This is a guide about cleaning brushes I found recently. If this, or a similar guide has already been posted, then I'm sorry and feel free to close and/or delete this thread.

Q: How can I care for my brushes to keep them in good shape as long as possible?
A: To a certain extent, that depends on the situation, but overall itís a fairly straight-forward process.


The first thing to keep in mind is the medium youíre using. If youíre painting with oils or enamels, youíll need the appropriate solvent-based cleaner for at least the initial rinse. For oils, your options include turpentine, mineral spirits, and various turpentine substitutes-these last products often have citrus oils as a major ingredient. If youíre using some of the hobby brand enamels, your best bet is to buy the thinner or cleaner for that line or read what it says on the bottle or the brandís promotional literature, as enamels can be quite specific as to what will dissolve the paint and what will make it turn gummy and nearly impossible to remove. A lot of artists will stop with this step, but others go on to clean the brush with soap and water at the end of the day.

Acrylic painters or those of you using water-miscible oils can skip the solvents. All thatís needed for that equivalent step is a thorough rinse in water, and thatís essentially the minimally adequate portion of the process. Acrylic painters in particular, though, should seriously consider using a conditioning soap every day, as acrylic paints are alkaline in nature and offer no oils to keep natural hair soft and supple. Just like with human hair, the hair in your brushes can become dried out, frizzy and unmanageable, so just like for your hair, a good brush cleaner acts to condition the hairs, putting oils back where frequent rinsing in water and exposure to alkaline acrylic paint have stripped them away. The best brush soaps, then, will be high in fat content, no matter if theyíre in a liquid or solid form, and pH neutral. In theory, high-fat soaps for human bathing can work, but most sold through grocery stores have a lot more detergent than needed for cleaning a brush, and by all means avoid strong detergent cleaners like dishwashing or laundry soap. Your best bet is to get a brush soap made for artist brushes, and the vast majority are available very inexpensively, especially given the small quantities needed to clean a brush of the size we most often use.

Now weíre getting down to the heart of the matter: how to do the cleaning itself. If you use a soap-type cleaner, wet the brush with warm water, then work it on the surface of the soap pat/bar or drag through a liquid soap. If youíre using a solvent cleaner, dip the brush into the solvent until itís fully loaded and dripping. You want the cleaner to penetrate fully into the body of the brush. Leave it on for a minute or so with the brush lying flat or point-down, then gently flex the hair just above the ferrule against a soft surface (a finger does very nicely) to loosen any paint that dried way up against or slightly within the ferrule. Always move the brush in one direction, never side-to-side and never pushing against the point of the brush. This may take a minute or so, but youíll see the bits of paint starting to float out as you work the brush against your hand. Finish the cleaning by rinsing well in warm water or fresh solvent, as appropriate, ideally swirling or swishing the brush in a cup of the water or solvent.

One more final step can make a big difference in keeping your natural hair brushes in tip-top shape. Once theyíre clean, either apply a very small amount of the high-fat soap or use a conditioning solution made for human hair or artist brushes, usually one containing proteins like panthenol as well as the oily Ďmoisturizingí ingredients. This step serves two purposes: first, it makes sure that the natural hair will receive all the conditioning it needs to remain supple, but it will also act as a sizing to hold the hairs in shape, encouraging them to retain their proper curve supporting the point. Drag or dip the brush through the conditioner, then run it along the back of your hand to bring it to a sharp point. For a round brush, a slow twirling motion works very well for re-pointing the brush. Always leave a brush flat or point-down to dry. This will prevent the water or solvent from seeping to the ends of the hairs within the ferrule and loosening the glue inside.

I know quite a few people who rave about Winsor & Newtonís brush cleaner, but I feel I ought to add a specific warning about that brand as an example of the stronger sort of solvent cleaner. While itís capable of removing white glue from a brush, itís also capable of removing the lacquer from a brush handle. If even a trace of this brush cleaner gets on the handle, the lacquer will become sticky, then, as it dries, it may remain rough, or it might crack and peel, depending on how much got on it. Iíve also seen a brush handle split not long after the paint peeled off. To safely use a brush cleaner like this, pour a small amount into a shallow dish, then make sure that the brush stays point-down and only the brush fibers come in contact with the cleaner. After, rinse very well with water, then re-point with high-fat soap or brush conditioner, as it doesnít promote re-pointing quite as well as soaps or conditioners. Let it dry completely before using the brush again, as the solvents in it can potentially prevent acrylic paint from drying if there would be enough of them left on the fibers of the brush. Now, all that being said, it does remove dried acrylic paint faster than any other brush cleaner Iíve used, so it has its place in an arsenal of brush care as long as itís used with reasonable caution.

Overall, the process is the same with synthetic-hair brushes as it is for natural-hair; however, there is less need for a conditioning product and less ability to re-point a synthetic brush than there is with a natural-hair brush. As mentioned in my first column, the hook that forms on the tip of a synthetic brush can be eliminated by heating the tip of the brush with a heat gun (a blow-dryer probably wonít be hot enough) and then reshaping the hairs. A clothespin gently closed over the fibers will help them hold the corrected shape while they cool. Sizing of any sort might be able to make it look like the hook is gone, but it will come back as soon as you wet the brush and rinse out the sizing.

Once brushes are dry, store them in a brush case of some sort, ideally one that holds the brush handles securely enough that the brushes wonít rattle around in the case. The bamboo roll-up cases made for oriental calligraphy brushes work well, as do so-called brush easels, and Iíve seen at least one company that does a hard case that has clips to hold the handles of the brushes. My favorite is a brush easel that carries about two dozen small brushes securely. Iíve had them fall out of the bamboo roll-up if I didnít have it tied into a tight-enough roll, and the hard case doesnít hold near as many as the easel.

While youíre painting, rinse your brush frequently and reasonably vigorously, swishing it back and forth through the water and flexing it gently against the bottom of your water container. You can potentially work the hairs of the brush against a finger the same way as when cleaning with soap, and half-dried paint will lift off rather more easily than it would once completely dry. Your best assurance against that problem, though, is to avoid getting paint down close to the ferrule, but that can be difficult to avoid when using highly-thinned paint. Never leave your brush point-down, resting on the fibers, in your rinse water or for storage. Thatís one of the fastest possible ways to damage a brush very badly.

Itís also possible that from time to time you may have reason to do emergency care on a brush. Dried-on paint can be handled either with an ultra-powerful cleaner or by repeated lathering with a good, high-fat brush soap, especially if you allow the soap to sit on the fibers for five or six minutes rather than just one, and if you rinse in a little bit warmer-but not hot-water. Splayed hairs can be tamed with a heavier conditioner, like a high-end salon brand for dried, damaged or chemically-treated hair, providing that the splay isnít the result of poor manufacturing. To do this kind of deep conditioning, wash the brush, and while itís damp, pour a dollop of the conditioner on your palm. Work the brush through it the same way as for washing, but leave a thick blob on the fibers. Let it sit for ten minutes or so, rinse in warm water, then re-point with a bit of brush soap or a tiny bit of the conditioner.

For one last piece of advice, itís best not to use the same brushes with oil or enamel paints as you do with acrylics, or at least not before a serious, repeated cleaning with soap. The traces of oily residue from the turpentine or turpentine substitute may interfere with the binder in acrylic paint. Iíve not seen this happen with a brush used for the water-miscible oils that was cleaned afterward in brush soap, but I have seen the problem occur with a brush cleaned in turpentine, then used with acrylics.
All the credits shall go to Judith Northwood from TGN, the author of this great guide. I hope it'll be useful.

mechu95