Maintaining Your Paint Brushes

You and your brushes spend quite a bit of time together creating.  This makes it very important to take good care of them and maintain their shape and condition.  First, if you have not read “Cleaning Your Brushes”—start there!  Here are some additional tips that will keep your brushes in top shape.

  • In between painting “sessions”—let’s say you are taking a break for a couple of days. The brush has been cleaned properly but you want to make sure to maintain the shape of the brush.  You can take a tiny bit of the soap/conditioner and use it to re-shape the brush, whether it is a liner with a very pointed tip or a flat with a sharp chisel edge.  This soap will act almost like the original sizing.  Ready to paint again?  Just gently rinse out the soap and wipe dry.
  • Taking a longer break—vacation time? Clean properly, add the “sizing” discussed above and decide how you want to store them.  Since they are DRY you can store them vertically—bristles UP—in a jar or mug or any container.  Keep them out of direct sunlight or a very warm area and in a fairly dust free area.  Also, don’t store in a very damp area—mildew could set in.  They will be waiting for your return.
  • You can store them in one of the canvas or material roll up brush holders but caution is advised if you are folding or rolling up the brush holder. It is possible that the brushes will be cramped and at different heights and bristles and shapes can be damaged.  Better option is to place them in the holder and just lay it flat on your painting table until you return.
  • In a hurry—leaving class and don’t have time to thoroughly clean your brushes? Need to run and pick up the kids from school?  If you have been using water media paints clean them well in water and wipe dry.  To keep paint from drying in the brush until you get home, work some extender or retarder into the bristles from the ferrule down.  Wrap in a paper towel or cloth and place on top of your other supplies so they are not all crunched together.  Or, if you are at home lay flat on your painting table.  As soon as possible clean the brushes well as directed in “Cleaning Your Brushes”.
  • If you have been painting in oils which is a slower drying medium, rinse well in your brush cleaner such as Gamsol and wipe out as much paint as possible. You can use a product like Bristle Magic by Magic Bristle or Black Soap by Pebeo to work into  the brush from ferrule down and leave in.  Again, lay flat and protect the tips until you can properly clean them.  Both Bristle Magic and Black Soap have conditioners in them which will help protect your brushes until you can clean them.
  • OOPS!! You just left your brush loaded with paint and now it’s dried and hard.  All is not lost.  There are several things to try except soaking the brush in solvent or water (especially hot water) for a long period.  This will just do more harm!
  1. Start by using any of the products mentioned such as The Masters Brush Cleaner, Black Soap, Bristle Magic, or Speedball Pink Soap. Work the product well into the hard brush and let it lay flat.  Keep checking back – you want to feel the brush soften (could take overnight).  Depending on how much paint is in the brush you may simply need to then wipe out paint and keep soaping and wiping until no more paint comes out.  Then you can follow up with reshaping.
  2. If there is a ton of paint in the brush up to the ferrule wait until it softens a bit and GENTLY use a palette knife or tooth brush to push paint out from the ferrule down. This may take several applications of soap and scrapping gently. Then you can begin a normal brush cleaning process and reshaping. Some artists like to use a bit or Murphy’s Oil straight or with a touch of water to help soften paint and condition the brush.

General tips to keep your brushes it great shape:

  1. Use the right brush for the right job. If your technique requires some heavy duty scrubbing on your surface—don’t use your favorite brush.  Find an older or cheaper brush for that job.
  2. Need to apply masking fluid? Again—don’t use your best brush.  Use an old brush or buy some cheap throw away brushes for this job.


Blog editor: Mary McCullah

Mary works from her own photo references painting primarily in acrylic and watercolor. She has been painting for over 40 years dedicating over 25 years to teaching and designing educational material. Having lived across the country, Mary and her husband now reside in North Augusta, SC where she divides her art time with her horse time! Want to know more about Mary:

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