Robie is an artist who loves sharing what she's learned about art and painting in the hope that it might help other creatives.
How to Clean Acrylic Paint Brushes
Acrylic paint dries very fast. To preserve the health of your paintbrushes it is extremely important to:
- Keep the bristles moist at all times while painting.
- Clean brushes promptly at the end of each painting session.
Don't Let Acrylic Paint Dry on Brushes
Acrylic paint is easily washable with soap and water while wet, but, once dry, it becomes extremely difficult to remove.
If allowed to dry on the bristles, it can definitely ruin paintbrushes.
Act Fast, Time Is Money
Don't wait for the paint to dry to clean your brushes. Act fast, and focus on preventing any damages. As an artist, brushes are your working tools. You must keep them in good conditions so that they are able to do their job.
By cleaning your brushes thoroughly, you extend their life and, in the end, save a lot of money in supplies, by not having to replace them.
Keep Your Brushes Moist
During your acrylic painting session, make sure to rinse any residual paint from your brushes before putting them down and keep them wet just in case there is any unseen residue of paint near the ferrule, you don't want it to dry, or your bristles will spread out and lose their shape.
When you change color paint or you switch to another brush, remove any excess paint with a paper towel and rinse the brush thoroughly, then lay the wet brush flat until you need it again.
Avoid Getting Excess Water in the Ferrule
Avoid keeping your brushes soaked in water for a long time, because this could lose or rust the ferrule and damage the handle.
For the same reason, wet brushes should be left to dry horizontally, not bristles -up, or the water would drip down under the ferrule.
In general, you should never leave a brush standing on its hair for a long time, in water or during storage, because it may bend and lose its shape.
How to Wash Your Brushes in 10 Steps
- Remove most of the paint from of your brushes using a paper towel or a rag.
- Wet with warm water
- Load you wet brush with a mild soap. You can use any non-aggressive soap. Many people like to use Murphy’s oil, the household cleaner. I often use hand soap or a laundry soap bar. They also sell specific brush cleaning soaps.
- Rub the soapy brush on the palm of your hand, in circles.
- Create enough foam to take off all residues of paint.
- Massage the bristles with your fingers to get all the paint out from the middle of the hairs.
- Rinse thoroughly and repeat until foam and water are clear.
- Dry excess water with a rag, being gentle on the bristles.
- Flat dry, making sure that hairs are not pushing against any obstacles that may bend them.
- Once dry, store your brushes flat or bristle-up, to avoid bending of the hairs.
What brush-personality are you?
Massage the bristles with your fingers to get all the paint out from the middle of the hairs
Environmental Tips on Washing Paint Brushes
Acrylic paint is not good for the environment, please avoid washing a big amount of paint down the drain. It is much better for the water system if you wipe off excess paint from brushes and your palette with a paper towel and throw it in the trash can.
Start cleaning by getting most of the paint off with a paper towel. Rub the bristles and the palette with some paper to collect as much paint as you can; then start washing.
More Tips on Washing Paint Brushes
- Use Mild Soap. Avoid dish detergent or other types of aggressive soaps.
- Use Soap Sparingly. Not to be cheap, but because even the mild soap could dry and affect the brush bristles, plus it takes longer and more water to rinse.
- Rinse Well. Make sure there is no soap residue whatsoever at the last rinse, or your first paint-stroke with that brush will be "soapy".
- Absorb Excess Water with a rag, being gentle on the hair of the brush.
- Lay Wet Brushes Flat. Flat is the best way for a brush to dry. Do not leave the brushes standing on their tip, this may damage the tip and compromise the shape.
Store Your Brushes Properly
Ruined your brushes and need to buy new ones? I have this set and it's pretty good!
Did you not clean your brushes in time?
Once acrylic dries, it really does become plastic, very hard to take off porous or textured surfaces.
However, there are some emergency solutions that I've heard of, and you might want to try if they work for you. Try soaking the bristles in ammonia, window cleaner, or even rubbing alcohol.
These methods will never restore them to be like new, but they might make them workable.
You may have success with some of these remedies, but be prepared to buy new brushes.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
Questions & Answers
Question: How should I remove old dried paint from the ferrules of brushes? Should I use Turpenoid?
Answer: If it's acrylic paint that dried on the ferrule, I would try soaking it with window cleaner and then rub it off with your fingernail.
For oil paint, I've got good results by soaking brushes with very dry paint in a cleaner by a company called Brush Flush. Everything cleans off like magic.
© 2013 Robie Benve
Robie Benve (author) from Ohio on June 22, 2020:
Unfortunately it happens to all of us to forget the brushes in the water.
Hopefully no major harm is done. Clean them well, squeeze out all water from the bristles using a paper towel, and let the brushes dry completely laying down flat.
The risk is that after they dry the ferrule becomes loose and even detaches from the handle.
If that happens, try using some wood glue and tightening up the ferrule with pliers to reattach.
emily on June 22, 2020:
what if i forgot to take them out of the water and they soaked overnight?
Robie Benve (author) from Ohio on March 20, 2017:
Hi Katie, I sent you an email with the links to the Feltmagnet acrylic painting web page and my profile page, where you can see all my articles. Hope that helps. : )
Katie.email@example.com on March 14, 2017:
I'm getting frustrated in that other Arthur's are in such an abundance and that im searching for Acrylic stuff and im getting all kinds of crafty things ideas. All I want to be able to read, learn how too is from you Robbie. I'm needing all the Acrylic items together.
What do I need to do to obtain this?
Katie and Sheldon
Robie Benve (author) from Ohio on December 05, 2016:
That's very interesting Josh! I never heard of using rubbing alcohol in the water before, I must try! Thanks for sharing. Happy painting!
Josh on November 29, 2016:
Another way to make cleaning acrylic paint off of your paint brushes it to mix a little rubbing alcohol into your time water. The rubbing alcohol loosens the binding molecules of the paint and thus makes it easier to rince off and rubbing alcohol can be used to thin your paint if needed.
Robie Benve (author) from Ohio on June 15, 2015:
I understand... ruining one too many brushes is what made me do some extra research and learn what I should have done instead. Here I'm sharing what I now know for a fact, in the hope it can be useful to someone else. :) Thanks a lot for stopping by. Happy painting!
Minnie on June 14, 2015:
This is very helpful as I have ruined some brushes
Robie Benve (author) from Ohio on March 07, 2013:
Hi torrilynn, we gotta keep those brushes clean, don't we? :) Thanks a lot for reading and commenting. Happy painting!
Robie Benve (author) from Ohio on March 05, 2013:
Hi Carol, how do you like washable oils? Are they similar to acrylics, but dry slower?
Thanks for your comment. :)
Robie Benve (author) from Ohio on March 04, 2013:
Hi europewalker, cleaning up after a nice activity always kind of ruins the fun, doesn't it? I hate those times when I get sidetracked and hours later I realize I haven't cleaned up properly!
Thank goodness I always keep mu brushes well rinsed, so I don't get paint globs drying on them, but still!
Happy painting and thank you for your comment. :)
torrilynn on March 01, 2013:
thanks for this really nice hub here.
about proper cleaning tips for brushes.
thanks and voted up
carol stanley from Arizona on February 28, 2013:
A great hub and saving these brushes which do add to the expense of painting. I have now added washable oils to my media..But my acrylics are here when I get in the mood. Thanks for a great hub..Voting up+++ and pinning.
europewalker on February 27, 2013:
Helpful hub. I like to paint but I hate to clean my paint brushes! They are a mess. Voted up and useful.