How to Clean a Paintbrush

Keep your paintbrushes long-lasting with these simple tips for successful care.

A well-maintained paintbrush can serve you for a long time. Improper cleaning leads to build-up and bristle damage, and damaged bristles can have a negative effect on whatever you’re painting. Whether you dabble in the arts, are refinishing a treasured piece of furniture, or are simply trying to apply a perfect coat of paint on the delicate window trim in your home, a clean brush directly impacts the success and flawless finish of your project. Clean gently to extend the life of these hard-working tools and learn the best practices for cleaning water-based, oil-based and shellac products.

Two paintbrushes are soaking in jars of water and are coloring the water white and blue

475373428

Two paintbrushes are soaking in jars of water and are coloring the water white and blue

Photo by: GettyImages/lolostock

GettyImages/lolostock

How to Remove Water-Based Paint and Stain

For water-based paints including latex paint and alkyd enamel paint, as well as water-based stains, water is the solvent of choice. Anything water-based should and can be cleaned using ordinary water.

Outdoor painter cleaning brush

1026544606

Outdoor painter cleaning brush

Photo by: GettyImages/Nastasic

GettyImages/Nastasic

First, wipe off as much of the excess paint as possible using a clean rag. Next, run the paintbrush under water, allowing the water to flow down the handle and down the bristles. Using your hands initially, massage the bristles to loosen the paint and let the excess paint run down the sink.

When the water runs clear, you’re getting close to being done. Use a comb to separate the bristles at the base of the handle to allow extra water to flow in between. If it’s being stubborn, add a few drops of dish soap to loosen the build-up. Once no sign of paint or stain is evident between the tightly bound bristles, use a dry rag to absorb extra moisture and allow the brush to air dry.

Close up on hands of a craftsman washing a brush cleaning after the painting work finished job

1140234959

Close up on hands of a craftsman washing a brush cleaning after the painting work finished job

Photo by: GettyImages/Miljan Živković

GettyImages/Miljan Živković

What if the water-based product dried on the brush before I could clean it?

Soak the end of the paintbrush in a cup of warm, soapy water. After a few minutes, massage the bristles to loosen the paint by hand and swirl the brush around in the cup. It will take a little effort, but it’s still possible to get the paint and stain off the bristles. Rely on the comb to remove hardened chunks but be gentle so you don’t damage the bristles.

How to Remove Oil-Based Paint or Stain

For oil-based paints, stains and varnishes, soak the bristles in a cup of mineral spirits or paint thinner in a well-ventilated space for a few minutes. Swirl the bristles through the solution and then remove and lay the brush flat on a rag. Comb the bristles and periodically stir them in the solution to rinse the loosening bits of product. Always comb the bristles downward to help keep the proper brush form. Repeat until the bristles are clean. Rinse the brush thoroughly in soapy water to clean before allowing it to air dry.

Cropped view of male carpenter applying stain to wooden furniture. Horizontal shot.

155383094

Cropped view of male carpenter applying stain to wooden furniture. Horizontal shot.

Photo by: GettyImages/stevecoleimages

GettyImages/stevecoleimages

What if the oil-based product dried on the brush before I could clean it?

It’s going to be harder to clean dried oil-based paint and stain off a paintbrush without damaging the bristles. You probably won’t get the brushes back to like-new condition, but you can get them back to a state where they are reusable again for other projects. Longer soaks in mineral spirits can help, but it will risk weakening and damaging the bristles based on the quality of your paintbrush. Attempt to comb out most of the dried paint or stain as it loosens and re-soak in mineral spirits if necessary. Wash with warm soapy water and air dry when complete.

How to Remove Shellac

For paintbrushes affected by dried shellac, soak the brush – whether it’s wet, or dried on – in a cup of denatured alcohol in a well-ventilated space. Soak, stir and then comb the bristles to remove the shellac and continue to dip and re-comb until clean. Brushes affected by dried-on shellac may benefit from an extra wash in mineral spirits and then a soapy water wash once all product has been removed.

Original_shellac-being-applied-to-wood_4x3

Do You Have to Clean Your Brush Immediately After Use?

If you’re not quite ready to clean a paintbrush but you need to pause your painting project, try this:

Wipe away as much excess paint as possible and put the wet bristle end of your paintbrush into a plastic baggie. Squeeze out the air and bind a rubber band around the handle to keep it airtight. This will help to protect your paintbrush for several hours or even overnight.

Five Fantastic Painting Tips
Loading Video...

Next Up

How to Remove Acrylic, Latex and Oil-Based Paint From Clothes

Paint stains aren’t as stubborn as you think. Take action early and you'll be able to remove all types of paint from your clothing.

3 Easy Paint Tricks to Try From Keith Bynum

We trust Bargain Block co-host Keith's tried-and-true tricks. Here's how to recreate three of his coolest paint hacks in your own home.

How to Simply Paint a Room

Learn how to paint both walls and molding like a pro with these simple steps.

How to Remove Wallpaper

Wallpaper removal is relatively simple with some elbow grease and a few household items.

The Right Type of Paint for Every Type of Project (Plus, How to Prep for That Paint)

You can’t use the same paint on all surfaces. Learn the best type of paint for common household materials such as brick, tile, porcelain, concrete, fiberglass, fabric and more.

Behr’s 2023 Color of the Year, Blank Canvas, Can Transform Any Space Into Its Namesake

The warm, tranquil white complements a variety of patterns, hues and materials, allowing us to create a completely-personalized space that makes us feel at home.

How to Make Homemade Glass Cleaner

This easy DIY glass cleaner will clean your windows, glass stovetop, mirrors and more.

How to Remove Stain on Wood

When life stains your wooden furnishings and floor, tackle the build-up with confidence by following these tips.

How to Clean Rust Off Concrete

Follow these directions to remove an unsightly rust stain from your concrete patio, driveway or garage floor.

How to Remove Coffee Stains From Carpet

With just a few household items and our simple tips and tricks, that daunting coffee stain will be no more.

Go Shopping

Get product recommendations from HGTV editors, plus can’t-miss sales and deals.

Follow Us Everywhere

Join the party! Don't miss HGTV in your favorite social media feeds.