How to Clean Old Paintbrushes

Washing a paintbrush with plain water right after you use it removes most paint. But if there's stubborn paint still stuck to the bristles or you forgot to wash the brush and the paint has dried on, give one or more soaking methods a try to get it clean. Properly cleaning a brush can remove old paint and renew the bristles for easier, more accurate strokes on your next painting project. The solution you should use depends on what kind of paint is on the brushes.

Renew your old paintbrushes instead of buying new ones. (Image: Purestock/Purestock/Getty Images)

Traditional Solution: Paint Thinner

If there's stubborn paint clinging to your brushes after you rinse them with water, paint thinner can help remove most types of acrylic, latex and oil paint. But because it is a harsh substance, you'll need proper safety gear.


  • Rubber gloves and eye protection
  • Paint thinner
  • Funnel
  • Plastic container large enough to dip your brushes
  • Wire brush
  • Water
  • Container to dispose of used paint thinner


  • Wear gloves and safety glasses.
  • Pour a small amount of paint thinner into the plastic container.
  • Dip the paintbrush in the thinner and bend the bristles back and forth so that the thinner penetrates the bristles.
  • Gently run the wire brush through the bristles to remove any remaining paint.
  • Rinse the brush with water and allow it to dry.
  • Using the funnel, carefully pour the used paint thinner into the disposal container.
  • Dispose of used thinner as instructed on the can of paint thinner.

DIY Solution: Liquid Fabric Softener

Liquid fabric softener lowers the surface tension between liquids and solids, which means it helps water dissolve paint more easily. It will remove most acrylic or latex paints, and you don't need to take extra safety precautions. As a bonus, it leaves the bristles on your brushes soft and smooth.


  • Large bowl
  • 1/4 cup liquid fabric softener
  • 8 cups of warm water
  • Paper towels


  • Gently remove as much paint as possible with the paper towels.
  • In a large bowl, mix warm water and fabric softener.
  • Swirl the paintbrush in the mixture until paint comes off and settles at the bottom.
  • Rinse the brushes in warm water and allow to dry.

Natural Solution: White Vinegar

Hot white vinegar quickly eats through caked on latex or acrylic paint and helps soften the bristles on your brush.


  • Medium-sized old pot
  • White vinegar -- enough to submerge the bristles of your brushes
  • Mild soap
  • Water


  • Pour enough white vinegar in an old pot to cover the bristles of your paintbrushes.
  • Bring the vinegar to a boil over medium high heat.
  • Remove the pot from heat and submerge the bristles of your paintbrushes in the hot vinegar. Do not submerge wooden handles.
  • Allow the brushes to soak for up to 30 minutes.
  • Remove the brushes from vinegar and wash them with mild soap and warm water.
  • Rinse and let dry.

Don't Use Nail Polish Remover

Nail polish remover may seem like a good idea for removing paint. It removes nail polish, after all. But depending on the type of paintbrush, the acetone can also weaken the glue that holds your bristles in place, causing them to fall out and leaving you with a bald brush. Try the other solutions for best results.

References & Resources