Take care of your brushes

To paraphrase the old commercial, "take care of the things that take care of you," and taking care of your brushes is what any good painter should do.

Nothing is worse than an expensive sable brush that has lost its point and is clogged up to the ferrule with dried paint. Here's a few tips to keep that from happening to you:

The Don'ts:
  • Don't let paint dry on the brush
  • Don't load paint up to the ferrule (metal part)
  • Don't use a good brush to mix paint or add water to paint
  • Don't store your brushes point down
The Dos:
  • Do use a large container for rinsing-- a Mason jar works great
  • Do rinse and clean your brushes after each use
  • Do rinse the brush "mid-flight" when painting large batches
  • Do keep your brushes dry when not in use, and not being conditioned

If you've never used Pink Soap then you need to go out to your local arts and crafts store and buy some now. Your brushes will get a whole new lease on life. Even if you've got an "old crusty", giving it a good pink soap wash and then letting it condition with a little pink soap can really bring it back to life. If you have a brush, then you need to have brush soap!

A word on brush selection: while you will get great results with expensive brushes, you can get very good results with much cheaper brushes that you take care of. I look for the cheapest red sable (lower quality sable) brushes that come to a good point. These usually cost much less than the Winsor and Newtons and perform almost as well. When well cared for these cheaper brushes will provide a long service life. And frankly my painting skills just don't require such fine brushes.

If you are using any type of speed-painting techniques and not doing a lot of detail, definitely don't spend your money on the big-bucks brushes.

For more reading, check out these brush selection and cleaning links.

What do you do to take care of the brushes that take care of you?


  1. An alternative to brush soap if you can't find it is Dove (99.4% pure) it works pretty well and i've read of some painters forming their brushes into a sharp tip on the bar of soap and leaving it to dry that way. a quick swipe in water and you have a clean, sharp brush to go. (haven't tried this personally though)

    I've also tried conditioning brushes using a hair conditioner. It seems to have worked on cheaper brushes extending their lives.

    One thing i have noticed is that some brushes eventually start sucking paint right up to the ferrules as soon as i touch them to the paint mix. Now, i paint with fairly watered down paints, but it's only the cheap brushes that seem to start doing that.

    Another thing you should mention is that for tasks like drybrushing, DON'T USE YOUR GOOD BRUSHES! I bought a bunch of small kids synthetic brushes for these kinds of hard jobs, and i'm very glad i did.

  2. I've used the soap on brush trick to re-form the point and it works well. Even better when you use the conditioning brush soap.

    I've noticed the suction effect when painting, but it is usually when I have too much water in the paint.

    I suspect the nicer brushes don't suffer from this because I've noticed they usually have higher hair density. The quality of the hair used probably plays a big part as well.