| How to Get Dried and Hardened Paint Out of Your Treasured Brushes |

Assuming you take excellent care of your brushes – wiping them carefully, washing them in warm soapy water after each use, it’s still common for paint residue to build up around the ferrule* over time. I find many beginning acrylic painters rinse their brushes in water without using soap. The paint comes out but the clear acrylic polymer stays in the brush so they look clean but the bristles dry stiff and the brush is unusable.

I used to think when oil or acrylic paint dried in a brush and it became hardened that it was a lost cause. I tried lots of things – soaking them overnight in soap or solvent, depending on whether the paint was oil or acrylc. I experimented with all kinds of specialized brush cleaning products such as Kiss-Off, the Masters, EZ-Air cleaner with limited success. The bristles were still stiff and some of the paint would come out but not all of it. I also tried to get dried acrylic out with the soaps many artists recommended such as Fels-Naptha, Murphy’s Oil Soap without success. Once a brush became hardened, I had to throw it out.

It wasn’t until Winsor and Newton came out with their Brush Cleaner and Restorer that I found the perfect solution for reviving old brushes. What I really love about it is that it is environmentally friendly as it is both non-toxic and biodegradable. (But remember the paint and pigments you remove from the brush might not be, so once it is used, please dispose of it in your local Household Hazardous Waste facility.) I reuse the brush cleaner over and over by allowing it to stand in a clear glass jar. The pigment particles settle to the bottom of the jar and the liquid at the top can be poured off and reused for the next cleaning.

Here is the MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheet) for Winsor & Newton’s Brush Cleaner and Restorer.

* Watch the video to find out what a ferrule is!

Responses to “How to Get Dried and Hardened Paint Out of Your Treasured Brushes”

  1. Joan Humphreys

    Michele, thanks for the valuable tips re brush cleaning, it’s nice to know some of my brushes can be salvaged after all.

  2. Christine Smith

    Hi Michele,
    Thank you for sharing a great find. Very informative video and love the fact that you have found a product that is kind to our environment. One question though, what are the thingamabobs that are glued onto the skin in hospitals? Yeesh! I was worried about Canadian health care but now…not so much! 🙂

    Have a great evening,

  3. Cecilia Power


    I am not a painter though I have dabbled a little. I have thoughts about getting a few supplies together and trying a bit more dabbling. So I enjoyed and appreciated the advise in this nice “how to”.

    I paint with fibers and knots(macrame)and have had this for my main artistic outlet for 41 years. Within the last 2 years I have been learning and planning to make at least a partial living with my work.
    That is why I started my blog, and I would appreciate you having a look and if you have any tips on an avenue for me to try, I would appreaciate any feedback. I know you must be a busy person, so any input however small.

    Thank you,

  4. Ronnie

    Thanks for the great tip on cleaning the brushes!!

  5. Leilani Mendenhall


    Thank-you so much for sharing your tips on brush cleaning! I just started teaching a high school acrylic painting class, and we will be watching your video and using the Windsor & Newton Brush Cleaner and Restorer today. With a tight school budget, we need this product. Your willingness to share your experience is simply wonderful!


  6. kim Meredith

    Michelle…I loved your oh so appropriate title! Yes,the dead is where these brushes were! I just cleaned brushes for four hours,(,not at same time) all using variety of harsh removers. Nail polish remover and goo be gone are nasty! I am so happy to have found you!!! I will now have high school kids with clean brushes!
    Thanks for sharing your knowledge! I also do faux finishing and furniture restoration,so any tips
    are more than greatly appreciated!!

    Happy painting!

    • admin

      Yay! Kim! So glad you found this post, too. Good luck with bringing all your brushes back to life!

  7. Susan G.

    The product that you mentioned is excellent but is essentially ethanol (grain alcohol). I use 100% ethanol from a science supply store. Denatured alcohol has additives such as other alcohols to make it undrinkable but it will also work on most bristle types. If you have a lot of brushes to recover, I would pick up a can of ethanol from a hardware store. It’s easier on the budget.

    • admin

      Thanks so much, Susan for sharing your tip. I was curious because I’ve used brush cleaner and restorer regularly for about 5 years now and it is clear and has a very slightly oily feel to it – nothing like alcohol – so I looked it up. It is less than 1/10 of 1 percent ethanol. I have attached the MSDS sheet to this page so you can read more about this product. I also spoke to a chemist friend because I would never soak my brushes in alcohol to clean them – it would definitely strip the natural oils out of them. He confirmed this when he wrote to me: “Ethanol in solutions greater than about 3 or 4% can damage synthetic hair, WILL strip the natural oils out of sable and bristle brushes, and WILL dissolve many of the glues used in construction. The ethanol is in the brush cleaner and restorer just to disperse the other ingredients, not as a cleaner.” The other difference between this product and ethanol is that the Winsor brush cleaner is non-toxic, biodegradable, nonflammable, non-abrasive, low vapor product that safely and easily cleans both natural and synthetic brushes without damage to the brush head.

      • admin

        Another thing to note is that I have used the same bottle of this stuff for years. It is very economical because as I wrote and showed in the video I just let the paint residue settle to the bottom, pour off the clear liquid at the top and keep reusing the liquid. So one bottle can last you a long time.

  8. Nancy Hough

    I was so glad to find your answer to my question. My cousin didn’t get brushes cleaned out, they got hard. I do not want to loose them. thankyou

  9. Ann

    I’ll give this a try, thank you for sharing your experience. It is safe for both synthetic and natural brushes, if I understand correctly?


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