How To Effectively Clean Your Paint Brushes After Oil Painting

If you are looking to preserve your paintbrushes for long-term use, you’ll need to pay attention to the finer points of paintbrush cleaning. If you let the oil paint dry on your brushes, you’ll have a harder time later, so it’s best to set up a process by which you get used to cleaning them as soon as you are done painting. Here’s a quick look at what you need to know to effectively clean your paintbrushes after oil painting.


First, you’ll want to choose the right solvent to clean off the oil paint. Unlike watercolor paints, which are designed to come off with just some water, you’ll need to find a specialty solvent to remove the oil paint. In most art stores, the term “paint thinner” is what is applied to all the most popular cleaning solvents. Technically speaking, if you want the most thorough and environmentally safe clean, it’s best to use mineral spirits. However, for casual painters, garden-variety paint thinner will work. Some popular names of solvents include turpentine and naphtha. To dissolve paint after it has dried, you’ll probably need to use acetone.

Next, you’ll want to get the right materials. For a basic cleaning job, you’ll want a wire paint comb, some paper towels, some empty paint cans, a cardboard box, and some plastic liner for that box (usually, a garbage bag will do). All of these can be easily found at an art supply store, and sometimes even from your local supermarket.

Before the paint has started to dry on the brushes, scrape off any excess paint with the wire paint comb. The more you can get off here, the easier your job is going to be. Then, set up the empty paint cans and put some of the paint thinner in each of those cans. Let the brushes soak in the first can for about 5 minutes. Then, after this soaking is finished, blot the brushes with paper towels to remove as much of the paint as you can. (Bonus: You can sometime turn these paper towels into works of art also!)

Depending on how much paint is on your brushes, you’ll want to repeat this process 2 or 3 times. Each time, you should see more and more of the paint being removed. On the final iteration of this process, make sure that you are doing more than blotting the towels. Really press the paint bristles into the paper towels.

The next step is to let the brushes dry so that they will be ready for you for your next painting session. That’s where the cardboard box lined with garbage bags (or other similar material) comes into play. Place the paintbrushes inside the box and let them dry overnight.

Of course, the whole process can get a bit messy, so you’ll want to make sure that you also have plenty of newspaper and drop cloths available as well. Many people like to do all their cleanup work in a special studio area, or even the garage. It’s really up to you – part of the mystique of the classic oil painter is the paint-filled studio, filled with splatters and blotches of paint, so don’t be too worried if you can’t get all the paint removed!