Step-by-Step Methods to Clean Oil Paint Brushes for Color Changes

As an oil painter, keeping your brushes clean is integral for smooth transitions between colors and for producing stunning paintings. No matter, if you’re a new or an experienced artist, mastering step-by-step methods of oil brush cleaning between colors, is vital in upholding artwork integrity as well as prolonging brush lifespan. In this blog post based on my own expertise as an individual who specializes in oil painting alone, I share my tried-and-tested processes for cleaning oil paint brushes between colors so you’ll always have them clean before your next artistic venture begins!

Gather Your Materials for Proper Brush Cleaning

Before beginning to clean oil paint brushes, it is crucial to assemble all the necessary supplies and gather everything together beforehand. This will ensure that everything necessary for an efficient brush-cleaning experience can be found readily at hand and ready. Here’s a list of materials needed:

  • Paper towels or cloth rags: These should be used to wipe off excess paint from your brushes.
  • A container or jar: In order to safely rinse your brushes, a container or jar with cleaning solution or soap and water should be available.
  • Cleaning Solvent: For oil paints that contain solvents, like mineral spirits or turpentine, using a cleaning solvent will be required for proper brush care and cleanup.
  • Soap and Water: To properly maintain water-based oil paints, the use of mild soap and water for brush maintenance will suffice.
  • Brush Cleaner: As an optional yet highly recommended measure, investing in a professional-grade brush cleaner is recommended to effectively deep clean your brushes.

Once you’ve assembled all your materials, the first step in cleaning your oil paint brushes should be removing excess paint from their bristles. Use a paper towel or cloth rag and carefully wipe off as much excess paint from its bristles as possible with gentle strokes of a paper towel or cloth rag; palette knives and brush scrapers may be useful in extracting dried or stubborn spots of color from brushes; however, avoid pressing too hard as doing so could damage bristles and ruin them permanently.

Methods to Clean Oil Paint Brushes for Color Changes

Rinsing Brushes With Solvent: Step-by-Step Guide for Rinsing with Solvent

After applying solvent-based oil paint, the next step in proper brush rinsing should be using cleaning solvent. Follow these step-by-step instructions for proper solvent rinsing:

  • Step 1: Pour a small amount of solvent into a container large enough to accommodate all the bristles without bending them.
  • Step 2: Swirl the bristles of your brush gently through a solvent solution using circular motions. Pressing down too hard or bending the bristles too abruptly can damage them and should be avoided to ensure maximum efficacy of this step.
  • Step 3: Stirring the brush around in the solvent until paint begins to loosen from its bristles is key in this step.
  • Step 4: Remove the brush from the solvent and blot away any excess with paper towel or cloth rag.
  • Step 5: Repeat this process if necessary until all traces of paint have been eliminated from the bristles and bristle surface is clean and free from staining.
  • Step 6: Once your brushes have been thoroughly cleansed, dispose of or store away the used solvent in accordance with local regulations or reuse it if possible.

Clean Your Brushes with Soap and Water

If you use water-based oil paints, the cleaning process differs slightly. Here’s how to wash them using soap and water:

  • Step 1: Run running water over the bristles of your brush.
  • Step 2: Spread a small amount of mild soap directly on either your hand or onto the bristles for optimal cleaning results.
  • Step 3: Use circular strokes to gently work the soap into the bristles in order to loosen the paint from them and increase the effectiveness of brush cleaning.
  • Step 4: Rinse the brush thoroughly under running water to eliminate soap and paint residue, until all traces of soap have been eliminated and no signs remain in the water.
  • Step 5: Gently squeeze the bristles with a paper towel or cloth rag to remove excess water, being careful not to pull or bend them while doing so.
  • Step 6: Recontour the bristles back to their original forms by gently combing through them with either your fingertips or a brush comb.
  • Step 7: For optimal drying results, lay or hang the brushes flat or upside-down to dry completely. Avoid standing upright as water may gather at the base of their bristles and cause irreparable damage.

