How to Clean Acrylic Paint Brushes [The Ultimate Cleaning Guide]

Acrylic paint is a versatile type of paint that can be used on many surfaces, so it’s not surprising how often acrylic brushes are used. Brushes need to be cleaned after each use, or the dried acrylic will affect how well they work. Acrylic paints are water-soluble, but they will become sticky if left in contact with a brush for too long. To avoid this problem and keep your brushes lasting longer, read our step-by-step guide on how to clean them properly!

The best way to keep acrylic paint brushes clean? With water and soap or brush cleaner – nothing more, nothing less! But, of course, you can use some alternative methods or good cleaning products for your loved brushes, like The Masters Brush Cleaner and Preserver.

How to Clean Acrylic Paint Brushes

The acrylic paint on your brushes is not the only thing that needs to be cleaned. Brushes themselves need cleaning, too! This article contains how you can clean your brushes and how often. There are also some tips about how to store your brushes for a longer life span.

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What paintbrushes to use with acrylic paint

The best results with acrylic paint we will get using synthetic brushes. A brush should not lose any bristles and not bend too much – it should be durable.

There are different sizes and shapes of brushes, if you’re on a budget and just start painting, use the main shapes: flat and round.

Natural bristles work better with oil paint than with acrylics. Natural bristles brushes are made from hog, badger, or weasel hair. They are durable and suitable for chemical-based paint.

I would recommend buying good-quality brushes with synthetic bristles (polyester or nylon). This is not something you want to save money on. A poor quality brush can leave brush strokes and bristles on the surfaces, moreover, it will not last long time.

What bristles you have is a determinant factor for choosing How to clean your brush! Certain products can’t be used with synthetic hair, as an example.

A fully comprehensive guide to choose and buy brushes (for beginners and Pro) you can find on my blog: The Best Brush for Acrylic Paint on Canvas in 2021 – I reviewed 12 acrylic brush sets and 12 paint brushes and chose 2 winners:

I would still recommend reading the Brush Guide, as you need to understand why and how we choose a material, why there are different shapes, and how to use them best. A poor-quality brush will leave brush strokes and marks and not last as long as you would like.


How to keep brushes clean while painting

The best way to keep brushes clean and make the afterward cleaning process easier is to think about cleaning even during painting. Keep 2 jars of water while painting: one of them should be with clean water.

The first glass jar will be the one you use the most, to quickly rinse colors in between. The second jar – with clean water – is a safe clean space to keep your brushes clean, wet, and ready to paint.

Also, keep paper towels to soak remaining water from brushes if you’re painting with acrylics. Acrylic paint is water-soluble but it doesn’t like too much water.

WARNING: Before we continue, I’d like to make it clear. If your brush starts losing bristles while cleaning or painting, you need to replace it. Always TRY an aggressive cleaning method on one brush before you will clean all your brushes (especially expensive ones).

Never clean bristles in the palm of your hand – acrylic paint will stick to your skin.


How often to clean paintbrushes

The rule is to keep your brushes in clean water while you’re painting and clean them gently but thoroughly right after a painting session with acrylic paint.

The How Often also depends on how you are using your brushes, and what kind they are (natural brushes or synthetic). If you use it for watercolors, less frequent cleaning is necessary.

A good rule of thumb would be: if a brush starts to lose its shape from painting too much with oils paint then it’s time for some deep cleansing.


How to clean acrylic paint brushes

Brushes should be thoroughly cleaned immediately after you’ve finished your painting session, as dried paint may destroy your brush and can’t be removed easily. Sometimes it can’t be removed at all and you may need to throw away your brush.

The cheapest and easiest way is to clean acrylic paint brushes with water and soap.

How to clean acrylic paint brushes with water:

  1. Squeeze the water out of your brush and massage in a circular motion with light pressure. If you are using brushes made from natural hair, make sure to avoid getting any soap on them.
  2. Rinse until all the paint is removed (you might need more than one rinse) and wash a brush gently.

Always keep a paper towel to dry the brushes or to remove excess paint.


How to clean acrylic paint brushes with vinegar

Another option is to clean paintbrush with vinegar. Vinegar is in fact widely used as a cleanser. For example, people after a floating session should clean ears with vinegar to make sure no saltwater stays inside. Vinegar is a natural cleaner and natural degreaser.

Vinegar works perfectly in combination with water.

As vinegar has more cleaning power, you can use it to try cleaning dried and heavily dirty paint brushes.

