A better brush cleaner for oils {YOU can make!}

Hi friends! After painting that rose the other day in oils and sharing what was in my paintboxes I decided that I wanted to do more painting with traditional oils. To do this I needed a proper brush cleaning station. I do not like to be wasteful with solvents because I do not want my hobby to cause harm to the environment (or my pocketbook) and also I do not want my kids or pets to accidentally get into them. That is probably why I have not painted much with traditional oils since my children were born but they are 12 and 10 now and understand studio and workshop safety. Today I am going to show you how I make an oil brush scrubber.


DIY brush cleaner instructions:

  1. Fold up a piece of aluminum screen and shove it in a jar (I used a clean spaghetti sauce jar) and fill with paint thinner or solvent of your choice. Tip: You can save old ripped aluminum screen from windows for this!
  2. To use, first wipe your brush on a paper towel to remove excess paint then swipe your dirty oil paint brush across the screen and the paint will easily knock away and settle at the bottom of the jar. When you are done painting for the day it is a good idea to wash your brushes with soap and water.

After you have used the jar for a while you will have a build up of sludge on the bottom. The screen in the jar will keep the thinner fresh at the top so it can be used for months without needing to be cleaned. When the paint sludge gets too high (you just keep disturbing the sludge when you try and clean the brush) you need to clean it. Here is what you do:

  1. Let the jar of thinner settle so the sludge and the solvent are separate.
  2. Pour off the clean thinner gently, as not to disturb the sludge, into another jar or clean soup can.
  3. Use a pair of pliers to pull the screen out of the first jar and wipe it off. *At this point you could just throw away the jar with the sludge and screen in it (but you can reuse it so that is up to you).
  4. Scoop out the sludge and wipe out the jar. Place the screen and thinner back in and you are ready to paint! Top it off with more fresh thinner if needed.

Disposal of the sludge. I save my jar cleaning until trash day. When I am done douse the cleaning paper towels with water and place them in a soup can in the trash. The goal is to do as little damage as possible. You could also save an old paint can and put your paint sludge in there and save it to take to a hazardous waste center if you prefer. Remember that oily rags plus heat can equal fire so please be careful. With this method most paint will end up on your canvas and not in your trash and that is frugal and better for the earth.

One more thing! I do not use this thinner to thin paint for painting. I would pour a bit of thinner in a palette cup for painting with, that way you can splurge on higher quality thinner for that and not waste it.

Now, this is not the only way to clean brushes. Some artists opt for a solvent free method by wiping their brushes off then cleaning them in cooking oil then washing them in dish soap. I have tried this but found it was not as effective however if you have an allergy or another reason that you cannot use thinner it is a workable solution. Find a method that is right for you and if you have a good method for cleaning oil brushes please let us know in the comments. If solvents just seem like a pain you can always choose water-mixable oils, most oil paint companies have come out with their own and they are pretty good, actually the inexpensive Reeves brand are super soft and buttery and mimic traditional oils very closely so don’t be afraid to give them a try. Thanks for stopping by and til next time happy crafting!


7 Responses

  1. great advice! I shall try to this today! great advice on all your tutorials thanks Lindsay! 🙂 drinking my cup of tea checking art tutorials
    there are a lot on you tube but, I think your one of the best online for art and craft tutorials 🙂


  2. Where’s the least expensive place to purchase Copic refills?


  3. Thanks for sharing.


  4. This is awesome!!! There is a technique and design for the same sort of thing listed in Ralph Mayer’s “The Artist’s Handbook of Materials and Techniques” which I’ve NEVER been able to get my head wrapped around. This is so simple in comparison! I’m going to feel a lot better about the environment when I use this to clean my brushes. Thanks!!!


    • Well, gee, I probably got the idea there many many years ago because I love that book, it is an amazing reference!


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