A Cleaner Way To Wash Your Brushes

Personally, I am not as environmentally conscious as I should be. I don’t keep up with all of the “Global Warming” or “Climate Change”  that gets hyped up (especially around election time). I do believe the earth has heating and cooling cycles, but I don’t believe that humankind does as much to affect it as some special interest group would like us to believe.Yeah! I said it…I wish I could say that I keep separate bins for Paper, Aluminum, and Plastic, or That I drive an electronic hybrid car. Well, I don’t do either of those. My wife and I drive a mini-van and a small SUV, both have 6-cylinder engines and neither one is particularly good on gas.

Why am I saying this?…Because I didn’t want you to get the feeling like I was going to go on some kind of rant about saving the planet or shrinking your carbon footprint. I just have a way to clean brushes that don’t leave your house, your studio, or shop smelling like a “backyard body shop” with all the paint thinners, turpentines, or mineral spirits. As an artist, you will probably still use these materials, but there are ways of using them in a smaller amount of usage. There are also alternatives to those products on the market and while they are definitely better for you and the environment, they still have their drawbacks. Also if you’re like me, you probably love your brushes. Spent a lot of time checking out each brand. Finding out which brush is better for this effect or that wash and don’t want to expose them to unnecessary abuse.

It started actually just a few months ago. I had my “Studio” set up in a spare bedroom of our house. I also did a lot of my painting in a little booth I rent at The Broad River Shoppes in Gaffney S.C. Our oldest daughter had moved back in and that meant I had to give up my “Studio” or mancave rather so I moved my set up to our small dining room and started working. As I was painting in my Dining room “Studio”, as well as the shoppe, I started getting some complaints about the smells from the turpentine and other thinners I was using while painting. Not wanting to offend the customers and the associates in the shop as well as my wife (she has a high sensitivity to orders from thinners, cigarettes, and cologne) and the two remaining kids at home. Plus the harmful effects of the chemicals used in those solvents, I started thinking about the “Old Masters” like Carravagio, Di Vinci, and Titian got me to wondering…

“All of these dangerous chemicals that kills us, how did a lot of them live so long?

Well, maybe Carravagio is a bad example, but Michelangelo was close to 90 years old (88 to be exact) the same with Titian. They were also surrounded by other harmful chemicals such as Lead. So what were they’re secret?… Oil and soap!! That’s right! They used a combination of oil such as walnut oil, linseed oil, or some other mineral oil combined with lye. Now Like with their secret recipes for each of their paints, all combined them in different ways I suppose but in general, that is what they used during their painting process. They still used things like Turpentine, and such, but on a much smaller scale.

Moving forward to today, we have Turpenoid or Mineral Spirits, which isn’t really that much safer. It just doesn’t have the odor. Just like other “odorless” solvents, such as thinners, they still do a good amount of harm to the bristles or hairs of your brushes. Causing them to dry out, split, and break over several years of constant cleaning.

My new way of washing my brushes during my painting process and also after goes like this, I take an old peanut butter or jelly jar (glass or plastic doesn’t matter) and I combine:

  • 1/2 cup of linseed or vegetable oil (any natural mineral oil will do)
  • 1/2 cup of dish detergent ( I just use whichever we may have)
  • 1 cup of warm water

Take these 3 ingredients and pour them into your jar and mixed them by swirling them around in the jar ( I actually violently shake them to help with any frustrations I may have).

Then I take my cleaning solution and pour it into a brush tank with a small screen in the bottom, used for cleaning paint brushes. It has worked pretty well for me and if you use lemon or citrus scented dish detergent, it seems to help with the scent of the paints also! After you are done you should have enough to do a final brush cleaning before putting your brushes away.

When doing my final cleaning (which I don’t always do, especially if I’m just going to be working on the same piece the next day). I like to take a few paper towels and lay them out.

  1. I remove as much paint as I can by using a paper towel, paint rags, or a clean part of my palette (which there never seems to be) until I see very little paint residue on the paper towel.
  2. I then take my oil (linseed, walnut, whatever) and take my fingers and rub the brush hairs in real good.
  3. After that, I take my cleaning solution and warm running water and wash my brushes.
  4. I finally take some hair conditioner (or oil) and lay them out flat on the paper towels that I have already laid out.

I hope you enjoyed this and found it informative. I have found that little “hints” or “tips” like these are as much, if not more important as painting and drawing techniques. If you have a better cleaning solution you use or if you use my method, let me know how it works. I would be very interested in finding any other techniques for cleaning up my equipment.