Written by  Daisie Team
Published on 9 min read

Jump To Section:

  1. 5 Methods for Cleaning Oil Paint Brushes
  2. Products to Clean Oil Brushes
  3. Solvents
  4. Oils
  5. Mineral Spirits
  6. Soaps
  7. How to Clean Oil-Based Paint Brushes
  8. Gather Your Supplies
  9. Do Not Use
  10. How to Clean Brushes with Ivory Soap
  11. Tips for Cleaning Brushes
  12. Drying Your Brushes
  13. Removing Dried-On Paint
  14. Storing Your Brushes After Cleaning

After you've relaxed and enjoyed yourself during a painting session, you want to hold onto that feeling. It's understandable that you don't want to do anything that feels like work. Cleaning brushes definitely feels like work. Thinking about how much more you will enjoy painting with nice clean brushes may help. You can also try thinking how long your brushes will last if you keep them clean and store them properly.  

On the less pleasant side, if you neglect cleaning your brushes, you'll find the dried paint has clumped the bristles together and made them stiff. No one likes a dirty brush so you'll have to clean them before you start painting because you won't be able to paint with them as you find them. It will also take longer to remove the dried-on paint than it would have taken to remove the fresh paint right after you finished painting. Also, while dried paint can be removed, that doesn't mean the brush will be like new. It won't. Finally, if you regularly allow the paint to dry on your brushes before you clean them, you're shortening the life of your brushes. That means spending money on new brushes instead of paint and canvases. I can help you clean oil paint brushes properly, but it's up to you to get into the habit of cleaning them and avoid inflicting permanent damage on your brushes.

5 Methods for Cleaning Oil Paint Brushes

The method you use to clean your brushes depends on the products you choose to clean them. Some of the products you'll use to clean oil brushes are the same ones you use to thin oil paints as you work. So you will likely buy these products as part of your painting supplies. Putting them to dual-use makes sense and possibly saves cents and dollars. That can mean more dollars for canvases, paints, and brushes. Still, soaps have a role in a thorough brush-cleaning process, so don't banish them from your supplies.

Products to Clean Oil Brushes

Products to clean brushes can be divided into categories -- solvents, oils, mineral spirits, and soaps. As mentioned, you probably already have solvents, oils, and mineral spirits among your painting supplies. You will want to add soaps to your list, and you may want to try baby oil.


  • Pebeo Turpentine: Used for thinning and cleaning oil paints; made from pine resin; milder odor than petroleum turpentines; keep the bottle closed and protected from light; do not store for long periods.
  • Turpenoid Natural: Cleans and thins oil and alkyd paints; odorless, flammable, citrus-based turpentine substitute.
  • Bristle Magic Paint Brush Cleaner: Eco-friendly, sustainable cleaner and conditioner for natural and synthetic oil and acrylic brushes; made with recycled ingredients; biodegradable, water-soluble, non-flammable, fumeless, and carbon-negative.
  • Eco-solve: Eco-friendly professional paint thinner; cleans and restores brushes and thins paints; plant-based, non-toxic, fumeless, non-polluting and made with processed soybean oil.
  • Winsor & Newton Brush Cleaner & Restorer: Cleans and restores brushes; removes dried-on oils, acrylics, and alkyds from natural and synthetic bristles; water-soluble, biodegradable, non-toxic, non-flammable and low fumes.


  • Winsor & Newton Linseed Oil: Most commonly used thinner for oil paint,;cleans brushes; slows drying; increases transparency and gloss.
  • Chelsea Classical Studio Lavender Spike Oil Essence: Cleans brushes; thins oil paints, resins, and varnishes; handcrafted from high-quality lavender; a safe, non-toxic, lavender-scented, natural solvent alternative to turpentine and odorless, petroleum-based mineral spirits.
  • M. Graham Walnut Oil: Cleans brushes and thins paints without issues related to solvents; nontoxic, solvent-free, and non-yellowing.
  • Grumbacher Poppyseed Oil: Cleans brushes; thins paints; slows drying; retains colors; good with pale colors; used for wet-in-wet (alla prima) techniques; not good for multiple-layer techniques.
  • Winsor & Newton Refined Safflower Oil: Cleans brushes; slow-drying; improves the flow of paints, increases transparency and gloss; resists yellowing; can be used with pale colors.
  • Baby Oil: Cleans brushes; thins paint; conditions hands (baby oils use either highly purified mineral oil base such as Vaseline or liquid paraffin or a vegetable oil base that can include palm or coconut oil).

