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Paint Brushes – Cleaning out oil paint

Listed under Adam Bermingham, Blog, brushes, cleaning, Equipment Posted Nov 02 2012

This article about cleaning a paint brush used in oil paint is from Traditional Painter Adam Bermingham, Ireland. It is a follow-on from his excellent run down of best paint brushes for hand painted furniture.

Paint Brush Cleaning

Every trades-person who uses paint brushes has a different approach. They are not wrong, but below I describe the way I do it. I have found it to be the most effective way for cleaning the brushes that I buy and use daily with my preferred choice of paints and materials.

Cleaning is so important to my business because if it is not done correctly it costs me money… a lot of it. A single brush can cost anything up to €50 and at any one time I could have 20-25 brushes in constant use in the workshop. That’s a big overhead and if I can reduce my losses, I will.

Basic principle for cleaning oil paint from a brush

First of all, if you are going to clean out an oil paint brush, you should clean your brush immediately after use. When using oil-based paints you will need to use white spirit to clean your brush. I always have 3 containers of spirit in the workshop. One with old used spirit, one with cleaner liquid (but still used) and one with clean new spirit. The 3 on the right here are the ones I’m using at the moment.

paint brush cleaning

1 – Get as much paint out of your brush and back into the tin as possible.

2 – Put the brush into the dirty spirit first and get as much of the paint off of the bristles as you can. If you have any dried paint in the brush use a brush comb or a wire brush to loosen it. You could use a brush spinner to remove the excess white spirit, or if indoors, shake and flick it out on lining paper.

3 – Repeat the process in the second container of spirit. If you don’t have old white spirit I would recommend that you use 3 containers of clean spirit and keep them for future use.

4 – Finally, it’s in to the clean spirit, and at this stage make sure that the brush is completely clean. Shake out the brush well and then it’s into the sink to rinse the brush through.

5 – Ideally you will need warm running water, but if that is not possible, a sink full of water will do. This bit is simple; dip the brush in to water, then a squirt of washing-up liquid onto the bristles. Work the cleaner into the brush, then back into the water for a rinse. Then I run the brush under the cold tap to remove the last of the soap.

6 – At this stage I do not shake the brush out too much, I like to leave the brush to dry naturally because it seems to maintain it’s shape better. I then wrap it in kitchen towel and hang up to dry.

The next day the brush should be dry and you can put it back in it’s case to keep it in perfect condition, ready to use next time. For pure bristle brushes I sometimes wrap an elastic band round the bristle to keep the bristles in shape.


I would advise anyone who does a bit of decorating for themselves at home to invest in at least one high quality professional brush and look after it, following the instructions above. In the long run it will save you a good bit of money and the results you will achieve will be far superior to working with D.I.Y standard equipment.

If you have any questions please leave a comment or visit the Traditional Painter forum where we talk about all aspects of paint, brushes, including a thread on Brushmates – vapour boxes for storing oil paint brushes and all the options we know of at this time for cleaning and keeping water based brushes in good condition.

Joseph & Sons kitchen painting furniture painting West IrelandSpecialist painter and decorator, Adam Bermingham, is a member of the Traditional Painter UK network. He is the first port of call for hand painted furniture and kitchens Ireland.

My Painted Furniture is Adam & Tom Bermingham, a father & son team with diverse backgrounds covering specialist painting and decorating, antiques and interior design.


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