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Cleaning brushes

I used Speedball Pink Soap to clean brushes.  Normally I just dip in safflower oil but it’s taking me a bit of time composing the next still life.  So I cleaned them with soap but I noticed after cleaning them and letting them dry the hairs seem a little stiffer.  
Has anyone seen this before and if so how did you correct this?


  • edited October 3
    Yes, that has happened to me...i've tried cleaning with Murphy's oil soap and that seems a bit better.  Even with that though, I've always had trouble keeping them from going stiff if not used for a while.
  • GTO

    Yep. Soap will defat the natural oils from the outer layer of the bristles. The result is a brush head lacking in sheen, flexibility and shape. Repeats of this procedure contributes to a thin, shaggy brush, incapable of any brush stroke except a scumble.

    I use walnut oil with clove for all my painting, cleaning and storage of brushes. About once a year my brushes get a soak in a hydrogen peroxide based cleaner to remove any paint or oil residue.


  • edited October 3
    I agree with @Dencal but I never wash mine in water or solvent or anything else. Washing is the quickest way to wreck a good brush. Best just to keep in brush dip or walnut oil. I just wipe clean, dip in walnut oil then wrap them in plastic kitchen wrap.  They never dry out and are ready for use the next day. On rare occasions when I won't be painting for a a week or more I wrap them and put them in the fridge. They keep their shape and I've never had a brush dry out this way.
  • For a while I was using Master artist brush cleaning soap, until a friend advised me that it ruins brushes. Sure enough I notice several of my very small Rosmary brushes started to lose bristles until each one had gone.
    Same person has recommended Murphys oil soap, which seems quite gentle and so far I have had no problems with it.
  • @dencal what hydrogen peroxide based cleaner do yo use? 
    Thanks all for your input.
  • My brush care process has been approved by a major brush manufacturer and is based on organic chemistry. 

    I use Mark's brush dip or a similar non-drying oil between thorough cleanings.   Just wipe excess paint out of the brush and dip the brush in the non-drying oil.

    When I decide to do a thorough cleaning, the key to my process is that I make my own brush cleaning soap.  What I do is to "super-fat" my recipe by about 5% to 10%.  This leaves some extra oil in the soap to help condition the brush fibers.  In other words, it is a conditioning soap.

    You could also use something like Dawn dishwashing soap or any other soap that is gentle on the skin.  If it is gentle on your skin, it will also be gentle on the brush fibers.

    When I decide to give my brushes a good cleaning, I clean the brush dip and other oils out first with Gamsol, because it is a very mild solvent.  Then I wash them with my brush soap and water to get rid of the rest of the Gamsol and because it is super-fatted, also helps to replace the oils lost from the brush fibers.   

    I don't like hydrogen peroxide because it breaks down any organic matter through oxidation.  This includes both the oils left in the brush and the organic fibers of the brush fibers.  It's equivalent to a bar of very harsh soap and is much harsher on the brush fibers than any soap and also harsher than solvents like Gamsol, turpentine, etc.  Of course, the oils from the paint will be broken down first, but there will still be some oils removed from the brush fibers.  

    After using a solvent or a soap to remove the oils from your paint, the oils will probably also be removed from the brush fibers, so this is why my soap is super-fatted.  It helps to condition the brush hairs. 

  • Thanks @dencal and @mstrick96
    I too make soap. It’s vegetable based and I do super fat it to about 5%.
    i hadn’t thought about using it to condition brushes.
  • Has anyone used plain safflower oil? I tried Mark's recipe of 99% safflower plus 1% clove and I'm not a big fan of the clove oil smell.   Not sure how important of a component that is.
    @tassieguy do you add anything to the walnut oil, and when you soak the brushes in it, do you have them at a particular angle? Not sure if it matters if they're in vertically, or along their side?
  • Clove oil slows down the "drying" time of any siccative oil and is an important part of Mark's slow dry medium. 

    My understanding of relative drying times is linseed oil, then safflower, walnut, and then poppyseed oil.  Extends from a few days to a couple of weeks. 

    Adding clove oil to safflower will slow the drying time down enough to use it as a brush dip over a week or so in my opinion.  I wouldn't use straight safflower over more than two or three days between painting sessions.

  • @Csontvary, I just dip the brushes in pure walnut oil then wrap them in plastic kitchen wrap and lay them flat. I also use walnut oil as my medium. I don't use any solvents.  Like you, I dislike the smell of clove oil. Walnut oil is great, it smells nice and is harmless  - you could pour it on your salad.  :)
  • Folks

    Just to tie up some loose ends here, let me say I have about 300 brushes of all shapes, lengths and fibre types. In ten years of casual painting, using pull or dab type strokes, I have never had to throw a brush away. All three hundred odd remain in good condition and fit for purpose. It is a rare occasion that a loose bristle / hair  ends up in my paint. I put this down to oil immersion and oil cleaning and no soap or solvent use.

    Four brush rotting things happen when soap, water or solvents get under the ferrule.

    The linen cord rots.
    The resin holding the fibres deep in the ferrule dissolves.
    The ferrule corrodes adding rust stain to all your values.
    The wooden handle will swell and shrink splitting and loosening the ferrule.


  • Thanks for me too @dencal

    Is there any way that you know of to revive brushes that have gone a bit stiff and lost shape and flexibility ?
  • dencaldencal -
    edited October 4

    Stiffness and loss of flexibility in the bristles is dried paint in the heel or a coating of polymerised oil on the bristles. This is where I soak the brush head in my hydrogen peroxide cleaner for a day or two. Then rinse and dry thoroughly. If it is really solid paint and/or oil, then a non toxic citrus paint stripper is the go, but that is dire remedial action.

    Shape loss is from wear and hard scumble work, and perhaps wet brushes left to dry in weighted positions. Massage gently with walnut oil, trim with scissors to reshape. Towel off excess oil and store with a lick of hair gel.

  • On dried paint in the heel (and elsewhere) I haven't done this with oils but for acryic paints, I've found that soiaking them several hours to overnight in straight Murphy's Oil Soap does a good job of removing the dried acrylic paint.

  • Thank you @dencal.

    @mstrick96, yea I sometimes leave the Murphy`s on (I use oil paints).  Though with @dencal `s explanation above I'm wondering if thats going to ruin them. Though I have been advised its gentle. It also states 98% natural ingredients.

  • @MichaelD, Murphy's is sold as a cleaner and conditioner for wood floors and cabinets, so from that, I would conclude that it is actually just a super-fatted liquid soap.   Based on my experience with Murphy's and the super-fatted soap that I make for cleaning brushes, my opinion is that it should be good for your brushes.  I haven't done any testing through.

    For oil painting, Mark's brush dip or another similar alternative does a great job.  @dencal is getting good results with his procedure too.  I'm still a little unsure of using Hydrogen peroxide though.  I would definitely want to use an oil conditioner on the brushes after a peroxide cleaning!
  • @dencal I understand after painting sessions you can dip in oil rather than clean them with soap, but do you also not use any solvents during your painting session? If not, how do you keep them clean to avoid muddy colors?
  • Csontvary

    Two or three immersion baths with a nylon scourer to agitate the brush.
    Two or three sets of each brush in use - darks, mid range and lights. Colour hygiene.
    Squeeze out excess pigment, swish vigorously in brush dip, towel dry leaves brush relatively clean.


  • SummerSummer -
    edited October 6
    I like to save the manufacturers suggestions on how to care for their brushes especially if they come as warnings of what not to do.  And when there are no instructions, I shy away from water and soap. 
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