One of the most annoying parts about working with oil paints is cleaning your brushes. You can spend an hour painting and then have to spend another hour cleaning your oil painting brushes.

Using a paint thinner is a common solution for many woodworkers. But thinners will dissolve the bristles and make your precious paintbrush lose shape.

This post will show you how to clean oil paint brushes without paint thinners. These are natural yet effective methods, so you don’t have to worry about ruining your brush.

How to Clean Oil Paint Brushes Without Paint Thinner

Dip the used oil paintbrush in a jar containing linseed oil, baby oil, or oil soap and swish it around for about 20 to 30 seconds. Next, wipe the oil-soaked paintbrush onto a clean paper towel to remove the pigment. Next, dip it back into the oil or oil soap and swish it around again before wiping it onto another clean paper towel. Repeat this process until the pigment is gone, then wash the brush with soap and running water and hang it to dry. 

How to Clean Oil Paint Brushes Between Colors 

If you are painting with different colors, you will need to clean the brush before completing your project.

You may not have to be thorough with cleaning brushes at this stage, but you must remove all traces of the paint to avoid transferring it to the next color. 

Swish the brush in a jar or bowl of linseed oil or other drying oil such as walnut, safflower, poppy, or olive oil. 

The oil you use to clean your brush here will undoubtedly get into the painting as you continue with the work. So you do not want to use anything that will stay wet and delay the drying process. 

If you opt for walnut, safflower oil, or poppy oil to clean your precious paintbrushes between colors, check the label to ensure they do not contain Tocopherols or Vitamin E. These ingredients could slow down the drying process.

In any case, here is the procedure you need to follow for the best results. But first, note the list of things you will need. 

What you will need 

  • A drying oil (linseed, walnut, safflower, or poppy oil).
  • Paper towels
  • Hand gloves 

Steps to follow 

Since your paint job is still in progress at this point, you want to clean the brush as quickly as possible. Here are the simplified steps to make the process quick and easy. 

Related: How to Clean Oil Polyurethane Brush

Step 1: Remove the excess paint from the used brush

Before starting painting, always make sure you assemble all the supplies you need to clean the brush. These supplies should include a couple of clean paper towels, a bowl or jar of linseed oil, and hand gloves. 

By the time you start painting, you should have your hand gloves on. You don’t want the paint to soil your hands and mess up your skin. 

So, start by removing as much paint as you can from the brush. Then, wipe the dirty oil paintbrush on a paper towel rather than traditional printer paper.

You can also use an old rag or soft cloth that you do not mind discarding after using for this purpose.  

Removing the excess oil paint during this step will reduce the amount of paint you must clean with oil, making it more manageable.

Step 2. Swish the paint brush around the oil in a bowl or jar

After getting rid of the bulk of the loose paint from your brush, it is time to deep clean the bristles without spending too much time doing it.

Next, swish the paint-covered brush in the oil, ensuring the bristles are completely submerged. The oil will effectively surround the paint particles and flush them out of the bristles.

Wipe the oil-soaked brush onto a rough paper towel to remove the paint. You may want to wipe it back and forth on the towel, working the oil around the bristles to release the color.

Or, squeeze the bristles in one direction from the ferrule to the tip to draw out the lingering paint residue.

Dip the brush back in the oil and wipe onto a clean part of a rag or fresh paper towel as you did the first time.

You will have to repeat this process a few times more before the bristles are clean enough to use with a new color. 

Step 3: Dry it out with a paper towel. 

Once you are done removing all the color, dry the brush to continue using it. Squeeze the oil residue out of the bristles with a fresh paper towel and wipe them dry from the ferrule to the tip. 

After this final step, your oil paintbrush should be ready to continue working with whichever paint you want to apply next. 

Read: How to Make Oil Paint Dry Faster 

Cleaning Oil-based Paint Brushes at the end of a Painting Session 

At the end of a painting session, your oil paintbrush needs thorough cleaning to remove all traces of the paint and any residue that may be trapped in the bristles. 

This is the part where you can use non-drying oils like canola, vegetable, and mineral oil for cleaning your oil painting brushes because they will have enough time to dry before their subsequent use. 

Also, it is essential to wash the brush thoroughly with soap and water after removing the paint with oil. At this point, you want to be a little more thorough than when cleaning brushes between colors. 

Because time does not restrict you at the end of the painting session, there are several methods you can use to clean brushes. 

The Baby Oil Method

Baby oil is composed of highly purified mineral oils, Vaseline, and liquid paraffin. All these ingredients have undergone rigorous testing and have proven safe and beneficial to use.

Oil paint has oil in it. And since oil base naturally repels water, you cannot just rinse oil paintbrushes with water and get them clean that way.

