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The BEST way to clean paint brushes

It’s time to learn the best way to clean paint brushes.

I hate to tell you this my crafty friends, but you are probably cleaning and caring for your paint brushes all wrong. This week I learned the correct way to clean paint brushes – from a paint brush professional!

I presented at a business and art conference and right after my presentation, Mike Harbridge from Royal Brush took the stage. Royal Brush manufactures both art and makeup brushes for mass retail. During our lunch break at the conference, we started talking about…paint brushes! I was so blown away by his brush care advice that I did an Instagram Live to share it with my followers.

In case you didn’t catch that, I’ll recap his tips here!

When you first buy a paint brush:

What to do with the plastic protector tube

Remove the plastic tube over the bristles and throw it away.

This tube is only to protect the bristles during shipping. After that, it has no purpose. If you keep it and try to place it back on your brush, you’ll break off precious bristles.

Remove sizing

Rinse the bristles under water to remove sizing on new brushes. This is also called conditioning. See the video at the bottom of this post for complete step-by-step.

This prevents paint from gooping in the center of the brush.

Cleaning your brushes:


Brushes are made of hair (natural or synthetic). Would you use liquid dish soap on your hair? Well, maybe if you had no other choice, but that’s another story.

Really, only use dollar store shampoo or hair conditioner to wash your paint brushes.


To wash, rinse them under cool water and gently massage the paint out of the bristles until the water runs clear.

Swipe it on a paper towel and if you see any color, swish it under water again. Make sure to clear paint from the base of the brush. Pat between paper towels or a towel and let flat to dry.


You don’t have to blow dry them, silly. But lay them flat on a paper towel to dry.

DO NOT set them “brush side up” inside a can. Why? Because the water will run down inside the head and if you have wood brushes, it will make the wood swell.

Then when the wood dries it will shrink down to normal size and the head will come loose. How many of you have had this happen?

If the brush has a plastic handle, the water will disintegrate the adhesive inside the head and again, cause the head to come off.

Or you could hang them like this to dry – but with no paint of course!

Other no-nos:

Never leave your brushes tips down inside a cup of water. It will bend the bristles and soak the wood handles or soften the adhesive on plastic handled brushes.

Never store your brushes tips down, period! And don’t store them anywhere that will cause the bristles to bend. If you are traveling, use a brush case, please! You can even make one.

YouTube video

Never set down a brush that has paint, you might forget about it and it will ruin the brush. Think about this – if you ever help someone paint, or are using someone else’s brushes. Always strive to be respectful and treat tools with care.

As an artist, if you ever ask for help from friends or family, lovingly (!!!) remind them to take good care of your brushes.

People who are not crafters or artists often don’t think to clean their brush between colors.

They’ll set it down and use a new brush, or go to the bathroom, or answer a phone call or text…REMIND THEM!

Never smash your brush down on a surface, it will damage the bristles and make them spread. It will make your paint brushes cry from the inside out.

More tips:

If you use a lot of brush-on glazes, it might be a good idea to use nail polish to mark your glaze brushes and store them separate from those you use for paints. Same if you switch back and forth between acrylics and ceramic underglazes, like me.

You can use solvents to remove dried paint on brushes, but they’ll never go back to be as good as new. But you will be able to use them with mixed media or other techniques.

For more information, check out Royal Brush’s brush guide that explains what types of brushes to use for what kinds of projects!

And more tips for cleaning and caring for brushes.

Speaking of paint brushes, check out this beautiful Frida painting video by Happy D. Artist. Look at those flowers in her hair, so beautiful, but sad at the same time. I really love this artist’s work.

Paint brushes help artists create magic!

YouTube video

Oh gosh, look what I just found on YouTube?

Michael has a tutorial on cleaning paint brushes! 

He even shares how to condition your bristles before using! Here is a link to the brush basin he shows in the video.

YouTube video

What are your favorite paint brush tips? Please share in the comments! And special thanks to Michael Harbridge for sharing these tips and answering all my burning paint brush questions!

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