How to Clean Oil-Based Paint Brushes Without Paint Thinner? (4 Easy Ways)

Are you at it again, trying to scrub off that notoriously stubborn oil paint from your favorite brushes? Well, the best solution used by most painters is a paint thinner.

But what if you are allergic to such harsh chemicals? Would you still use it? Of course not! So, how can you keep your brushes clean in this scenario? The key is to opt for safer cleaning solutions that keep your brushes spick and span.

Here, we will discuss some tried and tested methods to help clean paintbrushes dipped in oil paints without being chemically harsh. But, before we do that, let us learn some of the basics of painting!

How to Clean Oil Paint Brushes Without Thinner

What does paint thinner do?

When using oil paints, most artists clean off their brush with the help of paint thinners. These solvents help dissolve paint & reduce the viscosity of the same. In simple words, it thins out the oil paint and helps loosen its hold on the brushes.

Additionally, paint thinners can also clean up any splatters or spills that happen during painting. Left-out oil paint can start to harden after a while. Artists can use paint thinners to achieve their original consistency and avoid any wastage of colors.

There are several solvents available in the market that can help remove oil paint from your brushes. These include:

  • Methyl Ethyl Ketone or MEK
  • Xylene
  • Naptha
  • Turpentine
  • Acetone
  • Denatured Alcohol

Before you use any solvents, make sure you check the labels to ensure they are used appropriately. Also, keep in mind the safety considerations when using paint thinners for cleaning oil paint.

  • Wear safety clothing such as gloves, respirator, and safety glasses when using such solvents. Paint thinners can be toxic to your lungs, skin, & other parts of the body. These safety clothing items can help prevent any form of inhalation, ingestion, or skin absorption.
  • If you happen to experience issues such as nausea, headaches, tiredness, difficulty concentrating, irritability, or dizziness, make sure you stop working right away and call for help. Also, make sure you consult your physician for further guidance if the problem persists.
  • When working inside, open the windows and doors to ensure proper ventilation in your workspace. You can also use an exhaust fan to extract the vapors from you’re your room.
  • Paint thinners are extremely flammable. So, make sure you keep it away from anything that can induce sparking or start a fire in your workspace. Even the vapors of the paint thinner could catch flames. So, proceed with caution when working with paint thinners.

Effective Solutions to Clean Oil-Based Paint Brushes

If paint thinner is not your go-to option, you don’t have to worry! Cleaning oil-based paintbrushes don’t have to be a chore when you have the following methods to rescue you.

Use Baby Oil to Clean Your Brushes

Are you allergic to paint thinner? What could be better than using baby oil to clean off your oil paintbrush as it nourishes your skin? Never in your wildest dream would you have thought that oil paint could be cleaned off with “Oil,” better yet, “Baby Oil.”

Now, this seems counterintuitive to use oil-based products to clean oil-based paint, but this method works like magic. The prime reason you cannot clean oil paint brushes with water is the oil present in the paint. The oil tends to repel the water and hence doesn’t help clean the brush.

A different variant of oil can help clean off the oil paint from the brush. Get good-quality baby oil from your local mart and dip your brushes in a bowl filled with the same. Most baby oil brands available in the market are safe for use and nourish your skin with the added vitamins.

The oil is even mildly antiseptic and helps combat any bacterial formation on your brushes. When cleaning the brushes, make sure the oil is spread out evenly on all the bristles. Try to work your hand into it and push away as much paint as possible.

Use a cloth piece to wipe off the paint from each strand of your brush. Try to be a bit gentle so as not to break the bristles. Repeat the process till all the color comes off. Finally, give it a quick clean with a warm soapy solution.

Get Your Brushes Clean with Linseed Oil

Another skin-friendly option you can try is the use of Linseed oil. This oil is used in soaps and paints to give it a glossy look and the required moisture.

Besides cleaning off oil paintbrushes, the linseed oil helps improve your skin texture, heart health and even packs in some cancer-fighting antioxidants.

Also known as flaxseed oil, this cleaning method can help keep your brushes clean of any paint remnants. To initiate the oil paint brush cleaning process, start by pouring some oil on clean paper.

It works better if you use rough paper as opposed to traditionally smooth printing papers.

Next, place the bristles of your paintbrush in the oil and let it soak for some time. Keep rotating the brush after every few minutes. Try to get a good amount of oil on each brush’s bristle with this effective coating technique.

Now, use the paper towel coated with oil to scrub off the remnants till you see a clean brush free of colors. You can also give it a final rinse with warm soapy water, dab it with a dry cloth, and leave it completely dry.

Wash with Dish Soap and Water

An oldie yet classic, you can also take care of your oil paint brushes and keep them clean with the help of dish soap & water combinations.

However, the effectiveness of this method is still controversial among artists. Although dish soap is effective, it can be drying and harsh for the paintbrushes.

If you are an artist that uses brushes with natural hair, make sure you do not overuse dish soap as it can dry out the hair or even lead to breakage.

However, for artificial bristles, it might work effectively. Keep in mind to use traditional dish soap as opposed to the foamy variants. Pour some of the solutions in a cup that you don’t mind getting spoiled in the process. You can use this cup multiple times for the cleaning process.

