Once you’re done painting, you need to clean the acrylic paint from your brushes. But figuring out how to clean brushes from acrylic paint can be tricky or dangerous, depending on the paint and your approach.
If you want to clean acrylic paint from your brushes properly, you usually need to:
- Wipe away excess paint and paint solids using a paper towel or rag
- Rinse the brush in a bucket of water
- Use a cleaner to remove the paint
- Rinse again
- Wipe the brush on a paper towel or rag
- Repeat steps 3 through 5 until clean
- Lay the brush on a clean rag or paper towel to dry
However, there can be more to it than that. If you want to make sure you get it right, here’s a look at how to clean brushes from acrylic paint.
- How to Clean Brushes from Acrylic Paint
- Homemade Acrylic Paint Brush Cleaner
- What Is the Best Way to Clean Acrylic Paint Brushes?
- How to Clean Dried Acrylic Paint Brushes
- What Is the Best Brush Cleaner for Acrylic Paint?
- Acrylic Paint Brush Care
- Is Acrylic Paint Hazardous Waste?
- Is It Okay to Pour Acrylic Paint Water Down the Sink?
- Should You Clean Acrylic Paint from Brushes with Bare Hands?
How to Clean Brushes from Acrylic Paint
There are several approaches you can use to remove acrylic paint from brushes. Each one has its benefits and drawbacks. Additionally, the cleaning process can vary a bit depending on the cleaner you’re using.
Here is an overview of the most common approaches for cleaning brushes from acrylic paint.
1. AcetoneFor natural brushes with dried-on acrylic paint, acetone is a solid choice for cleaning your brushes. It works as a paint thinner and can help break down paint that’s dried on the brush.
Before you begin, make sure you’re in a well-ventilated area. Additionally, put on gloves to protect your skin. After that, follow these steps:
- Set the brush inside a jar or small bucket
- Add acetone until it covers the paint-covered bristles
- Allow the brush to soak for a few minutes
- Swirl the brush in the acetone
- Take the brush out of the jar
- Use a paper towel or rag to wipe away the paint
If the paint is still wet, acetone usually isn’t necessary. However, if you want to clean your brushes fast, it might help. After wiping off as much wet paint as possible with a rag or paper towel, let the brush soak in acetone for just a minute or two before giving it a swirl and wiping it down again.
It’s also important to note that acetone is a harsh chemical. It can dry out natural hair brushes or break down synthetic bristles, increasing the likelihood of breakage.
Additionally, it might damage the glue attaching the bristles to the ferrule and handle. As the glue breaks down, the odds the bristles will fall out go up.
2. Rubbing AlcoholRubbing alcohol – also known as isopropyl alcohol – also works as a paint thinner. If you’re dealing with dried-on acrylic paint and are using natural brushes, it’s a practical choice. Additionally, many people already have rubbing alcohol at home, making it convenient.
As with acetone, you want to work in a well-ventilated area and wear gloves. Then, follow this process:
- Place the brush in a jar or small bucket
- Add enough rubbing alcohol to cover the bristles
- Let the brush soak for several minutes
- Give the brush a quick swirl
- Remove the brush from the jar.
- Take a rag or paper towel and wipe down the brush until the paint is gone
In most cases, you don’t need rubbing alcohol to clean wet acrylic paint since the paint is water-soluble. However, you can use the process above if you’d like. Just wipe the brush off with a paper towel or rag first and reduce the soaking time to one or two minutes.
Like acetone, rubbing alcohol can harm bristles and break down the glue. That’s why you want to keep the soaking sessions short, reducing the amount of damage the rubbing alcohol causes.
3. Mineral SpiritsMineral spirits isn’t an ideal option for cleaning acrylic paint from brushes. Mineral spirits are mainly used for non-water-soluble oil-based paint. Acrylic paint isn’t oil-based. Instead, acrylic paints are pigments suspended in a polymer.
While you could try mineral spirits to clean brushes from acrylic paint, you probably won’t get the best result. Try a different option instead.
4. VinegarIf you’re dealing with wet or dry acrylic paint, vinegar is excellent for cleaning brushes. It won’t harm synthetic or natural bristles and is safer to work with than some alternatives.
While working on the brush, you’ll want to wear gloves. However, that isn’t necessary while you’re preparing the vinegar.
Here’s a step-by-step process for cleaning acrylic paint from brushes using vinegar:
- Pick a thermal shock-resistant glass jar for soaking your brush
- Fill the jar not more than two-thirds full with vinegar
- Pour that vinegar into a cooking pot
- Heat the vinegar until boiling
- Remove the vinegar from heat
- Carefully pour the vinegar into the jar
- Place the brushes in the jar
- All the brushes to soak for up to one hour
- Put on gloves
- Give the brush a swirl
- Rinse the brush in a bucket of water
- Wipe down the brush with a rag or paper towel until the paint is removed
Unlike acetone and rubbing alcohol, vinegar isn’t as likely to damage the bristles. In some cases, it can soften natural bristles. If any of your bristles dried in a bent position, the vinegar might make straightening them easier.