Mineral Spirits

  • Gamblin Gamsol Odorless Mineral Spirits: Cleans brushes; thins paints; leaves no residue; 100 percent odorless mineral spirits distilled from petroleum.
  • Mona Lisa Odorless Paint Thinner: Removes artists' oils, oil-based paints, and varnishes from brushes and painting accessories such as palette knives; mild solvent; 100 percent odorless mineral spirit. Use like turpentine.
  • Inexpensive, non-artist-grade mineral spirits from a hardware store.


  • Marvelous Marianne's Savvy Soap: Cleans and conditions brushes and hands; removes paint, ink, and grease; botanicals eliminate odors; also pretreats laundry; doubles as a dog shampoo; contains corn oil, citrus oil, cinnamon, glycerin, and lanolin alcohol; U.S.D.A-certified biobased product; 90-percent green biobased ingredients.
  • Murphy's Oil Soap: Cleans brushes; non-toxic, pine-oil-based cleaner.
  • Plantational Oil Paint Brush Cleaner Soap: Cleans oil, acrylic, and watercolor brushes; made with vegetable oil; non-toxic; water-soluble.
  • Masters Brush Cleaner and Preserver: Removes oil and acrylic paints, watercolors, and stains from brushes.
  • Chelsea Classical Studio Professional Artists Soap: Cleans and conditions brushes; handmade with olive oil, lavender, and other natural ingredients; lavender-scented.
  • Dish soap: Inexpensive dish soaps from a dollar store will do, but Dawn Free & Clear, Palmolive Ultra Pure & Clear and Seventh Generation Free & Clear, among others, have no unnecessary ingredients.
  • Ivory Bar Soap: Advertised as 99.44-percent pure for over 100 years; contains tallow, an animal fat commonly used in making early soaps, and now a by-product of meat-processing plants.

How to Clean Oil-Based Paint Brushes

The first step in any project is gathering your supplies. Having everything on hand from the start makes the project go faster. Consider storing your supplies in a basket or box so that all you need to do is carry that one box or basket to wherever you clean your basket.

Gather Your Supplies

  • Newspapers or drop cloth to protect work surface
  • Gloves to protect hands (optional)
  • Goggles to protect eyes (optional)
  • Paper towels, rags, or a canvas to wipe paint from brushes as they're cleaned
  • Old mugs or cups, clean soup or coffee cans, or the Silicoil Brush Cleaning Tank for cleaning your brushes (the tank has a coil that you can rub your brushes against to remove paint)
  • A brush drying rack or a something similar that lets the bristles air dry while lying flat
  • Your choice of paint thinner
  • Your choice of soap
  • Your choice of oil-brush cleaner
  • White vinegar
  • A small jar with a lid to hold the vinegar
  • A drill
  • A drill bit the same size as your paintbrush handle to make a hole in the lid of the small jar

Do Not Use

Avoid cleaning your brushes with anything from the list below, no matter who recommends it and no matter how much dry paint is caked on your brushes. All four of the items on the following list damage art brushes:

  • Paint strippers
  • Detergents
  • Alcohol
  • Wire paint combs

How to Clean Your Brushes with Solvents and Natural Cleaners

The steps for cleaning your brushes with natural products and solvents are nearly identical:

  1. Put enough of your favorite solvent or natural cleaner in your cleaning container to cover the brush's bristles.
  2. Put warm water and a little dish soap in another cleaning container. The water should be deep enough to cover the bristles.
  3. With the wet paint still on it, dip your brush into the mineral spirits, paint thinner, solvent, or natural cleaner.
  4. Swirl the brush through the cleaner or solvent.
  5. Tap your brush on the side of your cleaning container so that the excess solvent or cleaner doesn't drip.
  6. Remove the excess solvent or cleaner and any remaining paint creatively by wiping it on a canvas to create more art, or wrap the brush in paper towels or a rag and pull it through the towels or rag to remove the excess cleaner or solvent and the remaining paint.
  7. Continue wiping the paintbrush with rags or paper towels until the leftover paint is gone.
  8. When you've removed all of the paint, dip the brush in the warm water and dish soap.
  9. If you're using a natural cleaner, wash the brush with dish soap to remove any residue.
  10. Reshape the brush's bristles.
  11. Lie the brush flat on a drying rack in a well-ventilated area.

