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Caring for Natural Bristle Brushes used with Water Based Paints

Jul 7, 2016 | Expert's Corner | 0 comments

1. Always wash a new brush before you use it.  I use Dawn Liquid Detergent in the shop, but you can use most any detergent that doesn’t contain bleach.  Bleach will dry out your bristles, just like your hair. I squeeze the detergent into the palm of my hand and then carefully mash my brush bristles into the soap. Rinse with cool water. This will help remove any loose bristles before you begin to paint.  This step will prevent those pesky hairs from ending up on your canvas, chair, or trim.  Once you have washed your brush smack it on the palm of your hand or on a tabletop to loosen any stray hairs.

2. When you finish painting for the day try to remove the majority of the paint from the brush onto your work surface or a rag before you start to clean the brush. The less paint in the brush, the easier it will be to clean.  Rinse the brush holding it by the handle with the brush end pointing down into the water stream.  Do not hold the brush head under the water with the bristles pointing up as this will push the paint down into the brush.  Pour some detergent into the palm of your hand and gently mash the bristles into the soap, working them up into the brush. Repeat this step till the soapsuds are not the color of the paint and the water runs clear when you rinse out the soap.

3. Always condition your natural bristle brushes after washing. Once my brush has been washed I squirt a small amount of inexpensive hair conditioner into my palm and work it into the brush just like I do when I condition my own hair. Rinse with cool water and shape the brush.

4. Hang your brushes to dry. Do not dry your brushes upside down, i.e. brush head up and handle down. If there is any residual paint in the brush it will settle down into the bristles close to the ferrule and will eventually cause the bristles to break from the build up.  I prefer to hang my brushes over the sink to dry.  You can use some wire to create “hooks” and hang the brushes off the faucet, thus allowing any water to drip into the sink( see photo).  Once dry, the brushes are returned to the brush board (see photo). For my fine art natural bristle brushes, I wash them as I have described and lay them on a shop towel to dry. Once dry they are returned to their proper containers for storage.