Does anyone out there actually like cleaning their finishing brushes? Because I hate it, no matter what finish I used. While the water-based paints aren’t too bad to work with, the oil-based ones that include both stains and paints are the absolute worst. Not to mention it’s a huge mess. This has led to me avoiding brushes as much as possible when I’m finishing.
But of course there are those times when a brush is necessary. Brushes are useful for projects that use a lot of molding and thus create many cracks and crevices that must be filled. Since the bristles bend and flex, they just get in there better.
First, make sure that any and all brushes you use are completely clean. If you used the brush before on another project, any residue left behind can totally mess up your current project. This is especially true if you use oil-based finishes.
Have a dry oil-based finish? The moment it’s on the brush, it will release more oil and get wet again. Anything it now touches will get this oil-based finish on it. Suffice to say, whenever you are done with a finishing project you should clean your brushes right away.
So it’s no surprise that many people (such as myself) put this off as much as possible. That’s why we’re going to start this process assuming that you’ve left some finish to dry on the brush from your last project. The first thing you can try is soap.
You don’t need to use an expensive brand. Just cake soaps like Ivory or Dial. I’ve heard good things about Lava, but I would be careful because that soap has particles in it that could be abrasive against your brushes. This means some of your bristles might come off during the cleaning process. Or they could be damaged. That’s why I say just use regular hand soap. Here’s how you do it:
Lather up the bristles very well until they are nice and foamy. Let them sit somewhere for a few hours and then rinse them. Make sure that the water you use to rinse them is warm, and lather up the soap again.
Keep this up every couple of hours, as each time you do it more of the oil will come out. I have heard some crazy tales form artists and woodworkers who have let their brushes sit with gunk for over thirty years, and this process still worked to clean them up!
While I don’t have that kind of experience, I can say that this process works for me. Once you are finished washing them, hang them upside down to dry overnight. This way your bristles won’t fold and damaging your brush. If this doesn’t work, you may to use a stronger chemical. Turpentine, paint thinner, or mineral spirits are all good suggestions.
Soak the brushes in one of these solvents over night. Then go back to soap and warm water. If this still doesn’t work you should just throw the brush away, because anything stronger will destroy them anyway.
I have heard of many other solvents being used, such as and even laundry detergent, but I think it’s best to use something not as strong. You can always increase the strength if it doesn’t work out the way you want it to the first time. Otherwise you’re just setting yourself up for possible failure since these brushes can be very valuable and difficult to replace in a timely manner. However, it’s up to you.