Cleaning brushes for oil painters can often be a bit of a chore. I have often forgotten, been distracted or left my studio in a rush and returned a day later and found a rock hard brush covered in paint! So are there any easy ways to clean brushes which are quick and fuss free? Can I rescue a brush left overnight?
Practical tips for oil painters
When I first started in use oil paints I would wipe my brushes clean and then wash them in mineral spirts or paint thinner. My brushes didn’t last as long as I hoped and I remember having to bin quite a few. Paint thinner can be quite tough on your brushes and hands. Its also expensive particularly if you use odourless mineral spirits. After discussing this with other artist friends I came across a method which meant there was no need to use paint thinner and it has kept my brushes clean ever since.
Cleaning brushes with baby oil
You will need: Baby oil or vegetable oil ( yes the stuff you cook with), kitchen towels and washing up liquid
Firstly wipe off as much of the oil paint you can on a rag or I use kitchen towels. Be slow and careful when you do this to avoid pulling at the bristles. Once you have most of the oil paint off rub in some baby oil massaging the bristles gently. I love to use baby oil as it has such a lovely smell and its great for your hands but you can use vegetable oil which is a cheap alternative. I always use baby oil to clean my hands after a being in the studio!
You will find that the baby oil will start to remove the paint. You will need to keep wiping the brush with a paper towel and adding more baby oil until no visible paint is seen on the paper towel. I usually stop at this point but if you are going to store you brushes for some time you can now wash them in a small amount of washing up liquid and warm water. Dry them after washing and then apply a little oil to coat the bristles and shape them.
Rescuing a brush left overnight
If you are like me I very often return to the studio and find a brush has been forgotten and it has rock hard bristles! I have found if I soak the bristles in pure washing up liquid for at least a day I can then clean it as usual. Unfortunately this is not so successful on brushes which have been left for a few weeks which I found out sadly.
Why cleaning brushes is important
Most importantly taking care of your brushes will save you money. Brushes can be very expensive, I often have them on my Christmas list so I really need to take care of them!
Your brushes will last longer if you clean them carefully and store them so that the bristles do not get squashed. It means that favourite brush will last a long time.
What ever method you use, make sure it becomes part of you regular studio practice.