On the other hand, baby oil (or any other oil we have suggested in this guide) has an oil base that will dissolve the oil-based paints in your brush.

So, you first need to soak the paintbrush in oil to dissolve the paint and flood out its particles. The oil will do the most work; then, wash the remaining paint residue with soap and water for the best results. 

What you will need 

  • A couple of paper towels or rag 
  • Mineral-based baby oil
  • Hand gloves 
  • Running water faucet 
  • Liquid dish soap 

The procedure to follow in completing this task 

Start by assembling all the items you need for this exercise. Then wear your hand gloves. Even though baby oil is eco-friendly and highly safe to use, the paint coming out of the used oil brush can stain your hands.

So you want to wear gloves to prevent that staining from happening. 

Step 1: Remove the excess paint from the bristles 

The first thing to do is get rid of as much paint as possible from the dirty oil paintbrush. Next, wipe the bristles on a clean paper towel or rag and squeeze out the paint from the ferrule to the tip of the bristles.

Step 2: Dip the brush into a bowl or jar of baby oil

Ensure the bristles are entirely submerged in the oil. The idea is to cover every bristle with the oil to repel the pint particles. 

You do not have to swish the dirty brush in the oil in this step to avoid leaving paint residue in the oil. Instead, wipe the oil-soaked brush onto a clean piece of paper towel or rag to remove the paint.

Step 3: Work the oil into the bristles with your fingers and paper towel  

Use your fingers to work the baby oil into the bristles to push out the paint. Be gentle and careful while working the oil into the bristles to avoid the risk of damaging them. 

After wiping, dip the brush back into the baby oil and repeat the process. You may repeat this process three or more times until the paint is gone. 

Step 4: Clean the brush with dish soap and running water  

The final step in this cleaning process is to wash the brush with soap and water. 

Lather the bristles with liquid dish soap and massage them with your fingers under a running water faucet to wash out any remaining oil and color. 

If the lather is gone and there is still some color or oil residue on the bristles, apply more soap and repeat the process until the brush is clean and the water runs clear. 

Step 5: Dry the bristles with a paper towel 

You do not have to sit around and wait for the brush to dry before you can store it away. Instead, after cleaning it, consider wiping it dry with a clean, dry paper towel to suck up the water. Then, leave the brushes overnight to dry. 

Also, consider shaping the bristles before storing them away if they lose their shape during the cleaning process.  

The Pink Soap Method 

You do not always have to use oil to clean your oil-based paintbrushes; you can also use suitable oil soap or pink soap explicitly designed for cleaning oil brushes. 

While the oil in oil paint repels water, the soap will help remove paint particles from the bristles and allow water to wash them away.  

What you will need 

  • A bowl 
  • Pink soap (or murphy oil soap)
  • A running water faucet 
  • Clean paper towels 

Steps to follow 

Here is the procedure to follow for the best cleaning results

Step 1: Remove the excess paint by wiping it on a clean paper towel

Whenever you clean oil-based paintbrushes, the first thing to do is remove as much of the paint as you can by wiping it on a rag or clean paper towel. This will reduce the amount of paint you must remove using a suitable cleaning agent.

Step 2: Soak the brush in a bowl of pink soap for three to five minutes 

Start by pouring a reasonable amount of pink soap into a bowl. You need enough soap to cover the entire bristles part of the oil paintbrush.  

Step 3: Wash the bristles under a running water faucet. 

After soaking the brush in pink soap for three to five minutes, wash it under running water. Massage the bristles while washing to get the paint and lather out into the drain. 

You may have to dip the brush back into the soap once or twice more and repeat the washing before it is spotless. 

Alternatively, you can swirl the brush in the soap gently to loosen the paint before rinsing with running water if you do not wish to soak it.  

The brush is clean when the water you use to rinse it runs clear. 

Step 4: Dry the brush with a clean paper towel 

When the brush is clean, you can either leave it out to dry or accelerate the process with a paper towel. We recommend wiping it with a clean paper towel that sucks up the water and leaves the paintbrush clean and ready to store away.

What Does a Paint Thinner Do?

Paint thinners are often used when removing oil-based paint or stain from brushes for one main reason: they dissolve the binding agent in the oil paint by breaking the bonds holding it together. 

Notice that oil paints are composed of pigments responsible for the color and oil, such as linseed oil as the carrier. 

Water alone cannot wash out the oil paint from the brushes because the oil in these paints is naturally water repellent.

Therefore, an oil paint thinner is essential in helping separate the pigments from the oil carrier and make it possible for water to wash them out of the bristles.

Why Do We Advise Against Using Paint Thinner?

Some oil paint thinners, such as turpentine, have a strong unpleasant smell. So, knowing how to clean oil paint brushes without paint thinner can save you from having to put up with such odors. 

