Fixing & Cleaning Paint Brushes

by | Mar 4, 2021 | Antiques, Artistic Endeavors, Cleaning & care | 19 comments

As I shared last week, my Victorian-era watercolor box came with a bunch of brushes and other tools.  I finally took some time to give them a little TLC and I thought I would share my process for fixing and cleaning paint brushes.  This is helpful not only if you buy/acquire a lot of vintage or antique brushes, but if you just need to take care of some of your favorite brushes that get heavy use.

fixing & cleaning paintbrushes | antique artist brushes | miss mustard seed

The first thing I do when fixing and cleaning paint brushes is to pull on the tops to see if they are firmly attached.  Most of these popped off easily, so that was the first thing I needed to address.

fixing & cleaning paintbrushes | antique artist brushes | miss mustard seed

(Those little marks of dried paint are from Violet’s paws!  She has a knack for stepping straight in any paint if she sneaks into the studio.)

I bought THIS waterproof, neutral PH adhesive a while ago for a brush-making class I took from Jeanne Oliver and it’s been such a handy glue to have around the studio!  I use it frequently for affixing brush tops that have popped off.  (You can see some of the brushes I made in the class HERE.)

fixing & cleaning paintbrushes | lineco neutral ph adhesive | miss mustard seed

I’ll dip the end of the brush handle in a little bit of the glue, press the top on firmly, and wipe away any excess glue with a paper towel.  I’ll let them dry overnight and they are good to go!

The second step to fixing and cleaning paint brushes is to wash them!  I actually like and use a few different soaps for cleaning my brushes.  Murphy Oil Soap and Miss Mustard Seed’s Brush Soap are two favorites.  I really like the latter for conditioning and shaping brushes.  Over the past year, I’ve been using a cube of Savon De Marseille.  One cube has lasted me over a year and it’s still going.

fixing & cleaning paintbrushes | antique artist brushes | miss mustard seed

You can see that I’ll rub the brush in the center of the soap, rinse, rub, repeat, until the water coming out of the brush is clean.  I also washed off the handles well, since then were pretty dirty, too.  All of the soaps I mentioned will even wash out old, dried paint pretty well.

fixing & cleaning paintbrushes | antique artist brushes | miss mustard seed

The final step I take when I’m fixing and cleaning paint brushes is to condition the handles with Miss Mustard Seed’s Hemp Oil.  (You can find other uses for Miss Mustard Seed’s Hemp Oil in THIS POST.)

fixing & cleaning paintbrushes | hemp oil | miss mustard seed

This especially brings wood handles to life, adding luster and a little bit of shine.  I even wipe a little bit over the bristles to condition and shape them.  This lot of old, well-used brushes ended up looking pretty nice and I will definitely be using them, adding to their history.

fixing & cleaning paintbrushes | antique artist brushes | miss mustard seed

The brush with the gold 5 on it is my favorite, but there are a lot of beautiful natural-bristle brushes in this lot.

fixing & cleaning paintbrushes | antique artist brushes | miss mustard seed

Paint brushes, especially high-quality ones can be an investment, so fixing and properly cleaning them is a great way to extend their life.

19 Comments

  1. Irene Kelly

    Marian, you did a great job bringing these old brushes back to life. How do you clean the ferrels ? Do you use a particular polish ?

    Reply
  2. Irene Kelly

    Marian, you did a great job bringing these brushes back to life. How do you clean the ferrels ?

    Reply
    • Marian Parsons

      I cleaned the ferrules with the same soap and polished them up with hemp oil.

      Reply
  3. Babs

    I have never seen anyone address this issue before you did. Thank you! Brushes, especially natural bristle ones, can be hideously expensive. With proper care, they can last for years…as your antique brushes can attest.

    Reply
  4. Lane

    So is this the cleaning process for watercolor paint or oil paint? Seems like it would differ… ?

    Reply
    • Marian Parsons

      I actually use these same soaps for all mediums. I’ll use baby oil to wash my hands after using oil paintings, though, but otherwise, the steps are the same.

      Reply
  5. Mary Anne Clark

    Thank you for sharing your tips.

