How to Store And Clean Art Brushes So That They Last For Years

What’s the BEST way to Store Your Art Brushes?

Protect your investment – if you take good care of your Art Brushes, they can last you for years. Store your brushes by either laying them on a flat surface, or standing them on the handle (bristle end up) in a storage container. Before storing your brushes this way, make sure they are as clean and as dry as possible.

Never, never, EVER store your brushes, bristle down in a brush holding container. In fact, don’t leave your brushes sitting bristle down in your water or cleaning fluid – even while you are painting! This is one of the fastest ways to completely ruin your brushes.

Types of Storage

My favorite method for keeping your brushes in great condition is a canvas brush holder that allows you to place each brush into it’s own pocket. The best ones allow you to stand your brushes up while you are using them and then allow you to fold, creating a protective case, or roll the canvas and tie it into a bundle. These are great for transporting your brushes to workshops, for plein aire painting and traveling with your supplies.

If you prefer something more durable, there are many styles of boxes and canisters that will keep your investment safe. Some double as water or solvent containers. Be sure that you purchase something that will keep your brushes suspended and secure, to avoid damage during transportation. Be careful of canvas brush holders that do not have separate pockets.

I also caution students about rolling brushes in bamboo mats. These can be rough on the hairs of fine brushes and cause them to break off.

There is a new type of brush holder that allows you to hang your cleaned brushes with the bristle end pointing downward, while keeping the hair or bristle end free-hanging. These are great for storing your brushes while they are still wet and allow the moisture to drain away.

Water Basin

For keeping your brushes moist during the painting process (especially if you are using acrylics), you can use a brush basin that allows your brushes to lay suspended in the water or solvent. I don’t recommend leaving your brushes in the solvent or water for long periods of time (overnight or for days), unless you are trying to remove dried medium from them. Clean your brushes thoroughly and then store them properly at the end of each painting session.

The easiest and least expensive method is to use a nice jar, bottle, coffee can, potato chip can, or whatever strikes your fancy (this works best if you intend to keep your brushes in your studio and not transport them). Just be SURE to stand your clean & dry brushes with the handle down and the bristles UP!

Never, never, NEVER, tote your brushes loose in a case, box or bag. This will ruin your brushes just as fast as not thoroughly cleaning your brushes!

How to Clean Art Brushes

One of my students showed up at class recently and announced… “I’ve made an Expensive Mistake!” She’d taken her brushes home from art classes the week prior and had forgotten to clean them. The paint had dried and the bristles were hard and twisted.

Her face lit up when I told her I could fix that for her but then fell when I told her that the brushes would have to soak for about 24 hours… she had no clean brushes to use for class. Fortunately for her, the paint was not deeply embedded in the ferrule. (The ferrule is the metal portion of the brush that attaches the hair to the handle). So I suggested we try something else.

I pulled out my trusty Lanolin Hand Cleaner (the type that garage mechanics use to clean the grime from their hands after working on cars), and squeezed a small amount in the palm of my hand. I worked the brush back and forth through the cleaner – and voila! – the paint came free.

I use this to do a final cleaning of all my brushes and then wash them in cool water with soap before putting them away. It is especially useful when I’ve gotten paint deep down into the ferrule.

You can purchase lanolin hand cleaner at any automotive supply store – just make sure to get the kind that does NOT have grit (which will ruin your brushes).

Getting Oil Paint out of Clothes

A long time ago – in an age far, far away – I once managed to get a whole pile of green oil paint all over the front of an orange top I was wearing.

A newbie to painting, I had no idea what to do. I picked up my lanolin hand cleaner and rubbed it into the shirt, which made an even bigger mess. Figuring that the shirt was ruined, I tossed the shirt into a corner by my washing machine and left it for about a week.

The next time I did laundry, I tossed the orange shirt in with some old rags and to my amazement ALL THE PAINT CAME OUT! I was stunned!

I’ve even managed to get small amounts of dried paint out of clothing by rubbing the cleaner into the area and leaving it for a day before washing.

A Word of Caution

Lanolin hand cleaners have a solvent in them, so you’ll need to be careful in handling them. Use them in a well ventilated area, keep them away from flames, keep away from children, avoid eye contact, don’t take internally, etc. Always read and follow the directions on all of your art products before use.

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