Art supplies and accessories can be expensive. No artist would ever want their supplies to get destroyed or unusable due to lack of proper care or cleaning. When using colors, it is important to ensure that the brushes are at their cleanest.
While watercolor paintbrushes might not require a lot of care, their oil or acrylic variants do need extra effort to keep the bristles soft for an amazing painting experience.
Today, I will talk about the best ways to soften acrylic paint brushes and ensure they perform as well as new ones when used for a painting project. So, let me discover the reasons an acrylic paintbrush might become hard, along with the solutions to soften them.
Cleaning up an acrylic paintbrush can be fairly easy as compared to an oil paintbrush. However, softening it could be a tiresome process, especially if you have allowed the paint to dry out for far too long. In most cases, the paintbrush could be far beyond recovery.
Even if you do manage to salvage the brush in any way, you might end up with a dingy brush that doesn’t work the right way with broken bristles. Every scenario for softening the acrylic brushes could differ, and there is no one shoe fits all solution available.
Factors such as color coat thickness, brush type, and the time for which the acrylic color has dried out can determine the softening process and the right way to do it.
The end goal is to keep your acrylic paintbrush feeling fresh and as soft as possible for a smooth painting experience.
So, before we jump in and provide you with the right solutions to keep the acrylic paintbrush soft, let us understand why they harden in the first place.
Why Acrylic Paint Brushes Become Hard?
Acrylic paint, as opposed to oil paint, tends to dry up and harden faster. So, it is natural for your paintbrush coated with acrylic color to dry up after a few hours and harden up. The right way is to clean it up as soon as you are done using the colors.
However, just in case you weren’t able to clean up the brushes right away, you can use the methods described in this article to ensure the brushes remain soft.
Apart from this, the brush material used by you can also factor into the softening process. While the types of bristles are several, they broadly fall into 2 major categories that include synthetic and natural variants. Synthetic brushes are harder to soften as compared to natural ones.
And, the latter can be cleaned up with different solutions without breaking down the integrity of the bristles. Synthetic bristles can also be affected by the harsh chemicals in the softening solutions.
So, you would be better off with a natural bristles-based acrylic paintbrush as opposed to a synthetic one. However, there are some variants of synthetic bristles available in the market that is designed for durability while being just as resilient as the natural ones.
How to Soften Acrylic Paint Brushes?
Now that you know the reason your acrylic paintbrushes tend to harden up let us discover the best ways to soften your acrylic paintbrushes. Follow the tips here:
Step 1: Scrape Off Extra Paints
If you see that your acrylic paintbrush has become crusty and hard, the first thing to do is to scrape off the extra paint. However, be careful when scraping off as it might lead to breakage of the bristles. Try to avoid doing this if the color coated on your brush is way too thick.
On the other hand, you might have an impulse to scrape off the color a bit hard, and the bristles would come off pretty easily.
This step is ideal only if the color coat dried on the brush is not as thick. Simply pick your scraping tool and gently start scraping from the heel side of the brush to the toe.
Do not move in the opposite direction, or you will end up destroying your brushes. This scraping action could also be an onset of the softening process to be followed by the methods mentioned below.
Step 2: Ways to Soften Paint Brushes
Depending on the color brand, coating thickness, bristle type, and drying time, the softening process for acrylic paint brushes can vary vividly. Here are the popular tried and tested explained below to ensure your brushes can be used for years.
1. Using Paint Thinner
Most paint thinners can help loosen the dried-off paint from acrylic paint brushes. Simply pour in a small amount of thinner into a glass or similar type of jar. Work your way through the tip of the brush to its heel by flexing it on the thinner.
You can see that the thinner is working when it starts changing color. Continue this until you feel that all the color in your brush has completely come loose. Check that the bristles are no longer stuck on one another. Repeat the process as necessary.
Next, wipe off the remaining color with a dry cloth until the colors come off completely. Finally, wash it thoroughly with fresh running water and use your fingers to get to all the bristles. Let it dry completely before use. Lacquer thinners work best in these cases to easily remove the layer of paint on brushes.
2. Using Rubbing Alcohol
Artists can also use rubbing alcohol to soften their acrylic paintbrushes. However, keep in mind that the regular use of rubbing alcohol might dry out your acrylic paintbrush bristles. So, you might have to finish it up with moisturizing water with dish soap or lotion.
Pour in some rubbing alcohol like isopropyl alcohol in a glass bowl or jar. Dip the brushes in the alcohol for a couple of minutes.
Now, check whether the solution starts to show some colors. If it doesn’t, gently dab the brush on the bowl and ensure the alcohol gets to all of the bristles.
Next, use a dry cloth to rub out the remaining colors. Give it a good rinse with fresh water to ensure no isopropyl alcohol remains in the brush. We won’t want the bristles to dry out.
Let it air dry by keeping it under the fan or in a well-ventilated space. Alternatively, if you don’t have isopropyl alcohol by your side, you can opt for ethyl alcohol to get rid of the dry paint.
