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Saving a Paint Brush from Becoming a Paint Stick

Working on the mural reminded me of my first painting professor and of the importance of brush cleaning. After 50 different people worked on the mural (awesome) all our brushes were trashed. Paint up the handles, crusted, dirty, and half dry. Is there any coming back from that? We had about 10 nicer brushes and some fine tipped brushes of mine that I was intent on saving from being paint sticks.

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The first day of my first painting class, my professor gave all of this great advice: you don’t need any more paint sticks. Wash your brushes and wash them well. More than any other tool, they suffer from neglect and will cost you an arm and a leg. We all asked what paint sticks were: brushes that students let the paint dry on. These were only useful for stirring gallons of paint because they were ruined.

Then he went around the room to collect brushes that had been left out by students, and showed us how to resurrect them commenting, “If you clean it, you get it.” Found brushes make up about 20% of my collection to this day. It was a little disturbing how brushes that I knew cost around $15 each were just left on stools, on the floor, and in the sink. Geesh. (I worked at the local art shop where most were sold.)

Saving Trashed Out Brushes

1. Seal it.

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At the end of the mural project, I was completely exhausted. I knew I wasn’t going to go home and clean out the brushes, but I also didn’t want them to turn into paint sticks. I shoved them all into a huge zip top bag and sealed it up. This will keep them wet for quite some time.  You want to clean them BEFORE they dry out.

2. Warm soapy water.

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You may think “why not hot?” Well, that’s another tip I learned. If you use hot water, you run the risk of loosening the binder that holds the bristles into the ferrule. This causes the bristles to loosen and fall out over time–so annoying!

Fill a wash basin with warm water and dish soap and put all your brushes in. You don’t want all the paint you are getting rid of to go down the sink.

::Note::
Use a container that you can lay the brushes flat in. If you set them upright in a jar to soak, it can further damage the already damaged bristles.

3. Gentle massages for the poor little guys.

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They deserve some love after all the harsh treatment. Take a little Dawn dish detergent (great for the degreasing agent in it) and squirt it into the palm of your hand. Give it a good swirl in the Dawn and then gently massage out all the paint. Swish it in the soapy water and repeat. Keep doing this until it’s relatively clean. Then set aside on a towel while to do the same for all the brushes.

4. Empty the water.

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Pour off the top of the water after the paint has settled to the bottom. Take a paper towel and scoop all the sediment into the trash.

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5. Rinse and repeat.

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Fill the tub with warm water and let the brushes all soak again and massage them to get the remaining pigment out of the bristles.

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Unfortunately, some brush handles have lost their protective coating. I’m going to wait for them to all dry out thoroughly and then I’ll repair that too. I did a good search and there is nothing on the topic of re-varnishing brush handles. I think some experimentation is in order–the perfect project for another post.

Have a great remaining snippet of the weekend and keep those brushes from becoming paint sticks! From painting a wall to painting a flower pot, keep those brushes well cared for.

Kristin Roach

3 thoughts on “Saving a Paint Brush from Becoming a Paint Stick

  1. Thank you for the tutorial! It is something so simple but we have all done it and regret that we have wasted the mess. Another thing you can do if you can not get to them soon is put them in the freezer until you are ready to clean them or reuse them.

  2. Thank you for the tutorial! It is something so simple but we have all done it and regret that we have wasted the mess. Another thing you can do if you can not get to them soon is put them in the freezer until you are ready to clean them or reuse them.

  3. Another tip for preserving or restoring your art brushes:
    I learned this in art school: To bring the bristles of a smaller brush back into their original form, roll (if the bristles need to go into a pointed shape) or swipe (if it’s a flat-shaped brush) them along the glue edge of an unused envelope. For a larger brush, use a manila-sized envelope. The bristles will dry into the desired shape, but the scant amount of glue on them dissolves as soon as they’re put to use.

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