How to Clean Oil Paint Brushes and Rollers: A Complete Guide

Recently finished painting and have no idea how to clean oil paint from your brushes or rollers? Perhaps you forgot to clean them, and now the brush has dried stiff? Regardless of what happened to your oil paint brush, you’ve come to the right place. In this article, you’ll find out:

  • How to clean oil paint brushes without solvents
  • How to clean oil paint brushes with paint thinner
  • How to clean dried oil paint brushes
  • How to clean oil paint rollers
  • How to dispose of dirty paint thinner
  • Best practices when using oil paint
  • Frequently asked questions on cleaning oil paint brushes

As a bonus, we also included steps on how to clean water-based paint from your brushes.

How to clean oil paint brushes without solvents

ProsCons
➕ Economical➖ More time-consuming
➕ Environmental-friendly➖ Oil-soaked rags that may spontaneously combust
➕ Easier cleanup
➕ Utilizes common household products that you may have

Cleaning oil paint brushes without solvents is many people’s (and our) favorite method. The main reason being the lack of solvents leads to less hazardous waste and pollution for the environment. Moreover, using alternatives to paint thinner is cheaper and poses fewer health risks.

Some ways you can clean oil paint brushes without mineral spirits are with brush cleaners and, ironically, oil.

Cleaning oil paint brushes with oil

ProsCons
➕ Natural oil is cheap➖ More time-consuming
➕ Environmental-friendly➖ Requires several repetitions for a thoroughly clean brush
➕ No toxic fumes or irritants
➕ Natural oil is common and multipurpose

Time required: 40 minutes

Difficulty: Easy

You’ll need: Linseed oil (or baby oil), rag, mild dish soap, container.

  1. Wipe off as much paint as possible from the brush with a rag.
  2. Pour enough linseed oil into a container so that it covers the bristles.
  3. Dip the bristles into the container and move them around.
  4. Wipe the paint brush with a rag
  5. Repeat 3-4 times.
  6. Remove any remaining paint with mild dish soap and running water.

Oily rags can spontaneously combust when placed in a pile. However, you can properly dispose of oily rags by sealing them with an air-tight, metal container and fill them with water. Then, bring the container to a hazardous waste disposal center or contact your local garbage disposal company.

If you want to reuse the oily rags, wash them with warm soapy water before soaking them with a degreaser for 24 hours.

Video guide

Credit: Michelle Lynn Art

Cleaning oil paint brushes with brush cleaners

ProsCons
➕ Effective➖ Some cleaners can be expensive
➕ Both conditions and cleans the bristles➖ Product size may be too small for larger brushes
➕ Safer alternative to mineral spirits

Time required: 30 minutes

Difficulty: Easy

You can clean oil paint brushes with one of many brush cleaner products available in the market. Some of our favorites are Masters Brush Cleaner & Preserver, Winsor & Newton Brush Cleaner, and Chelsea Classical Studio Lavender Essence Brush Cleaner.

Follow the specific instructions on the product’s packaging for how to clean your brushes with these products,

How to clean oil paint brushes with paint thinner

ProsCons
➕ Highly effective➖ Poses health risks
➕ Dirty paint thinner can be reused➖ Not great for the environment
➕ Straightforward cleaning process➖ Cleanup is more time-consuming
➖ Can be expensive

Time required: 45 minutes

Difficulty: Medium

You’ll need: Three containers, brush comb, mild dish soap, chemical-resistant gloves, mask, rag.

  1. Wear a mask and chemical-resistant gloves before you begin cleaning in a well-ventilated area.
  2. Pour enough paint thinner into a container so that it covers the bristles.
  3. Dip the bristles into the paint thinner and move it around.
  4. Once the thinner is murky, pour it into a metal container.
  5. Repeat 2-3 times.
  6. Spin the brush vigorously in the container to remove excess paint thinner.
  7. Clean the paint brush with dish soap and running water while scrubbing with a brush comb.
  8. Wipe dry with a rag and store the brush.

As for the dirty paint thinner, you have two options: dispose of it entirely or reuse it. Regardless of which option you choose, you must follow the proper steps, or the rags may spontaneously combust.

Read on for detailed instructions on how to dispose of paint thinner properly.

Video guide

Credit: Deco Bliss

How to clean dried oil paint brushes

It happens to everyone: something comes up after your painting project, and you push the cleanup to the back of your mind. You remind yourself to clean your paintbrushes but eventually, you forget and soon find your paintbrushes dried like a stick.

If that has happened to you, don’t worry! Follow these simple steps, and you will restore your dried paint brushes to mint condition in no time.

With paint brush restorer

You can revive dried paintbrushes with a paint brush restorer. These products can revive any dried paint brush — artist brushes, decorators’ brushes, and the like. Paint brush restorers are cheap, and you can easily find them on Amazon or at any nearby hardware store.

