How to Clean Up Acrylic Paints

Updated on July 25, 2018
Robie Benve profile image

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

Acrylic paint dries fast, clean stains while they are still wet.
Acrylic paint dries fast, clean stains while they are still wet. | Source

The very qualities that make acrylic paint so special and enjoyable—like the fact that it dries quickly and is not water soluble when dry—can become dreadful traits when it comes to cleaning it up.

Timing Is Key: Don't Let The Paint Dry

When you are cleaning up acrylic paint from porous surfaces or from brushes, the sooner you act, the better. Don’t let the paint dry, or you may never be able to clean up completely.

If for any reason you have to delay the cleaning, make sure that you keep the spot wet. Keep the paint from drying so it remains water soluble.

Synthetic vs. Natural Brushes

No matter what kind of brushes you use, natural or synthetic, they can all get ruined pretty quickly if you let acrylic paint dry on them. It can truly ruin the bristles of your brushes, and there is not much to do to rescue them after that happens.

I prefer to use synthetic brushes, because acrylics adhere more to natural bristles, making them much harder to clean.

Since acrylic paint dries fast, it can be challenging to preserve your brushes, especially while working on a painting using different kinds of brushes at the same time.

The worst thing about acrylics is that they dry fast, and the best thing about acrylics is that they dry fast.

— Debbie DeBaun

Cleaning Brushes

  1. Rinse your brushes well in between uses.
  2. Keep them wet during painting sessions – this does not mean keeping them soaked in water. Leaving brushes in water containers for very long will ruin them as well. Keep the bristles moist in order to avoid residual paint from drying on them.
  3. Wash your brushes with warm soapy water right after your painting session ends, rubbing it in circles on the palm of your hand. Make sure you clean between the bristles too, especially the area close to the ferrule.
  4. Rinse well, squeeze it dry, and then re-shape the brush.
  5. Let your brush dry horizontally. If you store the brushes vertically when still wet, moisture will penetrate under the ferrule, ruining it in the long term.

If you follow these tips you'll be able to keep your brushes in great shape and save money in the long run.

Getting Paint Off Clothes

If acrylic paint gets on your clothes, you need to wash the stain immediately while it’s still wet with soapy water, rub well, and rinse thoroughly. If the paint is hard to get off, you can add washer detergent or spray spot remover and rub with an old toothbrush.

Don’t let the paint sink into the fabric and dry, or it will be almost impossible to remove.

To avoid any stress about getting stains on your outfit, be careful about what you wear for painting. Pick something you don’t mind getting ruined, so you don’t have to worry if it gets stained. An apron can help protect clothes.

Getting Your Palette Clean

Depending on the material of your palette, there are different methods for cleaning dry acrylic paint.

Cleaning a Wooden Palette

I would not recommend the use of a wood palette for acrylic paint, because the porous surface of the wood absorbs a lot of paint and cleaning becomes a struggle.

Non-porous surfaces, like plastic, glass or ceramic are the best choices for acrylics.

If you already have a wood palette, you can consider covering it with plastic wrap or sealing it with acrylic medium to reduce absorption. Then you can follow the cleaning tips for non-porous materials below.

Cleaning Plastic, Glass, and Ceramic Palettes

To get acrylic paint off non-porous palettes, first, wipe off the wet paint with a paper towel and throw it in the trash, then wash your palette with soapy water.

If the paint dries, it forms a rubbery layer that can quite easily be peeled off and disposed of.

If you have a hard time scrubbing the paint off your palette, spray some window cleaner (i.e. Windex) on it and let it sit for a couple of minutes. This is my favorite way to clean up my palette. It's very easy.

