How to Clean Up Acrylic Paints
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.
Let's look into how to:
- Clean your brushes
- Clean your palette
- Get paint off your clothes and other fabrics
The worst thing about acrylics is that they dry fast, and the best thing about acrylics is that they dry fast.— Debbie DeBaun
How to Clean Acrylic Brushes
- Rinse your brushes well in between uses.
- 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.
- 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.
- Rinse well, squeeze it dry, and then re-shape the brush.
- 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.
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.
How to Get 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.
For dry stains try one of these two methods:
- Soaking with rubbing alcohol and rubbing in your hands.
- Soaking with amonia or window cleaner and rubbing.
How to Get 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 a Plastic, Glass, and Ceramic Palette
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 MethodClick thumbnail to view full-size
Using a Disposable Paper Palettes
Disposable paper palettes are very popular these days.
You can buy pads 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.
You don't necessarily have to throw away a sheet every time you paint. Once acrylic paint dries on the palette, it becomes a plastic film and you can peel it off or mix a new color on top.
I like using a light gray disposable palette, it helps to see the true value of the mixed colors.
Leftover paint on your palette should never get washed down the sink drain. It is very polluting for the environment.
Health and Safety Tips
Paint contains a lot of chemicals that should not get into our blood system.
Keeping that in mind, be aware of what you breath in and touch. Also, avoid getting a lot of wet paint into the waterways or in contact with eating tools.
When you wash or hands or brushes in the kitchen sink, be cautious to wipe off the brushes in advance and not to contaminate dishes, glasses, etc.
Avoid washing big amounts of paint down the sink. Wipe off any wet paint with a paper towel and throw it into the trash can, where it will eventually dry out.
Wet Acrylic Paint and Carpet
Removing a Dry Acrylic Stain from Carpet
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
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.Helpful 17
What do you do if the acrylic paint has already dried on the paintbrush?
Try soaking it in windex for a couple of hours and then rubbing the bristles with your fingers.Helpful 17
If I can't wash my hands in the kitchen sink after painting with acrylics where can I wash them and how do I get rid of the water?
It's ok to wash your hands or brushes in the kitchen sink, but be cautious to wipe off the brushes in advance with a paper towel or old rag, carefully avoiding to wash big amounts of paint down the sink, any sink.
Most importantly, avoid contaminating dishes, glasses, etc.Helpful 11
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.Helpful 8
If the kitchen sink is empty, is it okay to wash your hands and painting tools?
Sure, if there are no dishes or other utensils that will get in touch with food in the kitchen sink, you can go ahead and wash your hands and brushes.
However, I recommend that you wipe off any excess paint on a towel (that will go into the garbage at one point) and try to get as little paint as possible down the drain.
Your pipes and the water supply system will thank you.Helpful 2
© 2012 Robie Benve