Thursday, September 1, 2016

Cleaning brushes

About ten years ago I threw out terpentine and all terpentine based media. I hated the smell and I didn't need the health hazards. All I had to do was find a solution for the problem of cleaning my brushes. My wife came up with a brilliant and simple plan: why not clean them with oil, the kind you see in any household?

Like I said, brilliant plan, but there was a second problem. When you clean your brushes with household oil, they'll be, how do I say, kinda oily and not fit for painting use. She then thought of yet another plan (she's really smart), which was to remove the oil by washing the brushes with shampoo, if possible with conditioner.

The combination of oil and shampoo works miracles. My brushes are softer than ever and they don't wear out as fast as they used to. I have a number of water color brushes for example that I bought a few years ago and they're still in great shape. If I cleaned them with turpentine, they'd be in the trash for a long time.

Another advantage of this method is the re-use of the oil. I pour the used oil in an old bottle and let it rest for a few weeks. The pigment slowly sinks to the bottom, leaving a relatively clear oil, that I can use again. And again. I can go for months with just a bottle. Good for the environment too. It doesn't matter which oil or shampoo you use. I always buy mine from the bottom shelf in our local supermarket.

The only downside is I need a lot of brushes, because I can't clean them while I'm working. At least not like I used to with turpentine. I use a painting cloth and tissues to squeeze out the paint, but it usually doesn't take long before I have to take a fresh brush.

If you got to the end of this article, you really must be a painting aficionado. Thanks for bearing with me. Next time I'll talk about something really deep...

North Sea Beach, oil on panel, 85 x 150 cm


  1. Brilliant as usual dear Janhendrik. Good luck

  2. Dear janhendrik
    I've been looking at your work for some months now and I purchased one of your videos which I found very helpful. Thank you. I recently purchased some new brushes and have been researching the best way to clean them as I too am fed up with turpentine and am positive it cannot be good for me or my brushes. I considered emailing you to see how you clean yours and this morning I looked at your blog and what do I see! 'Cleaning brushes'. How cool! I have tried using baby oil but find it very heavy. I will try vegetable oil and see how that goes. Like the idea of the shampoo as well. It makes sense. I admit I resorted to using odourless turps on my badger hair brush yesterday. It can't be good. Brushes are so expensive. I want to take care of them. I absolutely adore your work and I hope to see it in the flesh someday!
    All the best

    1. What a coincidence! Cleaning brushes is not a very glamorous subject, but if you paint every day like I do, it's pretty important. Good to hear, BTW, that my video was helpful!

  3. Another great tip! :)

    I don't like turpentine as well. I've been using just OMS to clean but the brushes do feel a bit dry.. Oil and conditioner sounds logical.. . Just like it works on the human hair to keep it soft!

    I do have a request to add. Hope you will consider doing a short video or write about mixing different blues for realistic sky color similar to the mixing Grays video you did.

  4. Good to hear the cleaning brushes tip is useful! I'll think about your request to make a clip on mixing blues. Great idea! I already got an idea for the background music: the Mixing Blues.

  5. I found a way to clean brushes without using solvents. I use original Dawn dishwashing liquid. It cuts through grease and oil and it has been used to clean birds that have been covered with oil in oil spills. I also use two non solvent mediums by Gamblin, one is a gel and the other is an oil. Occasionally, I used Gamsol while painting the underpainting to keep that layer thin.

  6. hi Janhendrik, In the states we have an oil floor cleaner (actually multi cleaner) called Murphys Oil Soap. Its the most incredible brush cleaner ever, no kidding it will even clean old dried oil brushes if you soak them over night or longer. Rosemarrys brushes uses it and you must give it a try my friend. You don’t need soap afterwords just wash until the color stops comping out and oley a clean and conditioned brush softer than new... Hope you try it! Let me know if you do!

  7. Hi Randy, thanks for the tip. Sounds great! I don't know if Murphys Oil Soap is available in Europe, but I'll certainly find out!