My Method

My plastic palette with residues of acrylic paint from a few days ago.
My plastic palette with residues of acrylic paint from a few days ago. | Source
To clean it I spray window cleaner and let it sit few minutes.
To clean it I spray window cleaner and let it sit few minutes. | Source
Then I rub with an old kitchen sponge that has an abrasive side.
Then I rub with an old kitchen sponge that has an abrasive side. | Source
After I rinse it up, the palette is clean and ready for my next painting session.
After I rinse it up, the palette is clean and ready for my next painting session. | Source

Disposable Paper Palettes

Disposable paper palettes are very popular these days.

You can buy tablets of waterproof, tear-away paper sheets that are disposable, and you just trash them when you are done.

With disposable paper palettes, you completely avoid the hassle of cleaning up your palette.

Also, you eliminate all the problem of paint ending up in the waterways every time you wash your palette, causing water pollution.

I use them often, both for my acrylics and oil paints. I particularly like the light gray kind, it helps to see the true value of the mixed colors.

I like using a light gray disposable palette, it helps to see the true value of the mixed colors.

Jack Richeson Grey Matters Paper Palette, 12 by 16-Inch, 50 Sheets
Jack Richeson Grey Matters Paper Palette, 12 by 16-Inch, 50 Sheets

Nice water-proof sheets, wet paint puddles can be wiped off and you can reuse the mixing areas. Allows easy start from a clean palette every time, just throw away the top sheet.

 

Leftover paint on your palette should never get washed down the sink drain. It is very polluting for the environment.

Wet Acrylic Paint and Carpet

How to Clean Up Acrylic Paint - Tips and Methods
How to Clean Up Acrylic Paint - Tips and Methods | Source

Removing a Dry Acrylic Stain from Carpet

Questions & Answers

  • I used acrylic paint on ends of wooden spoons. Will the paint wash off? What could I seal it with?

    I doubt that acrylic paint will wash off any wood surface.

    Wood is porous and absorbs some of the paint. After the paint dries, you can peel it off a plastic support, but it adheres to wood much more. You may have to sand the wood to get rid of the paint layer.

    (Be careful not to breathe in the sanding dust)

    To isolate the wood, so it does not absorb, I would use an acrylic gel medium or an acrylic varnish.

  • Is it ok to wash my hands and painting tools in my kitchen sink?

    Paint has a lot of chemicals that are bad for the environment and should not be ingested.

    Keeping that in mind, try to minimize the amount that goes into the waterways and in your food.

    When I’m done painting, sometimes I do wash my hands or lightly dirty brushes in the kitchen sink, but I am cautious to wipe off the brushes in advance and not to contaminate dishes, glasses, etc.

    One thing that you should carefully avoid is to wash big amounts of paint down the sink, any sink. If you have a big blob of paint left on the palette, let it dry and then peel it off and into the trash can.

    Or, you could wipe it off with a paper towel when still wet and throw the paper in the trash can.

© 2012 Robie Benve

Comments

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    • Robie Benve profile imageAUTHOR

      Robie Benve 

      23 months ago from Ohio

      Thanks jbosh1972, I appreciate your feedback. It's always good to hear what really works for people and learn that way, instead of though our own mistakes. Mistakes can be very costly sometimes. :) Happy painting!

    • jbosh1972 profile image

      Jason 

      23 months ago from Indianapolis, IN. USA

      The Murphy's oil soap trick makes perfect sense. The surfactant properties causes the acrylic to loosen its adhesion and help water to wet the paint for removal.

      I did write an article about 5 liquids that can clean up dried acrylic paint but cleaning up while paint is still wet is the best idea. Goes along with the saying an ounce of prevention is worth more than a pound of cure.

    • Robie Benve profile imageAUTHOR

      Robie Benve 

      24 months ago from Ohio

      Great tip, thanks for sharing Glen!

    • profile image

      Glen 

      24 months ago

      Best tip for cleaning even partially dried brushes is to soak them in Murphy's oil soap (don't dilute) overnight and then soap and water to thoroughly clean. Brings back brushes you thought were toast.