3. Acetone or Nail Polish Remover
Acetone or nail polish removers work best when it comes to cleaning dried-out acrylic paintbrushes. Start by soaking the dried-up brushes in acetone or nail polish remover in acetone.
Next, dab the brush on the bowl continuously to ensure that the acetone enters all the bristles and loosens the color completely. Next, wipe off the colors with the help of a dry cloth and wash them with fresh water.
Given that acetone is of the drying kind, it is better to follow up the cleaning process with a soapy water solution. When softening with acetone or nail polish removers, you might see some frizzy hairs appearing on the sides. You can use tweezers and get rid of these unwanted bristles.
4. Using Liquid Fabric Softener
For your acrylic paintbrushes to be softened with liquid fabric softener, you need to first scrape off the excess paint. This helps get rid of extra colors from the brush. Just ensure that the scraping force isn’t too much, or it can loosen the bristles and make them fall off.
Now, mix half a cup of fabric softener and mix it in one gallon of water. Fabric softeners generally work well as opposed to liquid dishwashing soap as it helps bring down the overall surface tension amid the solids and liquids. You can also replace the fabric softener with laundry detergent, but the former is preferred.
Next, swirl your brushes in this mixture and keep doing this until the paint starts to dislodge from its bristles. Set your acrylic paint brushes to dry out once you see the colors have fallen in the bucket.
5. Vinegar and Hair Conditioner
In this particular softening process, you need to use white vinegar. Simply start by boiling the white vinegar within your saucepan. The volume of vinegar you need to use can be variable depending on the number of brushes you plan on cleaning.
However, the general rule is to have enough that coats your brushes starting from its tip all the way to the brush’s ferrule section.
Remember that hot vinegar will start evaporating once it reaches the boiling point. So, you might have to add some more to get the process going. Once the vinegar is hot enough, pour it into a glass or any heatproof jar. Place the brushes inside with the bristles dipped into the vinegar.
However, do not let the vinegar go past the ferrule level as it loosens the glue keeping your bristles together.
Let it soak for 20 to 30 minutes and scrape off the remaining paint gently using a comb or plastic brush. Once you feel the colors have loosened, rinse the brushes in a bowl of warm water. Gently massage your brush while they soak in the water. Finally, take a small amount of hair conditioner and gently rub through all the whiskers in your brush.
Next, strap in a plastic bag on the brush and let it sit in a hot water bowl. This allows the conditioner to penetrate your dry acrylic paintbrush bristles in a better way. Let the brushes soak for an hour or so.
Finally, clean it off with fresh water and let it dry.
Step-3: Dry Them Off
Given that your brushes go through so much during the cleaning process, you need to be just as gentle during the drying process. Use a dry cloth to gently dab out the water from the brushes. Allow them to dry out naturally in a well-ventilated room. You can also keep them under direct sunlight to fasten the process.
However, try not to use a blow dryer or any other fast-drying method. Doing this strips off the moisture from the brush and makes them brittle and breakable.
- When opting for the vinegar method, try to do this in a room that is well-ventilated. Heated-up vinegar has a strong smell that might irritate certain individuals or put them off.
- Do not smash your dry acrylic paintbrush too hard with your fingers, as it can damage the bristles and loosen/break them.
- Once you are done using the hair conditioner, let them dry naturally to prevent moisture loss and stiffening.
- Remember, the softening process might not make your brush brand new. Rather, they would become pliable & easy to use.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: How Do You Soften Hard Paint Brushes?
Apart from the tips mentioned above, you can also use warm soapy water solutions to soften hard paintbrushes.
First, saturate your dry acrylic paint brush bristles with this solution & lather it properly.
Next, rinse this with the help of warm water. Follow it up with a fabric softener to eliminate any remaining acrylic paint.
Finally, use a cloth to wipe off the brush and let it dry.
Q: How Do You Fix a Hard Acrylic Brush?
A great way to fix your hard acrylic brush is to opt for the solutions mentioned above. Alternatively, you can soak your hard acrylic brush in warm water.
If the water starts to cool down, keep adding some more warm water to let it soak for a couple of hours. Use your fingers to gently rinse out the colors from the brush until everything comes off.
Q: How Do You Restore Dry Paint Brushes Without Vinegar?
Fabric softeners are a great alternative to the vinegar-based paintbrush bristles softening process. The right way to use fabric softeners has been described above in the article. So, check it out if you prefer using softeners over vinegar.
While these methods are tested out to clean and soften your acrylic paint brushes that have dried out completely, you need to keep in mind that they might not always work out.
The factors that contribute to the hardening process can always vary. Remember that hardened acrylic brush is very difficult to soften, and you should make it a habit to clean brushes as soon as possible, right after painting.
Maintaining your acrylic paint brushes doesn’t come with a shortcut. Always practice caution to ensure they last for years!