Keep it Clean! How to Extend the Life of Your Brushes

I prefer to avoid the toxicity of turpentine or mineral spirits when cleaning my brushes, and instead I use Dawn dish detergent or Master's Brush Cleaner and Preserver.

One of my biggest investments as an artist is my collection of oil painting brushes, and I strive to keep them all in good shape for as long as possible. Carefully cleaning and conditioning my brushes after a day in the studio maintains the quality and adds to the life of the brush. Although not fun, my cleaning methods are effective and easy!


Although I don’t use gloves to paint, I always wear them when cleaning my brushes to minimize exposure to any toxic traces from oil paints or mediums. I use disposable latex free gloves that I buy at the grocery store to keep any harmful residue from being absorbed through my skin as I come in contact with the brush’s bristles.


To make the job of cleaning my brushes easier, I always wipe off the excess paint from each brush before heading to the sink. I use paper towels or rags and squeeze the brush hairs, starting from the base of the bristles at the ferrule. I gently pull upward and remove as much paint as possible. For thick paint or powerful colors, I have also used baby wipes to pull out the excess pigment. First dipping the brushes in safflower oil or baby oil also aids in pulling out pigment residue.


After the excess oil paint is removed, I bring all the brushes to the sink for cleaning. I prefer to avoid the toxicity of turpentine or mineral spirits when cleaning my brushes, and instead I use Dawn dish detergent or Master’s Brush Cleaner and Preserver.

The Dawn liquid quickly and easily removes oil paint from my brushes. When using the dish detergent, I squeeze out some soap into the bottom of the sink, and rub the brushes in the soap puddle to coat them thoroughly. I then scrub the brushes around in palm of my hand and use my fingers to work the soap into the bristles. When all the pigment is gone from the suds I rinse the brushes well in cool water. I never use hot water because it can break down the glue in the ferrule, and it causes the bristles to lose their shape.

I also like Masters Brush Cleaner and Preserver, which not only cleans my brushes effectively, but conditions them as well. The Masters Brush Cleaner is also quite successful at rescuing brushes hardened with dried paint. It comes in a plastic tub as a solid white cake, and has no harmful fumes. When using, I wet the brush and work up a sudsy lather by scrubbing the brush back and forth across the surface of the cake. I gently rub the lather through the bristles with my fingers until all the paint pigment is gone, and then I rinse the bristles well with cool water. The brush is left squeaky clean and silky soft.


Once my brushes are clean, I remove the excess water and reshape the bristles. I then lay the brushes flat on absorbent paper towels and let them dry overnight. The next day I am ready to paint again with a handful of clean and soft brushes.

Although it is certainly not the most enjoyable part of painting, it is important to clean and care for your brushes. This little bit of effort will help often expensive and always-cherished brushes last longer and work more effectively.

Artist Ora Sorensen ( was born in New York but grew up overseas. She has owned a gallery in Delray Beach, Florida, for 20 years, and has also been represented by other galleries across the country. Sorensen now lives and paints in North Carolina, and her paintings are collected worldwide and have been shown in numerous exhibitions.