Some people are also concerned with inhaling toxins from thinners, such as odorless mineral spirits when cleaning oil brushes.

While mineral spirits may not be as harsh as turpentine, both categories of thinners are made of chemicals that can be dangerous to your skin and heart health. 

If you paint frequently and use hazardous paint thinners to clean your oil brushes, you may end up being exposed to these chemicals for prolonged periods. Such continued exposure to harsh chemicals can be detrimental to your health.

Read more: Mineral spirits vs paint thinner.

Brush Cleaning Tips

Here are some added brush cleaning tips to simplify your work even further. 

Use multiple oil containers when cleaning your oil paint brushes 

The oil you use for cleaning oil paint brushes gets dirty eventually from the paint residue. Usually, the pigments will settle to the bottom of the container, but this can take some time.

If you are cleaning our brushes between colors, you will not have the time to wait. The good idea is to have several oil containers where you first dip the brush in the dirtiest oil and rise in the cleaner oil jar to move faster. 

Always swish thoroughly but gently to avoid damaging the bristles

The secret to removing all unwanted color from oil paint brushes is to swish thoroughly but gently to avoid damaging the bristles or breaking your oil jar. You can also bounce the brush against the bottom of the oil container to force out more of the paint. 

Buy and use Silicoil cleaning tank instead of linseed or baby oil jar

Silicoil is a quick and easy alternative to any oil for cleaning oil paintbrushes. While oil should get the job done with at least three attempts, a Silicoil brush cleaning tank tends to work much faster. 

In either case, the procedure is the same. But, again, you need to gently work the brush back and forth to force the paint out of the bristles into the oil.

The only difference is that the bristles will be rubbing against a coil in the case of Silicoil, which is pretty effective.

Related post: How to clean chalk paint brush?


Can you use linseed oil to clean oil paintbrushes?

Yes, Linseed oil is one of the best ways to clean oil paint brushes, especially between colors. It is a drying oil that will not slow down your painted surface’s drying process. While at it, ensure you dispose of the used linseed oil properly. The oil is combustible and can cause a fire hazard. 

Related read: How to get rid of Linseed rags safely.

How do you revive old paintbrushes? 

You can revive old paintbrushes using white vinegar. Pour the vinegar into a saucepan till it is enough to cover the bristles, and drop in the timeworn brushes. Let it soak for an hour, then put the saucepan on a fire stove. Turn up the heat and let the brushes simmer in the vinegar. The heated vinegar will help moisturize and restore your worn paintbrushes to their original condition. After simmering for a few minutes, rinse the restored brushes under running water and dry them. 

Can you use vegetable oil to clean paint brushes?

Yes, you can use non-drying oils such as vegetable oil, mineral oil, or flaxseed oil to clean your used paintbrushes at the end of a painting session. The oil will help dissolve the paint, dislodge it from the brush bristles, and make it easy to wash with dish soap and water. 

How do you clean oil-based paint off brushes?

To clean oil-based paint off synthetic brushes, fill a container with paint thinner to the halfway point or enough to submerge the brush bristles into the ferrule. Then, dip the used oil paintbrush in the thinner and swish it around for 30 seconds.  Rub a paintbrush comb through the bush to remove the paint, then swish it once again in another container filled with fresh paint thinner. Once done, wash the brush by gently moving it back and forth in a jar containing a mixture of warm water and liquid dish soap; then hang it to dry. 

How do you clean oil brushes without solvents?

When cleaning oil brushes, start by filling a container with oil soap, linseed oil, baby oil, or flaxseed oil to the halfway mark or enough to submerge the bristles. Dip the used oil paintbrush in the container and swish it around for about 20 to 30 seconds. Wipe the oil-soaked paintbrush onto a clean paper towel to remove the pigment, then swish it once again in the oil or oil soap. Once all the pigment is gone, wash the brush with soap and running water, then hang it to dry.

What can I use instead of paint thinner?

You can use standard household products such as odorless mineral spirits and acetone to thin oil-based paint instead of harsh, chemical-laden thinners like turpentine. You can buy mineral spirits or acetone at a home center or your local hardware store.  

Read Also: Best Brush for Painting Trim


So, I hope you’ve learned how to clean oil paint brushes without paint thinner? Cleaning your oil paint brushes without paint thinner is straightforward.

But this alternative can go a long way in extending the lifespan of your precious paintbrushes while keeping you safe from harmful chemicals.

We hope you enjoyed this tutorial and that it helps you learn how to preserve your paintbrushes better. And in case you fail to salvage it, you can check our review of the Best Brush for Oil-Based Paint.

Please share any thoughts or comments in the section below.

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