5. CombAnother option for dried-on acrylic paint in your brushes is a fine-toothed comb. Here’s how to do it:
- Dip the brush in water to dampen the bristles
- Grip the base of the bristles near where they connect with the ferrule
- Take the comb and gently run in through the bristles, starting at the bristle tips
- Carefully comb the paint out of the bristle tips
- Keep combing, working your way toward the ferrule
With this approach, you can remove larger clumps with a bit of patience. If it doesn’t eliminate all of the paint, it’ll make using one of the above approaches easier.
Homemade Acrylic Paint Brush Cleaner
If you’re cleaning wet acrylic paint from your natural or synthetic brushes, a simple homemade acrylic paint brush cleaner is all you need. You’ll need these two ingredients:
- Liquid dish soap
- Olive oil
Start by putting on gloves. Then, take a plate or paint palette and pour equal parts liquid dish soap and olive oil.
Pick up one of the brushes you need to clean. Evenly and heavily coat both sides of the bristles with the dish soap and olive oil mixture, wiping the brush on the paint palette or dish to ensure the mixture is well combined on the bristles.
After coating the bristles:
- Use a jar or bucket of water to rinse.
- As you do, wipe the brush on a paper towel or rag to keep removing paint before rinsing again.
- Repeat the rinsing and wiping process until all paint is removed.
What Is the Best Way to Clean Acrylic Paint Brushes?
If you’re looking for the best way to clean acrylic paint brushes, the ideal approach varies depending on whether the paint is wet or dry.
For wet acrylic paint, the homemade cleaner above is an excellent choice. Wet acrylic paint is water-soluble, so harsh solvents aren’t necessary. However, the liquid dish soap and olive oil mixture speeds the process up. Plus, this cleaner is gentle on natural and synthetic brushes.
Just make sure you rinse in a bucket or jar of water. That way, acrylic paint residue doesn’t go down your sink.
For dry acrylic paint, start with the combing method above; if there are large chunks of paint, you can remove them. After that, the vinegar method is a solid option for natural and synthetic bristles since it doesn’t involve harsh ingredients.
If you’re dealing with stubborn dried-on acrylic paint, either the rubbing alcohol or acetone methods can do the trick. Additionally, you can try a pre-made brush cleaner designed for acrylic paint.
How to Clean Dried Acrylic Paint Brushes
If you want to clean dried acrylic paint from brushes, a multi-step approach is best. Begin by using the combing method above to remove large paint chunks and separate the bristles as much as possible. That will help any cleaners to reach more of the dried-on paint, speeding up the process.
Next, move on to the vinegar method. Unlike some of the other strategies, vinegar isn’t going to harm your bristles or brush. Plus, it can soften natural bristles, making it easier to shift bent ones back into place.
If the vinegar method doesn’t entirely clean your brush, consider shifting to a brush cleaner designed for dried-on acrylic paint. Specialized cleaners aren’t likely to harm your brushes, making them a better choice than some alternatives.
However, if you don’t have an acrylic brush cleaner, you can use rubbing alcohol or acetone instead. Just keep the soaking sessions short to limit any damage.
What Is the Best Brush Cleaner for Acrylic Paint?
If you want to go with a manufactured brush cleaner for getting acrylic paint out of your brushes, certain products are better bets than others. Here is a look at two of the best brush cleaners for acrylic paint.
Acrylic Paint Brush Care
Acrylic paint brushes require specific kinds of care to keep them in good shape. By using the proper process, you can maintain the quality of your bristles long-term.
Acrylic Paint Brush Care for New Brushes
When you get a new brush, you need to rinse it before use. After manufacturing, producers dip the brushes in a gum arabic to protect them in transit. Here’s how to remove the gum arabic:
- Dip the brush in a jar of water
- Swish it around for a minute
- Remove the brush from the water
- Use your fingers to gently manipulate the bristles
- Put the brush back into the water
- Repeat the swish and gentle manipulation process until the bristles soften
- Squeeze out the excess water
- Position the bristles into their proper place
- Set the brush on a paper towel to dry
Acrylic Paint Brush Care While Painting
Once you’re ready to start painting, you’ll also want to take steps to keep your brushes in good shape. Before you apply any paint to your brush, make sure you have two small containers of water nearby. Additionally, get a paper towel or a rag.
As you apply paint to the brush, keep it on the tips of the bristles only to ensure it isn’t pushed into the ferrule. Paint getting into the ferrule can cause the brush to wear out faster, so it’s best avoided.
Once you’re done with a brush, don’t just switch to a new one. Letting the paint sit on the bristles gives it a chance to dry, making it harder to remove and potentially harming the bristles.
