5 How to Clean Oil Paint Brushes Between Colors

Brushes used for oil painting do not come cheap, especially if they are created from natural hair. So, it is essential to care for them properly so that they last for years. Some artists tend to let their brushes dry off before opting to clean them.

Now, cleaning a stiff brush is more challenging than the ones that are still wet. Moreover, oil paint is liberal and allows you more time to clean up the brushes as they dry slowly compared to acrylic paint.

Making it a habit to clean your oil paint brushes between colors ensures that the bristles do not fall off, dry out, or break as you paint. So, let us check out the right way to clean oil paint brushes between colors.

Clean Oil Paint Brushes Between Colors


There’s a big difference when we talk about cleaning between colors and giving the brushes a final rinse after completing the painting.

Cleaning during the painting process is simply to get rid of a good amount of the oil-based paint currently coated on the paintbrush.

It’s done so that the same brush can be used for another color while avoiding mixing colors or messing up the canvas.

On the other hand, cleaning the brushes after the painting has been finished removes the pigments, cleaning medium, and oil present in the oil paint bristles.

It helps ensure that the oil paintbrush doesn’t get stiff or unusable. Cleaning between colors also ensures that you do not have to work as hard during the final cleaning process.

Reasons Behind Cleaning Our Brushes

Painting is no doubt a relaxing hobby. But the task of cleaning the brushes can be just as hectic and time taking. However, cleaning your oil paint brushes should be practiced with precision and extreme caution to not destroy the bristles in the process.

Even experienced artists aren’t aware of the best practices for cleaning the oil paint brushes. Most beginners simply buy bundles of brushes and throw away any brush that is beyond revival. This process takes up your monthly budget and lays waste to a perfectly fine paintbrush.

Learning to clean excess oil paint from the brushes between colors also helps improve your existing painting skills. Cleaning your oil paint brushes allows you to blend the colors as needed for your painting. Refraining from doing so might ruin your vision for the painting.

Most of all, you get to save up money when you clean the oil paint brushes between colors. Buying a new set of brushes every time you paint a new masterpiece is an impractical move. [Source]

Ways to Clean Oil Paint Brushes Between Colors

Method 1: Try Using Cleaning Cup

Cleaning cups are ideal for thorough cleaning of the brushes between colors. It ensures that each bristle of the oil paint brush is appropriately cleaned. The colors do not get mixed when you use them for painting with a different color.

Most cleaning cups are made with silicone and contain a clear jar to store the liquid medium you plan to use for the cleaning purpose.

This liquid can be anything from solvents to oil or even water. However, it is advised that you use oil or mineral spirits to dip your brush into, as water only works well with acrylic colors.

Some cleaning cups also feature brush holders that keep your oil paintbrushes dipped in the liquid for cleaning while working on another color with a different brush.

These cleaning cups feature a cover on top with a slit to avoid water spillage and help hold your brush in place. Keep in mind that these cups are perfect for wet oil paint brushes in use but not those that have dried off completely.

Method 2: Baby Oil is Helpful

While baby oil might sound very gentle and mild, it is a beautiful medium to clean your oil paint brushes between colors. In addition, cleaning with oil-coated into the paintbrush’s bristles can help prevent it from drying for hours.

Here is how baby oil helps with the removal of paint between colors:

  • Use a good-quality paper towel and gently remove the standing paint coated on the brush’s bristles. Next, wrap the towel around the brush and gently yet firmly pinch on the bristles. However, you need to keep in mind that this trick doesn’t work with dried oil paint.
  • Pour some baby oil into a cup (preferably plastic). Now, coat your bristles entirely with this oil. Try not to swish your brush in the oil, as it can lead to muddling issues.
  • Now remove the brush from the cup and use a fresh paper towel to clean off the bristles. It should happen quickly as the oil loosens the color’s hold on the brush.

Repeat the process as required and ensure no remnants remain on the brush before you dip it in another color. Alternatively, you can also use mineral oils to clean up your oil paint brushes between colors.

Do not forget to use a clean cloth and get rid of the excess paint before using it for another color.

Method 3: Brush Washers are Great

Paintbrushes are expensive, and the best way to keep them usable for long is to clean them between colors. And avoid drying the oil paint on the brush. It is where brush cleaners can be of great help.

These brush cleaning accessories are available in various styles and choices of material, including metal washers, stainless steel washers, aluminum washers, etc.

Some washers are designed to hold still while you paint as you travel. Brush washers come with crevices and folds that help with better scrubbing and cleaning action to remove the wet oil paint in the brush. Certain washers also feature holes to store the brushes while you clean one.

The compartments can be used to store your cleaning liquid or serve as a cup of water to clean off the oil paintbrushes.