    • Robie Benve profile imageAUTHOR

      Robie Benve 

      3 years ago from Ohio

      Sounds like you have a great plan of action Scribenet, best of luck to you! You may be able to share watercolor and acrylic brushes, depending on how well you are able to clean them. In doubt I'd keep them separate. Also, acrylic can use stiffer bristles too, depending on your preferences. Thanks for your feedback! Happy painitng. :)

    • Scribenet profile image

      Scribenet 

      3 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      I think I will use a special shirt and plastic mats underneath. I have a set of acrylics I am about to try over the winter. I think I will dedicate special brushes for it...was going to use my watercolor brushes; after reading this - I think not. I will check your articles on acrylic. Thank you.

    • Robie Benve profile imageAUTHOR

      Robie Benve 

      5 years ago from Ohio

      Thanks a lot JanitorialWeb, and welcome to HubPages! :)

    • JanitorialWeb profile image

      JanitorialWeb 

      5 years ago from Miami, Florida

      Wow excellent article, I like this.

    • Robie Benve profile imageAUTHOR

      Robie Benve 

      5 years ago from Ohio

      Rod, the shirt story is too funny, you made me laugh hard, thanks for sharing! I totally understand the forgetting brushes in water and oh did I regret it (and my wallet!)

      The paper plate palette sounds like a great environment-friendly solution. Though I do get bothered by the old paint stains, it gets too confusing, I doubt I could do it, but way to go for finding your way!

      Thanks a lot for reading and your great comment. :)

    • Rod Rainey profile image

      RodneyBlaec Rainey 

      5 years ago from Louisville, KY

      I have got to be one of the worst at this. I have paint stains on nearly every shirt I own. I no longer use paper towels; I just wipe the brushes on my shirt. Also, I had to stop buying expensive brushes cause I kept leaving them upside down in a glass of water. While this keeps the paint from curing to the bristles, it compromises the shape of the brush if left too long. Live and learn.

      I noticed you mentioned disposable pallets. I never tried them, but I've been using paper plates for years. What paint goes unused dries to the plate which reinforces it and makes it more watertight. So if it doesn't bother you to see old dry paint under your fresh wet paint, I highly recommend it. I've used the same paper plate for over a year now; it just keeps getting thicker and thicker. Great Hub, Thank You for sharing.

    • Robie Benve profile imageAUTHOR

      Robie Benve 

      6 years ago from Ohio

      Dear Humberto, are you saying reading my posts inspired you to paint? Oh, that would be fantastic! :))

      Sounds like you are ready for a new adventure, don't wait any longer; as we say in Italy "hit the iron while it's hot". Now that you broke the ice keep at it, my friend, release the creativity from within and have fun. Blessings to you too and good luck for everything.

    • profile image

      Humberto Rivera 

      6 years ago

      Hello Robie!

      I have been reading your posting for a while and I wanted to say thanks for all your advise. After 4 months, I finally painted something. A friend of mine needed to paint a Disney landscape, and he let me help. Acrylic dries faster that what I thought and cleaning the brushes often was important to keep the flow of the stroke nice and even. Thanks Robie, and look I forward to read your posting, see your paintings, and learn your teachings. Thanks my friend and God bless you and your family.

    • Robie Benve profile imageAUTHOR

      Robie Benve 

      6 years ago from Ohio

      Michael, sounds like you had some experience with unusable brushes and spotty clothes, thanks to the lovely and versatile medium of acrylic paint. (guess what, me too) Not fun learning the hard way, is it? It would be great if my hub could save someone else from the trouble. :)

      Thanks for reading and leaving feedback!

    • Michael J Rapp profile image

      Michael J Rapp 

      6 years ago from United States

      Great advice! I taught art groups with seniors a few years back, and acrylic was the easiest medium for them to work in. Unfortunately, it's also a challenge to clean up if you aren't on the ball. I learned the lessons you are explaining here the hard way: clean brushes immediately after use and get it off your clothes ASAP!

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