Cleaning Your Oil Painting Brushes - The Best Way To Preserve & Clean

Looking for a good way to get your oil painting brushes clean? My favorite method is with my custom made brush cleaning can which I'll show you how to make. There are also some pre-made cleaning jars you can purchase, but lets give you an overview first of the best option I've found.

cleaning oil painting brushes - brush care

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3 easy steps to make your own oil paint brush cleaning can!

Here are the supplies you'll need to DIY a cleaning container for your oil-based paint brushes:

-odorless mineral spirits, my favorite is by Gamsol
-a clean quart-sized paint can
-wire mesh 
-a permanent marker
-wire cutters

Let's begin with the wire mesh: Using wire mesh provides a surface for you to wipe your brush as well as a barrier between your dirty solvent and your clean solvent. As you continue to use the paint can to clean your brushes, over time, the residue from the oil paint will be suspended and eventually the solvent will separate it out. Since the oil residue is heavy, it sinks it's way to the bottom of the can, leaving the top layer clean, so that you’re always wiping your brush in clean solvent. I usually buy my wire mesh in a roll at my local hardware store, but I also found some single sheets here. I also found some different single sheets of similar wire mesh that should also work. Also please note: the edges or the wire mesh can be very sharp, so take care to not cut or scratch yourself when making your mesh screen. You can use a file to dull any sharp points.

Step 1: Measure - To measure out the correct size of mesh to fit inside your paint can, just unroll and place a corner area over the top of the can. If you have single sheets just place it over top the can. You want it to be in the shape of a square and you want to have all four sides hanging over the edge of the can.

Step 2: Mark and Cut - Once you have the area determined, a permanent marker is useful to help mark the perimeter so you have a visual when you’re cutting the mesh with wire cutters. After you’ve got your square piece of mesh cut, use your permanent marker to draw a “+” sign. You’ll cut out the “+” sign by removing the 4 corner areas.


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Step 3: Fold - To fit the mesh inside the paint can, fold the outer pieces down to form a 5 sided cube (the bottom side will be open) and once you do that you can fit the mesh inside the can. 

Your small mesh cube may take a little effort to get it inside the can.

And there you have it! The last step is to pour your mineral spirits or Turpentine into the container until it fills about an inch or two over the mesh screen and then you're ready to clean brushes! By wiping the brush on the mesh you work the solvent through the bristles, which gives them a thorough clean. Afterwards you might spin the brush in a waste area or just dab it onto a clean paper towel or rag to remove excess solvent.  

Depending on how often you paint this container can last up to many years. I paint almost every day and my most recent one lasted me about 2 years before needing to make this new one, and I paint a lot! 

If you'd like to see this process in video form, you can watch it down below:

You can also use a store-bought can similar to this. These cans work the same way essentially, but keep in mind they may not last as long without cleaning and maintenance of the jar itself. When I make my own can, I stand up the mesh screen inside much higher than pre-made cans I've found in the store, so it holds a lot more sediment at the bottom and thus lasts longer for me.

Never the less I do paint a lot and many artists, especially hobby painters, might not need anything more than a good pre-made jar. So if you think that might be you, I would recommend anyone of these top rated paint brush cleaning jars.

Conditioning and preserving your brushes

Every so often I’ll take some brush cleaner/conditioner to help my brushes last as long as possible. Whenever you plan on leaving your easel for long periods of time, it's best to make sure that your brushes don't dry out and begin to fray. Using an oil or conditioner after your initial wash will prevent fraying and preserve your brushes. I would suggest a popular brand such as Master's Brush Cleaner or W&N Brush Cleaner and using them as directed.

 General Pencil Masters Brush Cleaner & Preserver

General Pencil Masters Brush Cleaner & Preserver

Winsor & Newton Brush Cleaner & Restorer

Winsor & Newton Brush Cleaner & Restorer

I hope that this information is useful to anyone learning about oil painting and even for those who have been and are wanting to try something a little different.  If you have any questions about my supplies, here is a complete list of the art supplies I use to create! 

how to clean an oil painting brush

Good luck and happy painting!


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