Method 4: Take Advantage of Running Water

When using this method for cleaning oil paint brushes, keep in mind that the color should be wet and fresh for it to work. Running water cannot clean off dried oil paint.

Instead, the powerful force of running water ensures that each bristle in the brush removes any unwanted colors. It helps you use the same brush for other colors without worrying about the mixing or smudging problem in the painting process.

However, this could lead to a lot of water wastage. Even if you use this process for cleaning the brush, make sure you turn off the tap right after use. Given that oil paint is impervious to water, you might have to gently rub the bristles with your fingers to get rid of the colors in the interior parts of the brush.

Alternatively, you can fill a cup of water for cleaning purposes and avoid water wastage.

Method-5: Resort to Solvents

Professional artists use odorless solvents like paint thinner to clean up the oil paint brushes between colors. Mineral spirits are the best choice to keep your brush clean and reusable as you paint.

The best thing about this method is that these solvents are ideal for removing a huge chunk of paint in a short time frame. Dab the brush a few times at the jar’s bottom, and most of the color gets out with ease.

However, there is a drawback to using non-water-based solvents as it tends to release nauseous and harmful fumes. Regular solvents are volatile in nature and evaporate quickly. It could lead to health issues if you breathe in the fumes, especially with existing respiratory problems.

Note: Make sure you are painting in a space with adequate ventilation.

The mineral spirits of non-artist grade, like those available at local hardware stores, generally have an odor. Even if the label says it is odorless, it might have some.

On the other hand, artist-grade spirits are mostly odorless. Even though these solvents are odorless, they do have fumes coming off from them.

However, some solvents do have a slow rate of evaporation & don’t get absorbed into the skin. Solvents such as alcohol or turpentine must be avoided as they have a powerful odor and fumes. Moreover, they can also dry out the brushes or damage them with ease.

Read Also: Clean Oil-Based Paint Brushes Without Paint Thinner

Pro Tips: Use Multiple Brushes Instead

When painting a new piece, the best way to go about it is to have access to a complete set of brushes, with one for each color. It will ensure that the colors do not mix around. And you can clean it once you are done with the painting process.

A complete set of brushes will also ensure that your bristles do not carry the tint from the previous color. It can manipulate the resulting color when you use it with another.

Don’t try to mix the acrylic brushes or watercolors brushes with oil paints. Instead, use a dedicated set for each painted variant to ensure they do not have to tackle the strain from being cleaned for multiple painting sessions.


  • When using solvents for cleaning, remember that they can catch fire very quickly. Therefore, it is important to practice safety and caution. First, remove any flammable material away from your work area.
  • Remember, these methods will not work on dried-off oil paintbrushes. They will only work on brushes that are currently being used with wet paint on them.
  • When wiping off the brushes, be gentle! Do not pull or press too hard on the bristles, as they can break off or come loose in the process.
  • Always work in a well-ventilated space to avoid inhaling any fumes that might be released from the solvents, like paint thinner during the cleaning process.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: How often do you need to clean oil paint brushes?

If you plan on using the same brush for different colors, gently dab out the colors from the brush using a solvent of your choice. The final cleaning comes after you are done painting. So, every time you use the brush for a different color, cleaning the oil paint brush is required.

Q: How do you clean oil paint brushes without solvent?

A safe, simple, and non-toxic method for cleaning the oil paint brushes without using a solvent are to clean them with baby oil, mineral oils, or any liquid detergent. Simple soap & baby oil combinations can also work magic in cleaning oil paintbrushes.

Q: Can you use olive oil to clean oil paint brushes?

Yes, you can use olive oil to clean oil paint brushes. The key is to pour some oil into a cup and soak the brush for a few minutes. Then, gently wipe its bristles with the help of a paper towel and try to get rid of any residue left.

Q: Can you use dish soap to clean oil paint brushes?

Using dish soap or a gentle soap solution to clean the oil paintbrushes is a safe and easy way to get rid of the colors. Use a cup of water and pour in some liquid soap to create a solution.

Make sure you use warm water for maximum efficiency. This soapy water solution doesn’t damage the bristles and lets the water penetrate the paint and help remove them. Once you have ultimately got rid of the colors, let it dry out.

Final Words

With oil paint, do not wait out long for it to dry out and spoil your precious paintbrush. Instead, get rid of the colors right when they are wet.

It makes the cleanup task faster and easier. It also ensures that your brushes do not wear off their strength and last for years, with no need to buy a new set.

Artists recommend using synthetic brushes for an oil painting session as opposed to natural hair, as the latter can be costly and require more effort to take care of.

However, the painting results with natural brushes are far better. So, if you can maintain your natural oil paint brushes well, they are definitely a better choice.

Related Content: How to Make Oil Painting Look Glossy

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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