How to clean and care for your brushes

Brushes are some of the most essential artists’ tools, so it’s imperative they’re properly looked after – allowing them to perform to their highest potential. Over time, taking care of your brushes can save you time and money. Good quality brushes, such as those in our iconic Series 7 range, can last a lifetime if treated well.

Adhere to the following three standards of brush care and you’ll be well equipped with the knowledge to keep your prized materials in a state to produce stellar results.

How to clean your brushes thoroughly and properly

Watercolour brushes

When pigment particles build up at the base of the brush, it pushes hairs apart and stops the point from forming. To avoid this, wipe your watercolour brush clean with a lint-free rag and rinse it under running water. Then, using mild soap and cool water, swirl the soapy brush in the palm of your hand and rinse. Repeat the washing and rinsing process until the waters run clear.

Oil colour brushes

If you’ve been working with oils, use a rag to wipe away as much colour as possible from your brush. Then rinse any remaining colour using Winsor & Newton Artists’ White Spirit or Brush Cleaner. Next, as you would when cleaning your hands, create a lather and rinse the brush under warm, not hot, water until the water runs clear of colour and soap.

Acrylic brushes

Looking after an acrylic brush is in some ways similar to looking after a watercolour brush. But there are also some differences. If you are using solvent-based varnishes, these should be removed using Winsor & Newton Artists’ White Spirit, whereas water-based varnishes can be removed with soap and water. Cleaning your acrylic brush with mild soap and cool water still applies. For a thorough clean, soak the brush overnight in Winsor & Newton Brush Cleaner, which will remove any dried acrylic colour. Repeat the washing and rinsing process until the water runs clear.

What to avoid

Watercolour brushes

Watercolour brushes are delicate, and strong soap may damage the bristles by removing natural oils. Keep your water warm, but not hot, as hot water may cause any remaining paint to clot.

Oil colour brushes

Stay away from detergent, as this will damage the individual bristles on your brush. Another thing to avoid is paint stripper. Many artists use it to resuscitate a brush with dried paint on it, but this often takes the shape away from your brush.

Acrylic brushes

The most important thing to remember about caring for your acrylic brushes is not to let paint dry after you’ve used it. The paint is not soluble in this state and will produce a plastic-like dried texture. So be sure to wash your acrylic brushes immediately after use. If you cannot wash acrylic brushes while painting, leave them in water, at the very least, during your practice.

How to reshape, dry and store your brushes properly

Watercolour and acrylic brushes

With watercolour and acrylic brushes, it’s important to remove excess water, dry ferrules and handles, reshape brush heads, and rest them with the bristles facing upwards to dry off. Don’t worry if you notice a stain in your bristles – this has no effect on the performance or life of the brush. When it comes to storage, you should place the brushes in a pot or jar with the bristles facing upwards, only storing them when they are completely dry.

Oil colour brushes

Follow the same detailed process as you would as when caring for a watercolour or acrylic brush. If you are storing hog brushes for any length of time, make sure they are clean and completely dry. A box with a tight-fitting lid is ideal and will prevent moth damage. Brushes that are not dry may develop mildew.

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