First, pour a good amount of soap into the cup and dip the brush to coat it from all sides. Start by wiping off the paint and dip it again in the soap. Repeat the process till all the gunk comes off.

Finally, give a quick rinse with fresh water and let it air-dry.

Nail Polish Remover (Alternative to Thinner)

Nail polish removers can be a great alternative to paint thinners. However, you need to practice this method with caution. The remover gets rid of the oil paint in an instant, just as paint thinners do.

But, it could cause the glue holding your brush’s bristles to weaken and eventually fall off. In addition, when you repeat this process regularly, it could leave you with nothing but a bristle-less brush. It is ideal for use with dried paintbrushes.

So, use this method only when necessary. Then, you can dip the brush in a nail polish remover and let it soak and loosen the paint. Finally, wipe off the color with a cloth and rinse it off with fresh running water.

It can also help to remove permanent markers from leather.

Important Factors to Consider When Cleaning Oil-Paint Brushes

Cleaning oil-paint brushes can be a strenuous task. However, with the right tips to help you out, you can do it safely with perfect results. Here are some factors you need to keep in mind when cleaning your oil-paint brushes:

1-Old vs. New Stain

If your brush has been lying around drying for a long time, getting rid of the oil paint from the bristles can be time-consuming. In such cases, paint thinners are the go-to solution for painters who need faster results.

However, similar results can be obtained if you use the methods mentioned below. However, the time required to clean it completely would be longer, requiring more manual effort.

New stains are fairly easy to get rid of, especially if you practice cleaning as you paint; the colors would come off with one simple swipe.

Also, keep in mind that oil paint is formulated to dry out slowly. So, you have plenty of time to clean it off after you are done painting.


Depending on the brand you use, some oil paints might emit fumes that could be allergic and poisonous when inhaled. In addition, the VOCs and hydrocarbons emitted by oil paint might cause health issues, especially if you suffer from respiratory problems. When cleaning your oil paint brushes, make sure you wear a mask or cover up your mouth and nose to avoid this from happening.

3-Do Not Scrub Too Hard:

As stubborn as oil paint is, refrain from scrubbing the bristles too hard. Doing this could lead to breakage, and the bristles might even come loose. This tip must be followed religiously if you use brushes made from natural hair.

4-Medium Used:

When painting, artists use a range of mediums, including drying oils, alkyd mediums, artist’s solvents, or fast-drying mediums. While some mediums help speed up the drying process during painting, others help slow it down to help the artist pack in some intricate details.

So, your brush should be cleaned while keeping in mind the medium used. For example, if you have used a fast-drying medium, it is essential to clean your brush or give it a good wipe mid-painting or just after you are done.

On the other hand, if you use drying oils that slow down the drying time, you can clean the brushes at your convenience.

Now that you know about the factors that help determine how rigorous or easy your oil-paint brush cleaning process would be let us delve deeper into the cleaning process.


Q: Does vegetable oil clean oil paintbrushes?

Yes, you can use vegetable oil to clean oil paintbrushes. First, dip your paintbrush in the oil & let it soak for a while. When you feel that the oil paint has loosened up, remove it from the oil and proceed to clean it with a soapy solution.

Q: Can you use vinegar to clean oil paintbrushes?

Yes, oil paint brushes can be cleaned with vinegar. However, it might not be as effective as the methods mentioned above in the article. T

o clean with white vinegar, dip the oil paintbrush in the solution and let it sit for some time. If this doesn’t work, boil the vinegar and keep the brush dipped in the same. This will effectively loosen the oil paint, and you can wipe it clean with an old cloth.

Q: How to clean brushes when oil painting for new colors?

Before you use new colors, you can gently dab your brush on in some oil and let it sit for some time. This will help ensure that the paint doesn’t get latched onto the brush while coating to help you paint your masterpiece. You can also keep a paper sheet or newspaper to dab off-color mid painting session.

Q: Can you use olive oil to clean oil paintbrushes?

When talking about cleaning oil paint brushes, oil tends to work effectively. Olive oil is a non-drying variant of oil and helps clean paint brushes in and out. The cleaning action requires you to soak the paintbrush in a cup of olive oil and let it sit for some time. This will loosen the color that can be wiped off using cloth or paper.

Q: How to make hard oil paint brushes soft again?

To soften the hard dried paint brushes, you need to saturate the brush’s bristles in a warm solution of soap and water. Let the brush sit in this solution for a minimum of 10-15 minutes.

Now, rinse the remaining color with some warm water. Next, apply some fabric softener or vinegar to help deal with the hardening issue. You can also use a brush cleaner comb to brush out the excess paint.

Lastly, rinse it, and voila, your paintbrush is soft again.

Final Thoughts

Paintbrushes are an artist’s best friend, and it is important to take care of them the right way to paint flawless masterpieces. Cleaning your oil paint brushes regularly ensures that their structural integrity is maintained.

However, make sure you are firm yet gentle enough when cleaning your brushes to avoid damaging the bristles as you go. And, while you are at it, do not forget to have fun!

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Maria Tanish

Hello World! Tanish here, a student of Fine Arts. Drawing was my passion from an early age but I also love to do some DIY projects to spend my leisure. Even I work as a writer, to share my knowledge about the ins and outs of drawing and the art industry itself. As an artist, I always wanna share my experiences with you all.

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