Use Brush Cleaners Properly: Step-by-Step Instructions for Cleaning Brushes with Brush Cleaners

Brush cleaners are specially-made products designed to deep clean oil paint brushes and remove dried or stubborn paint residue. Here are step-by-step instructions for how to use them:

  • Step 1: For optimal results, read and follow all instructions provided on the brush cleaner product label.
  • Step 2: Pour a small amount of brush cleaner into a container or jar.
  • Step 3: Swirl your bristles through the brush cleaner according to manufacturer’s recommended cleaning timeframe.
  • Step 4: Gently massage the bristles using your fingers or a brush comb in order to work the cleaner into them and loosen any remaining paint.
  • Step 5: Rinse the brush thoroughly under running water to rid it of brush cleaner and paint residue.
  • Step 6: Gently squeeze any excess liquid out from your bristles using a paper towel or cloth rag.
  • Step 7: After using your fingers or a brush comb to reshape the bristles, lay or hang up your brushes flat for them to completely dry before storage.

Gently Scrubbing Brush Bristles for Successful Brush Maintenance

When cleaning oil paint brushes, it is crucial that the bristles are treated gently to avoid damaging them and creating rippled surfaces on them. Here are some proper techniques for gently scrubbing brush bristles:

Use circular motions: When rinsing with solvent, washing with soap and water or using brush cleaners, make use of gentle circular motions to work the cleaning agent into the bristles and loosen paint from them. Avoid pressing too hard or bending bristles too drastically.

Avoid Harsh Scrubbing: Harsh scrubbing can damage bristles and cause them to fray or lose shape, so when cleaning your brushes be gentle and patient allowing the cleaning agent do its work without exerting excessive force.

Apply a Brush Comb: Brush combs are extremely helpful tools in safely combing through bristles to loosen dry or stubborn paint residues, helping avoid bending or pulling of bristles while using light strokes to ensure no bends are created in them. Use with light strokes in the direction of bristles for best results.

Do not twist or wring the bristles: Twisting or wringing bristles may cause them to lose their shape or even break, so use gentle squeezing motions with a paper towel or cloth rag instead of twisting or wringing to remove excess water or cleaning agent from their bristles.

Rinse and Repeat: Ensuring Thorough Cleaning With Multiple Rinses

To ensure thorough cleaning of oil paint brushes, multiple rinses may be necessary in order to eliminate all traces of paint residue and cleaning agent from their bristles. Here’s how you can repeat the cleaning process:

Solvent-based oil paints: If you’re using solvent-based oil paints, rinse your brushes multiple times using fresh solvent until their bristles are clean and the solvent runs clear. A glass jar or container works well to store this solvent for this step; gently swish each brush through it using circular movements to dislodge paint from bristles while loosening any paint built up over time. After each rinse session, squeeze out excess solvent from bristles using paper towel or cloth rag, and repeat until all brushes have been washed clean.

Soap and Water: To use soap and water effectively for brush cleaning, rinse under running water after massaging your brushes with soap until all traces of soap have been washed off the bristles and no trace remains in the water. Gently squeeze out excess moisture using paper towels or cloth rags, before repeating this process of applying soap and rinsing until all your brushes are spotless.

Brush cleaners: When it comes to brush cleaners, be sure to follow the manufacturer’s instructions for rinsing and additional rinsing with water after each use of this product. Ensure all traces of cleaner and paint residue have been eliminated by thoroughly rinsing; additionally, squeeze out excess water using paper towel or cloth rag.

Repeat this process until all paint residue or cleaning agent traces have been eliminated from the bristles, including multiple rinses with fresh water.

Clean and Dry Thoroughly: Proper Drying Techniques for Oil Paint Brushes

After thoroughly cleaning oil paint brushes, it’s crucial that they be dried off properly to avoid damage to their bristles and keep their shape. Here are some effective drying techniques for oil paint brushes:

Lay Flat or Hang Upside Down: For optimal drying results, lay the brushes flat on a clean surface or hang them upside down to dry completely. Avoid standing them upright as water may pool at their bases and cause irreparable damage.

Avoid Heat Sources: Do not use heat sources such as heaters, hair dryers, or direct sunlight to speed up the drying process as excess heat can damage bristles and cause them to lose shape.

Reshape the Bristles: While your brushes are still damp, carefully use your fingertips or a brush comb to reshape their bristles into their original form using their original form as an example. Make sure the bristles are evenly distributed without being too close together or too far apart.

Allow Enough Dry Time: Oil paint brushes require several hours or even overnight to completely air dry depending on their bristle type and cleaning method, so allow ample time for airflow before storing or using again.