Our suggested brush restorer is Winsor & Newton Brush Cleaner & Restorer. It does not contain hazardous ingredients and can clean both oil and water-based paint from your brushes.

ProsCons
➕ Highly effective➖ Can be costly
➕ Simple cleaning process
➕Can clean water-based paint too

Time required: 45 minutes

Difficulty: Easy

You’ll need: Paintbrush cleaner, glass bowl, rag/paper towel, mild dish soap.

  1. Pour the product into a glass bowl or container. Do not pour into a plastic bowl because the product will eat through plastic.
  2. Soak the bristles in the product and press out the paint with a stick.
  3. You may have to soak for up to 30 minutes, depending on the amount of paint in the paintbrush.
  4. Wipe with a rag or paper towel.
  5. Repeat the process until the paintbrush is clean.
  6. Rinse the paintbrush with mild dish soap and water.
  7. Wipe dry with a rag and store the paintbrush.

Note: If you are not in a hurry to use the paintbrush, you could leave the bristles to soak overnight. Don’t forget to cover the bowl and keep it away from pets and children.

Video guide

Credit: Lena Danya

With distilled white vinegar

ProsCons
➕ Vinegar is a common household item➖ Time-consuming
➕ Environmental-friendly➖ May not clean as thoroughly as mineral spirits
➕ Cost-effective

Time required: 1.5 hours

Difficulty: Easy

You’ll need: Saucepan to boil the vinegar, distilled white vinegar, rag/paper towel, brush comb.

  1. Pour enough vinegar to cover the bristles of your paintbrush in a saucepan.
  2. Let the paintbrush soak for approximately an hour.
  3. Put the saucepan on a stove and simmer for a few minutes.
  4. Rinse the restored paintbrush with water while scrubbing the bristles with a brush comb.
  5. Wipe dry with a rag and store the paintbrush properly.

Video guide

Credit: Deco Bliss

With solvents

You can most definitely revive dried paint brushes with solvents such as white spirits or turpentine. However, you should only use paint thinner as a last resort. Paint thinners can be harmful when inhaled over long periods of time. Furthermore, paint thinner is hazardous and can cause pollution to the environment.

Make sure to use paint thinner in a well-ventilated room such as outdoors. Also, always wear a mask and chemical-resistant gloves whenever you are handling paint thinner. When exposed to your skin, paint thinners can cause rashes, itchiness, or even chemical burns.

ProsCons
➕ Highly effective➖ Can be costly
➕ Straightforward cleaning process➖ Poses health and environmental risks
➕ Dirty paint thinner can be reused➖ Cleanup can be a hassle

Time required: 1.5 hours

Difficulty: Medium

You’ll need: Solvent (paint thinner/white spirits/turpentine), mild dish soap, rag/paper towel, two glass jars, one metal container.

  1. Pour the solvent into a glass jar and let the bristles soak inside for an hour (or 24 hours depending on the amount of paint).
  2. Wipe the paintbrush with a rag or paper towel.
  3. Hang the rag or paper towels outdoors until they are completely dry before throwing in household garbage.
  4. Clean with mild dish soap and running water while scraping off any remaining paint with a brush comb.
  5. Wipe dry with a clean rag and store the paintbrush.

Upon completion of these steps, you will be left with dirty solvents. To dispose of it, refer to the section below on how to dispose of paint thinner and oily rags properly.

Note: Always keep paint thinners out of reach of children and pets because they can be harmful when inhaled.

How to clean oil paint from rollers

Time required: 45 minutes

Difficulty: Medium

You’ll need: paint thinner, one clean roller paint pan, three plastic or metal containers for the paint thinner, rag.

  1. Wear a mask and chemical-resistant gloves before you begin cleaning your dirty roller in a well-ventilated area.
  2. Scrape excess paint into the paint can.
  3. Pour paint thinner into a container and move the roller inside it.
  4. Soak for a few minutes before removing the thinner into another container.
  5. Pat the roller dry with a rag.
  6. Repeat until the roller is free of any paint.
  7. Place the roller tube on a rag to drain the residual thinner.

As for the roller cage:

  1. Roll the roller cage inside the used paint thinner.
  2. Let it soak for a few minutes.
  3. Wipe dry with a rag before storing.

As for the dirty paint thinner, you can dispose of it by referring to the section below. To dispose of the paint thinner-soaked rag, fill an air-tight metal container with water and place the rags inside the container. Then bring it to a hazardous waste collection site.

Video guide

Credit: How to Help

How to properly dispose of paint thinner and rags

It is essential for you to dispose of paint thinner and oil-soaked rags properly. They can cause serious issues when exposed to children or pets. Furthermore, oil-soaked rags may spontaneously combust when piled together.

As the oil evaporates, heat is produced which in large amounts, can cause fires. Individual oil rags do not pose much danger, but a pile of them may produce enough heat to start fires and endanger lives.