How to clean acrylic paint brushes with vinegar

  1. Rinse the brush with water to remove any paint.
  2. Pour a small amount of white vinegar and rub it into the bristles in a circular motion, until most of the paint is dissolved (might need more than one rinse).
  3. * If you’re cleaning a brush with dried paint on it, try boiling vinegar with bristles dipped in it into a pan. Use an old pan, that you will not use for cooking later! Remove the brush from the vinegar every 15 to 20 seconds to check on how the bristles are cleaning up.
  4. Rinse thouroughly with water.

What vinegar can you use to clean paint brushes? Any white vinegar you have at home will work to clean brushes or to soften and clean dried and hardened paintbrushes.


How to clean acrylic paint brushes with Hand Sanitizer

Hand sanitizers have lately become readily available and super common. The main component is alcohol, so it would work better for natural hair brushes and oil-based paint.

I would not recommend this method as a way to go.

  • Pour some liquid hand sanitizer into a small bowl.
  • Pressing it into your brush.
  • Remove any excess with a paper towel and carefully rinse your brush before dabbing it dry again.

How to clean acrylic paint brushes with alcohol

It is not recommended to use alcohol (rubbing alcohol, isopropyl alcohol, ethyl alcohol) or acetone solution for regular cleaning brushes with acrylic paint or other water-based paint and synthetic bristles.

Alcohol will dry out the bristles and make them brittle.

Still, you can use alcohol to remove dried paint from brushes, as alcohol destroys paint elements. But it can also destroy bristles. I would recommend use vinegar instead of alcohol in extreme cases for acrylic paint.

  1. Remove the remaining paint from the brush.
  2. Rinse it with alcohol, using a bowl or a paper towel damped in alcohol.
  3. Once the brush is clean, rinse well with water and let it dry.

To remove oil-based paints, you can use mineral spirits or paint thinner, acetone and alcohol.

If you were using alcohol, please take care of your brushes after. Use The Masters Brush Cleaner and Preserver to restore the brush’s durability and finish cleaning.

How to clean acrylic paint brushes after varnishing

Varnishing is a protection for your painting. Always use a separate paint brush for varnishes or protective finishes. This brush should be labeled and stored bristles up, and you need to clean it immediately after varnishing.

Varnish has a different composition from paint. You can use mineral spirits to remove varnishes from the brush.

Always wear a pair of cloves working with solvents and varnishes.


How to clean dried acrylic paint brushes and hardened brushes

Basically, you need to clean brushes after you’ve done painting, as you don’t want dry acrylic paint on the brush. Dried acrylic paint is quite impossible to unharden and remove.

But if it happened to you, there is still a chance we can fix it and clean dried acrylic paint off brushes.

A fine-tooth comb can also help to clean dried brushes. Make sure you use an old comb that you will not use on hair!

How to clean dried acrylic paint brushes:

  1. Wet the brush and submerge it in a container of water.
  2. Fill the container with rubbing alcohol (Isopropyl Alcohol 70%) until they reach about halfway up your brush.
  3. Start scrubbing bristles against each other to work out all of the paint, and then rinse them again after you are done to make sure all of the paint is off.
  4. Repeat process until all dried acrylic paint has been removed from brush bristles. You can use a comb to scrap the softened paint.

You need to understand that alcohol is no good for paintbrushes and it reduces significantly their lifespan. The alternative way is to soak brushes for 1-2 hrs in vinegar or boil them in vinegar.

How to clean acrylic paint brush with fabric softener

Fabric softener is an alternative cleaner, which was NOT designed for brush cleaning. But we still can use it to remove paint from brushes.

  1. Remove remaining paint with a paper towel.
  2. Pour 1/8 cup of Fabric Softener and 4 Cups of warm water into a bowl
  3. Put the brush into the mixture and let it sit there until paint will come out.
  4. Rinse with water, dry all excess water with paper towel and let it dry bristles up.

You can buy a fabric softener or make it at home (which is so much cheaper!).

Homemade fabric softener is extremely easy to make. You only need to mix 3 cups of baking soda with 2 cups of warm water!


Best products to clean acrylic paintbrushes

Except for products we have at home and water or soap, there are some special cleaners for paintbrushes. In fact, for acrylic paint water and soap may not enough for proper brush cleaning – there are many other products out there that are specialized for this.

I’m sharing links to the Blick online store, as it often way cheaper than Amazon.

