The Best Way to Clean Your Paint Brushes


Painting furniture has become my new favorite thing. It is fun, easy, and, let’s face it… a new coat of paint can change the look of your furniture and is way cheaper than buying new! Chalk painting is specifically my new passion. When chalk painting, your most important tool is obviously the paint brush. It’s important to take care of your brushes properly in order to have them last longer, help your projects turn out beautifully, and most importantly save you time and money (which we ALL love!) What is the best way to clean a paint brush?

The best way to clean your paint brushes are:

  1. Pick the right brush
  2. Condition the brush
  3. Wipe/Remove as much paint as possible from the brush after use
  4. Clean brush with solvent (if needed)
  5. Clean the paint out of the brush with soap and water
  6. Soak if needed
  7. Squeeze and shake out the water from the brush
  8. Dry the brush completely

If you want to find the best Paint Brushes, click here.

Paint Brush Types: Choosing the Right Brush

Paint brushes come in either synthetic or natural bristles. Natural bristles are usually made from some sort of animal hair. This could be hog or badger hair for instance. Synthetic bristles are non-natural and made from nylon, polyester, or even in some cases both.

Natural brushes are commonly used for:

  • Chalk-based paint
  • Oil-based paint
  • Clay-based paint
  • Milk paint
  • Varnish
  • Shellac
  • Stain
  • Polyurethane

Synthetic brushes are commonly used for:

  • Water-based latex paints
  • Water-based primers
  • Gloss paint
  • Acrylic paint
  • Water-based wood finishes

Brands are also important when choosing a brush. It is important to choose a company you trust and know that you are getting a quality product. While there are several different brands of chalk paint brushes to choose from, I always go for my Annie Sloan brushes. These paint brushes are dense, thick and give an amazing smoother finish. In addition, they hold a lot of paint which saves time and paint. 

Conditioning Your Paint Brush

Now that we have chosen the right brush for the job, we need to condition the brush. It’s important to condition your brush before its first use. Simply tap it a few times on a hard surface pushing the bristles into the ferrule. Then run your fingers through the brush, essentially removing any loose bristles so they don’t come out while painting or waxing your project. Run the brush in some warm water and always lay the brush flat to dry on a paper towel so it will always keep its shape without the water dripping into the handle. If you want to use the brush again quickly, simply squeeze the excess water out of the brush with a clean towel. 

Cleaning the Brush Thoroughly

After using the brush, the most obvious step to keeping your brushes in pristine condition is to clean the brush. Cleaning the paint out of the brush is surprisingly easy. It is key to clean it immediately after using it. This keeps the paint from soaking into the bristles and making it impossible to get the brush completely clean. To clean, we first want to wipe or remove as much paint as possible from the brush. Next, we will clean the brush with a solvent if it is required, not all brushes or paint types will require this step. If we do need to clean with a solvent it is important to do this part in a room with good ventilation. Some solvent have a pretty potent smell and it is best to be safe. The next step is to simply run the brush under warm water and work it slightly with your hands. There might be times that you need to use a very little bit of gentle grease cutting dish soap (such as Dawn) for the extra boost to get the brush as clean as you’d like. 

If you get busy and don’t get to your brush right away after using it, you can still get it clean, its just going to take a little bit more of an effort. We are going to need to soak the brush prior to cleaning. To soak the brush, put it in water and let it sit for a few hours. Then take the brush and carefully separate the bristles. Run your fingers through the bristles and on the palm of your hand to loosen up the paint. Then take a gentle, grease cutting cleanser (again, Dawn) and lather it up on the brush working it into the brush with your hands. The paint will eventually come out of the brush. Squeeze and shake out the excess water and let it dry flat on a paper towel. You will need to clean the brush after waxing as well. The same process, warm water, gentle cleaner, and a little elbow grease will do the trick. 

Dry the Brush

The last step after thoroughly cleaning or soaking the brush is to let it dry. It is key that your brush is nice and clean and dry before using it for the next project. We do not want water in our paint during our next use. The best way to dry is hang the brush so none of the bristle are on the table or floor. This will make it so all sides of the brush are nice and evenly dry.

Tips and Tricks

Will this same process work for synthetic brushes? If you clean them immediately after use with warm water and gentle soap it will do the trick. If you have dried paint on the brush you can soak it in vinegar for a bit, then use the soap working it through the brush.

Can you use a wire brush to clean dried paint from a paint brush? While you can do this, I wouldn’t recommend it. Wire brushes will tear the bristles from your brush and you will end up spending more money on brushes than paint! You can however use a nylon brush as they are much more gentle.

Do I need to clean my brush between coats? If I’m not doing the second coat until the next day I will clean my brush. However, if it’s only going to be a couple of hours before I do a second coat, I will put the brush in a zip-lock bag or wrap it in plastic wrap. This will keep the brush from drying out. 

Do I need to use other solvents to clean before using water and soap? Sometimes you will need some extra help to get the brush clean. Usually the manufacturers instructions for the paint brush will have recommendations for solvents to use on that specific brush. After applying the solvent it is still important to use water and soap to make sure the solvent doesn’t soak in the brush. Solvents you may need to use are:

  • Mineral spirits for oil based paint
  • Denatured alcohol for shellac
  • Water is usually fine for water based paint

If you take the time to care for your brushes properly you will not only save yourself time and money, but you will have more fun with it. You may even want to scour your house for more furniture to paint! 

Check out this video for more tips and tricks!

Final Thoughts

Taking care of your brushes are crucial to saving money if you have many paint projects. When taking care of your paint brushes you want to make sure you are doing it properly. The best way to take care of your paint brushes are the following steps:

  1. Pick the right brush
  2. Condition the brush
  3. Wipe/Remove as much paint as possible from the brush after use
  4. Clean brush with solvent (if needed)
  5. Clean the paint out of the brush with soap and water
  6. Soak if needed
  7. Squeeze and shake out the water from the brush
  8. Dry the brush completely

So make sure to follow those steps and you will be able to use the same brush for many projects!

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