Proper Storage Practices for Storing Clean Oil Paint Brushes

Proper oil paint brush storage practices are essential to their long-term use and performance, and here are some recommendations on storing clean oil paint brushes:

Store vertically or horizontally: For best results, oil paint brushes should be stored vertically or horizontally with bristles facing upwards to prevent damage to their bristles and preserve their shape. Avoid placing them with bristles facing down as this could bend or fray them over time.

Protective covers or wraps: When it comes to keeping the bristles of your brushes clean and dust-free, protective covers or wraps may come in handy. Art supply stores typically sell plastic, fabric, or paper versions.

Avoid Overcrowding: Avoid crowding your brushes in their storage container or holder as this can cause the bristles to bend or deform, leaving insufficient airflow between each brush, increasing their chances of air drying fully and potentially leading to bristle damage. Leave enough space between brushes so they can air dry fully for proper bristle care and damage prevention.

Store oil paint brushes in a dry and cool area: When it comes to oil paint brushes, the ideal conditions for storage include being away from direct sunlight and excessive heat sources like air conditioning units or radiators, humidity or damp areas should also be avoided as moisture can lead to mold growth or warping of bristles causing warped bristles and warp marks on them.

Avoid Airtight Containers: Do not store oil paint brushes in airtight containers as this could trap moisture and promote the development of mold or mildew growth. Allow adequate airflow around each bristle in order to keep them in top condition and ensure proper drying times for bristles and bristle tips.

Check Brushes Periodically: It is important to regularly inspect stored brushes for signs of mold, mildew, or other forms of damage, such as mildew. If any such problems arise, take immediate steps to clean and dry them properly before storing back again.

By following these best practices for storing clean oil paint brushes, you can ensure they remain in excellent condition and ready for use whenever it may be required.

Additional Tips and Precautions

Here are a few additional tips and precautions for cleaning oil paint brushes after color changes:

Wear protective gloves: When cleaning oil paint brushes with solvents or cleaners, it is advisable to wear protective gloves in order to safeguard your skin from harsh chemicals. Certain solvents or cleaners may cause skin irritation or allergic reactions and it is, therefore, wise to take appropriate measures such as wearing gloves in order to safeguard yourself and keep yourself safe.

Always work in a well-ventilated area: Cleaning oil paint brushes using solvents or brush cleaners requires working in an area with adequate ventilation to avoid inhaling fumes, such as using a fume hood or exhaust fan for optimal respiratory protection.

Be mindful when disposing of solvents and cleaners: All unused solvents and brush cleaners should be properly disposed of according to local regulations, not by pouring them down the drain or throwing them into your garbage can. Instead, follow the methods recommended by waste management facilities for protecting the environment.

Use appropriate brushes for each color: In order to limit extensive color changes and the subsequent need for frequent brush cleaning, it’s wise to use separate brushes for different colors – this will prevent color mixing while decreasing cleaning requirements between color changes.

Clean brushes regularly: Maintaining optimal performance and lifespan is of utmost importance when using oil paint brushes, so make it part of your routine to thoroughly clean them after every painting session or whenever switching colors to prevent paint build-up and ensure optimal brush performance.

Follow Manufacturer Instructions: Brush manufacturers often provide specific cleaning and care instructions for specific brush types or brands. It is always advisable to read and follow their advice in order to use appropriate methods when taking care of your brushes.


Cleaning oil paint brushes after color changes is an integral component of every artist’s practice to maintain the quality and performance of their brushes. By following this article’s step-by-step methods, you can effectively clean your oil paint brushes while eliminating color residue, which will prepare them for new color schemes or painting sessions.

Remember to always use the most suitable cleaning method for each brush in your collection and to take all necessary safety measures when using solvents or brush cleaners. Proper brush washing, drying, and storage techniques will ensure they continue in excellent condition for years to come.

Spending the time and effort necessary to properly clean and maintain your oil paint brushes will not only result in better painting outcomes but also demonstrate your commitment to proper brush care and maintenance. With regular care and cleanings, these valuable tools will continue to serve you in your artistic endeavors – happy painting!


Hi, I'm Asim! I love giving you cleaning guides, tips and tricks that will make your place sparkle and shine. Through years of practice, I've learned effective ways to clean and can't wait to help you. From tough spots to general cleaning, I can help you. Come along with me on this cleaning adventure, where I'll give you tips and tricks to make your cleaning process easier. Let's work together to make clean haven.

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