Instead, clean the brush immediately by using this process:
- Wipe excess wet paint onto the paper towel or rag
- Swirl the brush in the first water container
- Gently run the brush along the bottom of the container using the same pressure as you would when painting
- Keep swirling and brushing the bottom to remove as much of the paint as possible
- Run the brush near the top of the container to remove excess water
- Give the brush a final rinse in the second water container
- Wipe the brush on a clean spot on the rag or paper towel
- Place the water on a flat surface to dry
If you need to mix two paints on your palette, using your brush can push the paint into the ferrule, causing your brushes to wear out faster. Instead, use a palette knife.
Acrylic Paint Brush Care When You’re Done Painting
Once you’ve finished your painting session, you’ll want to clean all of the brushes you used again. While the two-container rinse method is reasonably effective, you want to go the extra mile before storing your brushes between sessions.
The exact process you’ll use depends on the cleaner. With liquid cleaners like homemade brush cleanser or Speedball Pink Soap Brush Cleaner:
- Add the cleanser to the bristles
- Swirl the bristles against a clean plate or paint palette to distribute the cleanser
- Rinse the bristles in a fresh container of water
- Wipe the bristles on a clean paper towel or rag
- Reshape the bristles
If paint remains on the bristles, you can dip the brush in the water and swirl it again on the plate or palette. Then, rinse and wipe once more. Continue repeating that dip, swirl, and wipe process until all of the paint is gone.
For large amounts of paint or stubborn paint, go through all four steps two to three times. That way, the cleaner can help remove the bulk of the paint.
Once the brushes are clean, store them carefully. Keeping them upright with the bristles up is a good choice, though you can also store them flat if that isn’t an option.
Acrylic Paint Brush Care for Old Paint Brushes
If you have a paintbrush with bristles that no longer maintain a nice shape or point, giving them a second life might be an option. In some cases, trimming the bristles can restore them to a usable state.
The brush may be stiffer since the bristle ends are closer to the ferrule, so it may not offer the same painting experience. However, once you get used to the change, you may find a purpose for the renewed brush.
Is Acrylic Paint Hazardous Waste?
Acrylic paint may or may not be hazardous waste. While some acrylic paints contain harmful ingredients, others don’t. As a result, you have to review the ingredients carefully to determine whether you should treat your acrylic paint as hazardous waste.
Typically, heavy metals are the most common hazards. While the United States banned lead in paint, acrylic paint from other countries may contain it. Additionally, cadmium, cobalt, and manganese make their way into some paints.
However, there are non-toxic acrylic paints that don’t contain these ingredients. Usually, the products have labels saying they’re non-toxic, but it’s wise to review the ingredients list as a precaution. If no harmful materials are present, treating the paint as hazardous waste isn’t necessary.
Is It Okay to Pour Acrylic Paint Water Down the Sink?
Generally speaking, pouring acrylic paint water down the sink isn’t a good idea. All acrylic paints contain chemicals and solvents that aren’t good for the water supply or local soil. Additionally, if the paint includes heavy metals in the ingredients, they are incredibly harmful to the environment.
Plus, acrylic paint can harm plumbing pipes and sewer lines. While acrylic paint is water-soluble while wet, once it’s dry, it’s water-resistant. As it moves through the pipes, it may not flow through all of the way. Once it dries in the pipe, the buildup may occur. If the buildup is substantial enough, you could find yourself dealing with a nasty clog.
Instead of rinsing the water down the sink, cover the container with a fine-mesh wire cover. Place the container in a well-ventilated area and allow the water to evaporate. Then, gather the dried paint. If it’s non-toxic, put it in the trash. If it’s toxic, bring it to your local hazardous waste facility.
Should You Clean Acrylic Paint from Brushes with Bare Hands?
It’s usually best to avoid cleaning acrylic paint from brushes with bare hands. Acrylic paint can contain toxic ingredients, including heavy metals.
Additionally, some chemicals in toxic and non-toxic acrylic paint are irritants. You may experience skin inflammation or a similar unpleasant reaction after direct skin contact with the paint.
Finally, some people are allergic to ingredients in acrylic paints. Common mild symptoms after skin contact can include hives, swelling, and itchiness. However, a severe allergic reaction can result in breathing trouble, chest tightness, dizziness, and even death.
To avoid potential reactions or limit hazardous ingredient exposure, use gloves to clean acrylic paint from brushes. The gloves work as a barrier, preventing direct skin contact that could cause you harm.
Ultimately, if you’re trying to figure out how to clean brushes from acrylic paint, you have plenty of options. Along with manufactured cleaners, common household items like vinegar, rubbing alcohol, and acetone can work for dried-on paint. Additionally, simple olive oil and liquid dish soap mix is highly effective for wet acrylic paint on brushes.
Just make sure you wear gloves when cleaning acrylic paint from brushes. Additionally, don’t pour the water down the sink. Instead, let the water evaporate, allowing you to gather up the paint and dispose of it properly.