How to Clean Brushes with The Master's® Brush Cleaner

The General Pencil Company makes The Master's® Brush Cleaner. They provide complete instructions for using it to clean, preserve, and restore brushes.

How to Clean Brushes with Ivory Soap

  1. Use warm water to wet the bar of Ivory under the faucet.
  2. Draw the brush back and forth along the length of the soap.
  3. When cleaning a flat brush, keep the flat side against the soap.
  4. Do not apply pressure on the bristles as you drag them across the soap.
  5. As the paint comes off the brush, the soap will begin to foam.
  6. When the brush becomes covered with paint and foam, rinse it in warm water from the faucet.
  7. Repeat the steps of drawing the brush across the soap and then rinsing the brush to remove the paint and foam.
  8. Continue repeating step 8 until no more paint comes off the brush and there is no more paint on the bar of soap or on the paper towel you use to dry the brush.
  9. Restore the shape of the bristles.
  10. Lay the brush flat on a drying rack in a well-ventilated area and let it dry for several hours.

How to Clean Your Brushes with Baby Oil and Natural Oils

Cleaning brushes with baby oil and natural oils requires a slightly different process than cleaning brushes with solvents, mineral spirits, natural cleaners, or oil. Follow these steps:

  1. Put enough of your favorite oil in your cleaning container to cover the bristles of your brush.
  2. Use a paper towel or a rag to remove all of the excess paint you can from your brush.
  3. If you're using baby oil, completely cover the bristles with baby oil.
  4. Again, if you're using baby oil, use a cloth or your fingers to work the paint from the base of the brush near the ferrule up to the tip.
  5. Repeat dipping the brush in the baby oil and working the paint out of the bristles from the base to the tip until the brush is clean.
  6. When the bristles are as clean as you can get them with the baby oil, put some warm water and a little dish soap in another cleaning container and let the bristles soak for a time.
  7. If you're using natural oils, dip the bristles in the oil, and then wipe the bristles back and forth on paper towels or a rag to remove the excess paint, or, as suggested previously, create another work of art by wiping the excess paint on a canvass.
  8. When using natural oils, repeat dipping the brush in the oil and then wiping the paint off on a canvas, paper towels, or rag.
  9. When you've removed all of the paint with your natural oil, place a drop of dish soap on the bristles and thoroughly lather it up to remove any remaining paint.
  10. After soaking brushes cleaned with baby oil or washing brushes cleaned with natural oils with dish soap, rinse the brushes thoroughly.
  11. Lay the brushes flat on a drying rack in a well-ventilated area and let them dry completely.

Tips for Cleaning Brushes

With the following tips, you can be sure that you're drying your brushes properly. You'll also know what to do if you should end up with dried paint on your brushes.

Drying Your Brushes

Always lay your brushes flat when drying them. Drying them in a vertical position allows moisture to run down the brush into the ferrule. That can cause the wooden handle of the brush to swell and crack.

Removing Dried-On Paint

If you need to soak your brushes to remove dried-on paint, use a jar with a screw-on lid. Follow these steps:

  1. Use a drill with a bit the same size as the paintbrush handle to drill a hole in the lid while the lid is still on the jar.
  2. Remove the lid and put enough vinegar, solvent, mineral oil, or brush cleaner and restorer in the jar to cover the bristles.
  3. Poke the brush's handle through the hole in the lid from the underside until the bristles are in your chosen cleaner but not touching the bottom of the jar.
  4. Screw the lid back onto the jar, adjusting the bristles so that there is no pressure on them that could cause them to bend. The brush should be suspended by its handle.
  5. Let the brush soak until the bristles are soft and the paint is removed.
  6. Remove the brush from the jar.
  7. Pull the brush through paper towels or a rag to remove the paint.
  8. Wash the brush in dish soap.
  9. Rinse the brush in warm water.
  10. Lay the brush flat on a drying rack in a well-ventilated area.

Storing Your Brushes After Cleaning

After your brushes are completely dry, you can store them in an upright, vertical position. This prevents anything from putting pressure on the bristles and causing them to bend. Because mold can grow on the bristles, choose a well-ventilated area for storage.

Sable and bristle brushes require different storage methods. Because bristle brushes that have been used with oil paint retain a residue, they should be stored separately from your other bristle brushes.

If possible, sable brushes should be stored in an air-tight box. They should never be stored in direct sunlight.