The Best Acrylic Brush Cleaners are Winsor & Newton Brush Cleaner and The Masters Brush Cleaner.

The main difference and advantage of using a professional cleaner are that normally they are not just cleaner, but a restorer of the brush at the same time. It means they cause no damage to the brush head or loss of fibers.

Winsor & Newton Brush Cleaner and Restorer works for natural or synthetic brushes, oils and acrylics. Dried acrylics can take several hours to soften. This solution may be more expensive than The Maters cleaner.

Do not use with plastic elements – they can be destroyed by this solution.

The Masters Brush Cleaner and Preserver is a good choice for those who don’t want to just use dish soap or brush cleaner from the dollar store. It also helps with how often you need to clean your brushes. Brushes can be cleaned with dish soap, but it is recommended to avoid natural hair brushes when doing so.

The Masters cleaner works for varnishes, acrylic paint, oil paint, and watercolor – it is a universal cleaning tool for artists. It is also saying that Masters product will help with dried paint.

You can always use any of these special artist soap to clean paintbrushes:


Brush Cleaning tools

You can help yourself not only with cleaning products but with cleaning tools, like PAINT PUCK Paint Brush Cleaner Set – they are silicone cups with nubs that help deep clean the brushes. Suitable for all kinds of brushes.

In needs to be placed into a jar, which makes it handful and inconvenient at the same time.

Another cleaning tool is a Guerrilla Stainless Steel Brush Washer. I think it is a great tool, as I hate washing acrylic paint brushes in the sink or even in a pot – paint sticks to everything. And you have a white sink you may find it less white after a couple of cleaning sessions. You can even have 2-3 washers: one with clean water, one with warm soapy water, one for dirty water.

You can also take this washer with you if you’re painting outside. It is also eco-friendly, as cleaning brushes under running water is bad for the fishies and for plumbing.

how to clean acrylic paint brushes

14 Cleaning Paintbrushes Tips

  1. Clean brushes as soon as you can to avoid the paint drying on them.
  2. Avoid using alcohol or thinner for acrylic paints, they will dry out and break off bristles prematurely.
  3. If you are not sure how to clean your brush then use a cheap soap (such as dishwashing liquid). Acrylic paint is water-soluble so it is easy to clean.
  4. For natural hair brushes, make sure you use a soap or brush cleaner specially designed for their type of bristles.
  5. If using dishwashing liquid then rinse thoroughly with water and leave them to dry vertically before storing in a paper towel wrapped around the handle.
  6. Make sure your paintbrush always stays wet when not in use while painting. This will prevent the paint from drying out and breaking off bristles prematurely. It is best to store them in a jar so they are also protected against dust, dirt, or other airborne particles that may settle on your brush while it’s not being used.
  7. Store brushes vertically with as little contact between their bristles as possible for optimal longevity.
  8. Make sure that you are using your brushes correctly and how they should be used for the best results. For instance, natural hair brushes need to be cleaned with a soap designed especially for them – not dishwashing liquid or other household cleaners.
  9. Avoid twisting bristles while cleaning as this may damage them, don’t scrub too hard as this may also damage the bristles.
  10. Never leave ferrule of the brush, handle of the brush and the brush hairs too long into the water or whatever solution to avoid rust, deterioration and loosening.
  11. Don’t leave too much paint on brushes.
  12. Condition brushes regularly: Use a brush conditioner like The Masters Brush Cleaner and Preserver. Your brushes will keep more color if you condition them on a regular basis. Brushes can be kept soft with regular hair conditioner, but numerous art supply companies have developed their own brush soaps to condition, maintain, and restore bristles.
  13. Always use a brush with care and make sure you don’t bend them out of shape or scrub too hard to avoid damaging their bristles. Brushes are costly so keep that in mind when using it!
  14. Try using basket and not flush dirty water to stay more eco-friendly.

How to store brushes

Apart from how often you clean your paintbrushes, it is also important how you store them. You should not just put a wet brush in a jar or container as the bristles will start drying out and can even break off with time. This process is called ‘bristle migration’.

A good way to store paintbrushes is wrapped in a paper towel, then placed vertically so there’s no contact between the bristles. Even without paper, you need to store brushes bristles up.

The easiest way to properly store the brushes is to buy a large bin holder (buy a bigger one to make sure it will fit all your brushes), like Brush Multi Bin with 49 openings.

Keep learning about brushes techniques and characteristics in my next posts: