How to Get Varnish Out of a Paint Brush

Cleaning out a brush properly after it has been used for a varnish application will guarantee it will be ready for another varnishing project. A varnish brush that is left out to dry will become a useless solid block of stiff, glued together bristles. It does not have to be tossed into the trash can, since most brush cleaners on the market today are strong enough to dissolve dry varnish when applying these special cleaning instructions.

Things You'll Need

  • Two metal coffee cans

  • Two wide-mouth glass jars

  • Clean rags or paper towels

  • Plastic wrap

  • String

  • Brush cleaner

  • Rubber gloves

  • Eye protective goggles

Cleaning Out a Brush While the Varnish is Still Wet

Step 1

Press the brush up against the original varnish can or the container used when spreading varnish. Scrape both sides using medium pressure to squeeze out as much varnish as possible.

Step 2

Wipe the brush on an old board or clean slab of concrete as you would if you were using the varnish to finish a project. This will further remove excess varnish in the brush.

Step 3

Pour paint remover into a clean can or small bucket. Using gloves, swirl the brush in the bucket, and then work the liquid through the bristles with your fingers.

Step 4

Do a final rinse in a can of clean paint remover. Take the brush outside and snap the brush up and down in the air several times. This motion will force out the most of the cleaner clinging to the bristles.

Step 5

Lay the brush flat on clean rags or a thick layer of paper towels to dry. You can also hang the brush from the handle on a nail in the wall or on a peg board.

Cleaning Out a Brush When The Varnish Has Dried

Step 1

Pour commercial brush cleaner in wide-mouth jar high and wide enough to easily fit brush into.

Step 2

Suspend the brush into the cleaner just up to the ferrule, the metal part securing the bristles. The brush needs to hang freely by a string attached through the hole in the brush handle and tied to some form of suspension pole; positioned directly above the jar.

Step 3

Wrap a layer of plastic wrap around the top of the jar and hanging brush to seal in the fumes in the jar and around the brush handle.

Step 4

Leave brush hanging in brush cleaner for two days, then remove brush from its hanging position.

Step 5

Fill another wide mouthed jar with freshly poured paint brush cleaner. Swirl the brush bristles in this jar to remove remaining varnish residue. Lay flat on clean rags or paper towels to dry.


Depending on the quality of the brush, though dried varnish may be removed, the bristles may be too damaged to spread a smooth layer of finish on another project. It is best to use this brush to spread paint or stain on rougher surfaces such as a deck or patio furniture.

References & Resources