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Cleaning Brushes Without Solvents

25 thoughts on “Cleaning Brushes Without Solvents”

  1. Thank you for ways to clean up without toxicity. I was told by a prolific oil painter that Murphy’s Wood Oil Soap works well for cleaning brushes. Bought some but haven’t tried it yet. She swore by it.

    Reply
    • Hello Sharon,
      you are welcome. We are glad to share this information.
      I haven’t used Murphy’s Oil Soap for a while, but used to use it a lot for cleaning my oil paint brushes. I also like Palmolive dish soap. Both seem to work well and don’t dry out the bristles. Give it a try. If you find for some reason, your bristles become more rigid after using these products, then discontinue use and go back to a brush cleaner/conditioner.

      Reply
    • Hi Julie
      Glad it is working out for you! It is not really that difficult and it is a major upgrade in air quality.
      Thanks and take care.
      Greg

      Reply
    • Hello Sally,
      Thanks for your comment. We simply wouldn’t want an artist to inadvertently incorporate water into their paint layers. Water can cause oil paints to dry slowly, potentially remain soft and to form surface defects. It may take more water than just damp bristles to cause these issues, but we prefer to err on the side of caution when making recommendations. For example, Willem DeKooning was known to create emulsions with his paint by adding oil and water. There is an interesting study of his paintings by Susan Lake, called “Willem DeKooning – The Artist’s Materials”, that elaborates on some of these conservation issues. While using oil requires more dips, we feel more confident that a small amount of oil getting into the paint layers should not cause any unforeseen issues over the long term.

      Greg

      Reply
      • I use a watermixable oil paint and wish Williamsburg would develop a line. Almost zero water until clean up and if do, water will not be a “invader”. Underpaint in Golden acrylics then oils, utilizing spike lavender as the almost exclusive dryer. Thank you for this article and advancing the solvent free possibilities. Sensitivity issues solved.

        Reply
        • Hi Claude,
          Thanks for the comment. No plans at the moment for Williamsburg Water miscible oils. Want to be sure to note that oil of spike lavender is still a distilled solvent and can have an impact on air quality and cause sensitivity in some users.
          Best,
          Greg

          Reply
  2. Thanks for the post. I have been using a silicoil tank with cooking oil and/or ivory or Murphys oil soap to clean my brushes for years. It’s easy and totally routine now. I had thought that cleaning brushes with a solvent was a relatively new thing (like in the past 200 years or so).

    I’d like to try not cleaning brushes at all and keep them in oil mixed with oil of cloves between uses so the paint doesn’t dry but I haven’t done it yet.
    Jeff

    Reply
    • Hello Jeff,
      We will have to look into when solvent first started to be used specifically for cleaning brushes. Not sure about that. On leaving brushes in oil between sessions, I have done that successfully without the addition of clove oil, using a paint roller tray. I simply filled the tray with oil and laid the brush handles on the ramp with bristles submerged. The only drawback, was the oil dried along the edges and onto the handles of the less used brushes after some time. While adding clove oil might mitigate this issue, it could also radically slow drying if it gets into the paint layer, and according to MITRA, could substantially weaken the dried paint film.
      MITRA is material Information and Technical Resources for Artists – an online forum hosted by the conservation department and the University of Delaware: https://www.artcons.udel.edu/mitra
      Best wishes,
      Greg

      Reply
  3. Good post. I’ve been using walnut oil in a silicoil jar for more than three years now. I’d recommend that over “daubing” the brush on the bottom of the jar. Not only does it protect the bristles shape but also keeps from stirring up any paint sludge laying in the bottom.

    Reply
    • Hello Deborah,
      Wet acrylic paint can simply be wiped from the bristles, then cleaned with soap and water. Warm water should be fine. If the paint is dried in the bristles and up into the ferrule, it may require a dedicated brush cleaner or brush restorer product. We do not make brush restorer, but you should be able to find one through your local art supply retailer.
      Greg

      Reply
  4. Thanks Greg – I have been using oils and vegetable cleaning agents for cleaning in the print studio for over 15 years since leaving uni – had also used sparingly in paint studio after completing paintings – thanks for the extra advice during the painting process – I have been wrapping brushes in cling film – this will make this less messy

    Reply
    • Hi Gary,
      You are welcome! Great to hear cleaning with oil has been working for you in the print and painting studio! Thanks for the comment.
      Cheers,
      Greg

      Reply
  5. A tip from the sign industry: Sign painters keep their brushes constantly wet with ordinary car transmission fluid. Having dabbled at this a bit in the past and now retired, I still have a tray with a dozen or so squirrel hair quills in perfect shape that have never dried since their last use many years ago. And if this trick works with the fragile hairs in sign brushes, it will be fine with other thicker-haired brushes as well. I keep them in a tray with a slightly angled insert (it can be piece of wood on one end) in it to allow the brush hairs to sit in a thin puddle of fluid. Clean with a solvent or soap and you’re ready to paint.

    Reply
    • Hello Joe,
      Good tip for more industrial applications. In this case though, we would not recommend the use of transmission or other automotive fluids in the oil painting studio, as it may inadvertently become incorporated into a painting, which could lead to unexpected drying results or permanently sticky layers.
      Thanks,
      Greg

      Reply
  6. Thank you for the helpful post!
    Once the paper towels have dried, are they safe to go to the recycling bin? If not, is it safe to burn them? I know the oil wouldn’t be a problem in an outdoor fire, but what about the pigments?

    Best,
    Rebekah

    Reply
    • Hello Rebekah,
      Once paper towels are dry, they can be thrown away into the trash. It may not be a bad idea to wet them with a little water in case they are still drying and consuming oxygen. For the most part though, dry towels are at a low risk of spontaneously combusting, as combustion correlates with the early stage of drying when the oil is consuming a lot of oxygen. We do not recommend burning your oil painting rags, as some pigments can be transferred into the body through inhaling the smoke they produce during combustion.
      Greg

      Reply

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