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Best Cleaning Solvents for an Oil Painting Brush

By Suzie Faloon ; Updated September 15, 2017

Paintbrushes will last for years if they are cleaned and cared for properly. The natural hair, synthetic fibers or blend of both types of bristles need thorough cleaning when you want to change to a new color during the painting process. The heavy oil paint will become embedded in the brush and, if allowed to dry, it will be impossible to remove. Your brushes are tools to be kept in the best condition possible. Solvents are needed to clean oil-based paint from fine art brushes.

Solvent Choices

Turpentine, a distilled pine resin extract is widely used by oil painters as a cleaner for fine art paintbrushes. It can also be used as a paint thinner on the palette when you are painting. It is highly flammable and can cause skin, eye and breathing irritations. An artist must use caution when using turpentine. Turpenoid is a turpentine substitute better suited for a cleaning solvent. It is less toxic, has a limited odor and is a safer product. Acetone and commercial paint thinners can also be used to clean brushes. Acetone is colorless and odorless and has a low toxicity. It can be used to dissolve varnish coatings on paintings. Mineral spirits, a petroleum oil product, is also used for cleaning artist oil paintbrushes. Mineral spirits can come in an odorless form. All of these solvents are in liquid form and must be stored properly.

Remove Excess Paint

Wrap the metal and upper portion of your paintbrush with clean packing paper, newspaper or a cloth rag. Slowly and tightly squeeze the bottom of the paintbrush bristles as you move your fingers upward. Squeeze and dab at the brush with the paper or cloth until you get as much paint out as possible. Pour the cleaning solvent that you have chosen into a glass jar that has a cover which can be tightened. Dip the dirty brush into the jar and swish it back and forth. Remnants of paint will be released from the brush. Twirl the bristles against the side of the jar but be sure that you do not push down of the bristles, splaying them out at the bottom of the jar. This can cause damage to the brush.

Clean and Care of Brush

Squeeze the paint solvent from the brush into the paper or rag. Repeat two to three more times until the paint is cleared from the brush. You can resume painting on your oil painting at this point. If you are done working on the painting for the day, you can clean your brush further. Squeeze some regular household liquid hand soap or the commercial art Mona Lisa Pink Soap in to the palm of your hand or on to your fingertips. Hold the brush in your other hand and dab the bristles into the soap. Rub the soap thoroughly into the bristles and gently work it in until the soap becomes cloudy with the paint color. Rinse the soap from your hand with warm water. Squeeze more soap into your hand and repeat the process until the soap remains clear of paint color. Squeeze the bulk of the soap from the brush with clean paper or a cloth rag. Gently rinse the bristles with a thin stream of warm water only. Dab the brush dry with a clean rag. Shape the brush into its original shape and store in a container.

About the Author

Suzie Faloon is a freelance writer who has written online content for various websites. As a professional crafter and floral designer, Faloon owned a florist business for nearly 25 years. She completed the Institute of Children's Literature course in 1988.