Best Ways to Get Oil Paint out of Brushes

Whether you have invested in top-of-the-line paintbrushes or not, you’re probably interested in ensuring that those brushes last and last.

After all, no one can really afford to buy new brushes every day of the week!

If you want to make sure that you get the most out of your paintbrushes, then it’s wise to take care of them. That means cleaning them after every use.

Artists who work in oils once had little choice but to use paint thinner or mineral spirits to clean their brushes, but those days are gone.

Now, you can choose from at least two natural and healthy methods for cleaning your brushes.

Cleaning Oil Painting Brushes the Old Way

What’s wrong with cleaning your paintbrushes with turpentine, paint thinner or mineral spirits?

The main problem is the smell. In fact, none of these products should be used in a room that is not well-ventilated. That’s especially true if you use them every day because they can be really harmful to your health over the long term.

It also is worth knowing that these harsh chemicals are really hard on your brushes. The bristles are pretty delicate, and they will break down more quickly when they are regularly exposed to these chemicals.

Your skin also may suffer from the regular use of turpentine, paint thinner or other chemicals. If your skin is sensitive or dry, those conditions will only worsen with exposure to these materials.

Of course, the one really good thing about using these chemicals is that they excel at removing oil paint from brushes. That’s no small feat because not everything is able to deal with oil-based paint.

For instance, you probably already know that water will never cut it. This is because oil and water do not mix. In fact, they naturally repel each other, so water will not really be useful to you until the very last cleaning steps.

So, what can you use to effectively clean your oil paintbrushes? It turns out that you have at least two incredibly viable alternatives. Both of these are safe, healthy, and natural.

Oil Painting Brushes

Use Baby Oil

Do you already have baby oil in your cupboard? If so, then you already have everything you need to clean oil paint from your brushes.

Using a secondary oil to clean oil-based paint from your brushes is kind of a brilliant idea. Unlike paint thinner and turpentine, it’s perfectly safe to touch and inhale baby oil every day.

In fact, feel free to slather on the baby oil before shaving, to smooth your hair, soothe your sensitive skin, or give dry skin some much-needed moisture. Baby oil even features extra vitamins like A and E as well as aloe vera extract.

The Step-by-Step Baby Oil Method

Use this easy process to clean your paintbrushes:

  • Coat the entire paintbrush in baby oil
  • Work the oil through the brush hairs to coax the paint out of the bristles
  • Use your fingers or a cloth to wipe away excess oil and paint
  • Work slowly and methodically to avoid breaking bristles
  • Move your fingers or the cloth from the base of the bristles to their tips to get all of the paint out
  • Repeat as necessary to get any lingering paint, adding more oil if it is needed
  • Once virtually all of the paint is gone, let the brush soak in a mixture of water and a small amount of dish soap
  • Allow the paintbrushes to air dry

baby oil

Use Linseed Oil

As an alternative, consider using linseed oil instead of baby oil. This will really make you feel like a true artist.

In fact, it is not unusual to find linseed oil as an ingredient in soap and paint. This makes it a great option for removing oil-based paints from your precious brushes.

Sometimes also called flaxseed oil, linseed oil is used in many stains and varnishes. It’s known for being good for your heart and healthy to apply to your skin. Some people even believe that this oil may help to fight off cancer.

Versatile and inexpensive, linseed oil is easy to find, and it will clean your paintbrushes like a dream.

The Step-by-Step Linseed Oil Method

  • Gather your linseed oil and a piece of rough paper, not printer paper or other smooth paper
  • Pour a small amount of linseed oil onto the paper
  • Place the bristles of your brush in the linseed oil
  • Allow it to soak in the oil on this side
  • Rotate the brush to allow the oil to soak in on the other sides
  • Go slowly to ensure that all of the bristles are coated
  • It’s time to use your fingers or a soft cloth to work through the bristles to remove the excess oil and paint or
  • You could start painting with the oil-coated brush, which works well because it really gets into all of those hard-to-reach bristles
  • Keep coating the brush and painting with it until no more pigment is coming off the brush
  • Optionally, allow the brush to soak in a mixture of water and a small amount of dish soap
  • Allow brushes to air dry

Linseed Oil

Other Alternatives for Cleaning Oil Paint from Brushes

Experienced artists who work in oils probably have tried several methods for cleaning their brushes in the most responsible way possible. Their concerns range from wanting to be more environmentally friendly and preserving their own health to preserving the longevity of their prized paintbrushes.

Accordingly, many artists recommend products like walnut oil to remove oil paint from brushes. This is a cleaning medium that has plenty of historical use to back it up.

Heck, if walnut oil was good enough for Rembrandt, why couldn’t it work for you too?

Plus, walnut oil can be used in other ways in your studio. It slows the drying time of your paints, and it can even be used to thin those really thick, viscous paints. Because it doesn’t yellow or cause streaks like other oil-based solvents, walnut oil is something of a champ in the studio.

Other alternative natural cleaners include a product called Eco-solve, which is a vegan-friendly choice for those who do not like to use paint thinner. Because it is soy-based, you don’t have to worry about any fumes or bad odors.

Artists also have used Murphy’s Oil Soap with great success. It is a non-toxic cleaner that is based on pine oil. Your mom has probably used it for years to clean laminate and wood surfaces throughout the home, and it can work just as well on your oil paint-covered brushes.

Making the Decision

How will you clean your oil paintbrushes? It really is up to you. Turpentine, paint thinner and similar chemicals probably are the fastest available methods. However, they do have considerable downsides such as the harmful fumes, the unpleasant smell, and how hard they are on your skin and paintbrushes.

Much kinder and healthier options are readily available when you use natural cleaners like baby oil and linseed oil. They don’t really require much more time than the harsh chemicals do, and using them will save you money because you won’t have to replace your brushes as frequently.

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