after. If you keep the brushes in water a long time (several hours or days) even if the ferrule is not submerged, the bristles would still absorb water, and/or water would seep up and enter the ferrule damaging it and or/the handle. I would not recommend to keep them in any amount of water for a long time. Hope this answers it. :)

    • profile image


      2 years ago

      thank you but you didn't answer my question with this design is it possible to keep the brushes in water for a long time or is there any additional problem ?

    • Robie Benve profile imageAUTHOR

      Robie Benve 

      2 years ago from Ohio

      That design sounds (and looks) like a great idea, and I am all for creativity and original tool making.

      Yay Mike!

    • Robie Benve profile imageAUTHOR

      Robie Benve 

      3 years ago from Ohio

      You are very welcome earthechos! You are right, I have taken several classes as well, and brush care is not something that usually gets covered. Glad to hear I was able to help somehow. :)

    • profile image


      3 years ago

      Thanks for the info. I've taken a lot of classes over the years and this is something rarely covered.

    • Robie Benve profile imageAUTHOR

      Robie Benve 

      4 years ago from Ohio

      Hi Teresa, sorry it took me so long to reply, somehow I missed your comment. :( What kind of paint are you using? If it's oil paint try soaking your brushes in a grease cleaner (I use a cheap degreaser spot cleaner from the dollar store and it works) and then rub them on the palm of your hand adding some more soap as necessary.

      For acrylics it gets a little trickier, because the paint dries to a plastic film and it no longer soluble. However, before giving up on the brush, try soaking it in Windex and then rub it on the palm of your hand, adding soap or more window cleaner as necessary. I have been able to save a few like that. Hope this helps. Thanks for stopping by.

    • profile image


      4 years ago

      I wash my brushes but paint seems to stay up under the brush where it's glued. Please help .

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      @Ariana Phillips I store my brushes in "Rockwell Brush Easel Storage Cases" as It's easy to travel and protects my largest brushes without messing up the brush hairs. I bought them online from I shop there all the time. Like them better than the retail stores

    • Robie Benve profile imageAUTHOR

      Robie Benve 

      7 years ago from Ohio

      Gotta love little kids and their passion for art! lol Thanks a lot for stopping by and making me smile. :)

    • wilderness profile image

      Dan Harmon 

      7 years ago from Boise, Idaho

      Some good tips here. My biggest problem has always been the grandkids finding my oil brushes and doing watercolor with them - it's taken a long time to convince them that no, they can't do that!

    • Robie Benve profile imageAUTHOR

      Robie Benve 

      8 years ago from Ohio

      You are right Marcy, a single brush can cost more than a tube of paint, and a ruined brush is a pain to use. :)

    • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image

      Marcy Goodfleisch 

      8 years ago from Planet Earth

      Brushes are a huge investment for art - these are great tips for taking care of those important tools! Voted up and up!

    • Ariana Phillips profile image

      Ariana Phillips 

      8 years ago from Utah

      Nice work on this hub. You know a lot of times you really don't think about stuff like that being an issue until someone points it out, then it makes perfect sense and you can't believe you didn't think of that yourself. I know I need to change some of my bad brush cleaning habits. Thanks for breaking the cycle.

    • carol7777 profile image

      carol stanley 

      8 years ago from Arizona

      Very clear and concise about brushes.. I think sometimes I get careless with my brushes...I liked the simple steps and ideas. This is definitely a thumbs up.

    • europewalker profile image


      8 years ago

      Useful hub Robie. I always soak my brushes way too long, I'm too lazy to clean them right away. I've ruined a few brushes that way and the good ones aren't cheap! Thanks for the tips.


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
    ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)