Time required: 1-3 hours

Difficulty: Medium

You’ll need: An air-tight metal container, chemical-resistant gloves, mask

  1. Wear chemical-resistant gloves and a mask before you begin in a well-ventilated area.
  2. Seal the thinner and let sit overnight as the solids settle to the bottom.
  3. Pour the paint thinner out into a clean container and seal it for future use.

From here, you can either reserve the dirty container for future use or dispose of it in household garbage. However, if more than 1 inch of residue is in the container, you cannot reuse it and must bring it to a hazardous waste facility.

Note: Always place paint thinner out of reach of children and pets.

Oil-soaked rags:

  1. Fill an air-tight metal container with water.
  2. Place the oil-soaked rags into the container and seal it tight.
  3. Bring to a hazardous waste collection site or contact your local waste disposal company.

Credit: Lena Danya

Best practices when using and cleaning oil paint brushes

Paint brushes: Natural paint brushes are more suitable with oil paint, whereas nylon/polyester brushes are more suitable for latex paint. Moreover, make sure to buy an expensive brush because it has a longer lifespan and is easier to clean.

Amount of paint: Don’t dip your brush more than two inches (or two fingers) into the paint when using. Less unnecessary paint means less cleanup.

Clean immediately after: You should always clean your brushes immediately after painting when the paint is still wet. Dried paint brushes may restorable but require a lot of effort to do so.

Soaking for long hours: You should not soak an entire paint brush under solvents or water for long periods. The fluids will penetrate the ferrule and loosen the glue that holds the brush together. If you must soak the brushes, pour enough liquid to cover only the bristles without touching the ferrule.

Storing: You should keep your paint brushes on a flat surface without applying pressure on the bristles. When the bristles are pressed for a long time, they will bend permanently and thus ruin their shape.

How to clean water-based paint from brushes

Time required: 40 minutes

Difficulty: Easy

You’ll need: Container, mild dish soap (eg: Dawn dish soap), brush comb, rag.

  1. Prepare a mixture of soapy water in a container.
  2. With your fingers, clean the brush in the soapy water.
  3. At the same time, scrub the bristles with a brush comb.
  4. Rinse the brush under running water.
  5. Pat dry with a rag before storing.

FAQ on cleaning oil paint brushes

Can I flush paint thinner down the sink?

You cannot flush paint thinner down the sink or dump it as household garbage. Paint thinners and other mineral spirits contain toxins that are harmful to the environment and must be disposed of at your local hazardous waste facility. If available, you can call your local trash service for easy and proper disposal.

Will dish soap ruin paintbrushes?

It will not exactly ruin paintbrushes, but we suggest you clean your expensive paintbrushes with a proper brush cleaner. Moreover, dish soap is less effective than brush cleaners because it can leave residue paint on the bristles.

Can oily paint rags spontaneously combust?

Individual paint rags will not burst into flames even if soaked with enamel paint or any oil-based paint. You can hang individual paint rags to dry under direct sunlight and reuse them for future projects or dispose of them in household garbage. However, a pile of soaked paint rags poses a risk of spontaneously combusting. When oily rags start drying, they produce heat and, when mixed with oxygen, create fire.

How do I dispose of oily paint rags?

Spread the oily paint rags outdoors on a metal rack or place them on the ground. Don’t dry them together in a pile. Let the oily paint rags completely dry, which can take 1-2 full days. Then, fill an air-tight metal container with water and place the rags inside. After that, dispose of the container at a hazardous waste facility or with the help of a private contractor.

How to clean water-based paint brushes and rollers?

You can clean water-based paint from paint brushes and rollers with mild dish soap and water. Then, run through the bristles with a brush comb and wipe dry with a rag. Unlike oil paint, water-based paint can be washed off with water and does not require paint thinner. You may refer to the above section for more detailed steps.

How to clean chalk paint?

It depends on whether the chalk paint is water-based or oil-based. Chalk paint is usually water-based so for cleaning those, refer to the above FAQ.

Key takeaways

As you now know, there are various ways to clean oil paint brushes. Moreover, different methods have different benefits and limitations. However, as long as you follow these steps, you will have a clean brush that is clean and ready for your next painting project.

If you found this article helpful, leave a comment at the comment box below!

Written by Jason Beischel

Jason Beischel is a Remodeler by profession and is always ready for the challenge and surprise that the next remodeling job throws at him. And given his extensive knowledge in real estate, contracting, and interior design, he provides actionable DIY tips online and has consolidated extensive excerpts with details on how to go about the various home repair activities. Enthusiasts will also access information on the best products that they can use in the process. Jason leads a team of renovators, he loves traveling and does not shy away from challenging opportunities that present away from familiar ground. According to Jason, every human deserves a comfortable home from where they can build their future.

September 19, 2021

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