    Reply
  6. Anita

    At one time, I had two #7 series Windsor Newton brushes which had come apart, and when I contacted the company, they instructed me to refinish and paint the wooden handles and mail them to them. They were returned to me by return mail, attached and crimped at the ferrule, looking like new, except for the handles I had repainted. Don’t know if they still do that, but with the prices of fine brushes these days, it wouldn’t hurt to check. Also, freshly washed brushes should not be stood with their bristles up to dry, as water in the bristles will pool inside the ferrules, working on the attachment. and never, never leave brushes standing in water. It will spoil the shape, and cause the handles to soak up water and swell, cracking the paint on them, and loosening them from each other. I have high quality brushes that are at least 40 years old, and still in excellent condition.

    Reply
  7. Mary Zeilinger

    Yes! Murphys oil soap. The brushes; inherited, donated, thrifted and purchased new. I think I started oil painting in 2002. I didnt have internet at the time. The donated brushes were from a coworker as her father had passed. They were in a sad state , some bent stiff with paint, uncleaned from whatever he had been working on. I used low oder (said no one ever) turpentine for brush cleaning. Over the years many brushes were tossed. Fast forward to last year. Via internet I learned about Murphys (and Gamsol, thank you). I started with the oldest ,crustiest brushes. A couple had to be soaked, wire brushed, repeat. Mindblown. Even the newer brushes that I thought were clean, the murphys pulled paint out of. Im thankful for the internet, for murphys and for you.

    Reply
  8. JenW

    Would the soap clean acrylic paint? We use a lot of just craft paint and the kids are terrible about rinsing them completely! We buy cheap brushes for the family to use…but still, I hate to throw them out. Anyone have tips for cleaning brushes with dried in acrylic paint?

    Reply
    • Miss Mustard Seed

      Yes, all three of these soaps clean up acrylic paint. For brushes that have dried paint in them, I’ll lather them with soap to try to loosen it up and then let them sit on the edge of the sink for a while to let the soap work. Then, I’ll scrub and rinse and keep repeating that process.

      Reply
      • JenW

        I cannot tell you how many brushes I’ve thrown away! I’ve got Murphy Oli Soap already. I’m ready to save some bruhse!

        P.S. I’m visiting the blog on my desktop computer and there is a HUGE ad covering the left third of the screen, with no way to click out of it . I’ve not seen such a large intrusive ad on your site before.

        Reply
        • Miss Mustard Seed

          I know! That ad has been driving me nuts and I’ve been complaining about it. My ad management company is trying to fix it, but it’s not served by them.

          Reply
  9. Barbara Ann

    Best information for me as I have some expensive paint brushes that my artistic 10 year old granddaughter used, and didn’t leave them in wonderful shape. I try to keep on top of her to remind her how to care for them, but it seems to go in one ear and out the other right now! Thanks for the tutorial!

    Reply
  10. Kim

    Growing up with a mom who was a painter, I vividly remember watching her always clean her brushes with natural glycerine soap, in bar form! She would leave the brushes horizontal to dry. So, that is what I have always done too! I inherited a big pile of brushes from her that are still going strong. If you make sure to wash out your brushes right away after use, they will last for decades. I can say that I have never had a problem using my all-natural liquid dish detergent on my brushes also. I paint with acrylics only, not oils.

    Reply
  11. Anita

    Ads are ccovering all comments.

    Reply
    • Marian Parsons

      Ack, I know! I have been complaining about that ad to my ad network and they are working on getting it removed. It is frustrating for me, too!

      Reply
  12. monique

    From now on, which is tomorrow, I will give a try to Murphy Oil Soap too, I always use it to wash the floors and like the smell it leaves.
    It is very funny to see the deep well you created in the Savon de Marseille, ah, ah, just love it. Through in a coin and make a wish.
    Sorry, I am being silly.

    Reply
  13. Jo

    You show us the old paint box and all the old brushes. I always wonder when was the last time the artist touched that box and brushes. Why did they stop? It’s so sad to me because they were a huge part of the artist’s life, and one day he/she never touches them again. But you brought them back to life!

    Reply

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Hello!

Marian Parsons - Miss Mustard Seed

I’m Marian, aka Miss Mustard Seed, a wife, mother, paint enthusiast, lover of all things home and an entrepreneur, author, artist, designer, freelance writer & photographer.  READ MORE to learn more about me, my blog and my business…

facebookPinterestYouTubeinstagramfeedemail

Subscribe today

and receive a FREE e-version of my planning sheets!

Categories

Articles by Date

 

our sponsors


Bliss and Tell Branding Company