How To Get Dried Acrylic Paint Out Of Brushes

Michael Daly
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What Type Of Bristle Is On Your Brush?

Acrylic paint brushes can come in three types of bristle material.


Synthetic bristle paint brushes are the cheapest, but also the easiest to damage. They can be damaged by heat. Many manufacturers will state that their brushes are heat-safe, but you can’t always trust them.

Always test heat-safe brushes in the most delicate area — the ferrule (the metal casing that attaches the bristles to the handle). This is the most delicate part of the brush, and any damage to it will render the entire brush useless. If the brush stays together after the test, you can rest assured that it will be fine in a hot pot, too.

Use synthetic brushes if you’re using them for decorative painting, or if you are a beginner who doesn’t want to spend too much money on brushes.

Badger and Sable

Badger and Sable are the top of the line bristle material. They sell for double the price of synthetic brushes. Brushes made with Badger or Sable hair are suitable for fine art painting. These brushes are softer and more expensive than synthetic brushes.

Sable brushes have finer bristles, while badger have a thicker, coarser hair. With both of these brushes, the bristle length will vary from brush to brush. They also differ in price, with sable brushes costing more than badger brushes.

Synthetic Bristles

If you bought your brush or paintbrush in the last 30 years, it was probably made with synthetic bristles. Old brushes, no matter what the bristles are made of, may have dried acrylic paint on them.

In these cases you should soak the brush or paintbrush head in warm water for a few hours. You want to soak it until it is soft and easy to clean.

When the brush is soft, gently pull the bristles apart and run the brush under clear water. You should be able to see the paint running off the brush.

Continue to clean the brush until it is completely free form any paint.

Natural Fibers

Certain materials are great for creating paint brushes. This is because they can actually absorb the paint, making them an ideal canvas for applying paint.

However, the materials are not as able to tolerate drying out. If they do, they will remain stiff and brittle. Choosing a material that can withstand more water is the way to go if you want to clean your brushes without damaging them.

Solutions That Have Helped Artists Remove Dried Acrylic From Paint Brushes

The best way to keep your art tools is to use them regularly, so that when you do need to clean them, there’s less buildup to remove.

We asked 2 professional artist and their advice on how to clean dried acrylic paint from paint brushes in order to share with you. As with the majority of their answers, their advice was pretty much the same.

Both artists said first to try removing the dried acrylic from your paint brush by using warm water and washing the brushes in it. After that, you can rinse the brush with a mixture of warm water and soap. This should break down the residue and leave the paint brush looking healthier and ready to use again.

You should put small portions of water and soap into a cup. Add the water and soap mixture to the paint brush and work your way through it.

It is important to constantly change the mixture and add fresh soapy water to the brush after each rinse. Follow up with another rinse with only warm water. Lastly, after cleaning the paint brush you can also clean the jar that the paint brush was used with.

To take care of your brushes, you should not leave them to dry with paint still in the bristles. You should always wait until the paint is dry before you take the brushes out of the jar.


Acetone is a highly flammable and volatile liquid. If you are planning to do this at home, make sure that your work area is well-ventilated.

Take a little bit of acetone and place it in a small glass. If your brush is washable, dip it in the acetone.

Isopropyl Alcohol

If you are in a hurry, or need to do the job in a liquid, you can soak your brushes in isopropyl alcohol.

Fill your sink with the alcohol and let the brushes rest overnight. This should dissolve any dried acrylic paint from the bristles.

You can even use a toothbrush if you want. But remember that tooth brushes are not as durable as paint brushes and you will need to replace the brush every time you use it on paint.

Directions On Using Acetone or Alcohol

The need to clean your brushes can arise just about anytime. Here’s a method you can use from home. The method may vary depending on the kind of paint you’re using. If the paint is in a heavy gel form, you should take special care to perform the following. For large brushes to be cleaned, follow these steps:

A. Cleaning small and medium-sized brushes:

  • Pour the Denatured Alcohol slowly into the bristles and leave for a few minutes.
  • Now, mix a small amount of water and the rest of the Denatured Alcohol and stir thoroughly.
  • Still with the brushes in the mix, pull the bristles vigorously.
  • When you can’t pull any more paint out of them, refill with clean water, soak the bristles with the water and then wash thoroughly.

B. Drying brushes

  • Get the washed brushes and paint out of the water by shaking them vigorously.
  • Before the water drains out of the brushes, shake them once more, to leave the brush dry.
  • Allow them to dry for a couple of hours.
  • Let them dry and then apply the other half to the paint of the bristles of the brush.

Hand Sanitizing Gel

Mix up some hand sanitizing gel (spray hand sanitizer) and dish soap and put it in a squirt bottle. (The foaming kind like the kind they use in restaurants works great.) Paint the paint out of your brush with that.

You can also mix up some hand sanitizing gel and add just a little water to it in a squirt bottle. This way you also get the paint out, but you don’t have to worry about the smell.

Other Tips And Tricks To Remove Acrylic From A Brush Before You Give Up Hope

Pour hot water into the cup. Pour a few tablespoons of baby shampoo into the cup. Set the cup aside. Run the brush into the hot water to loosen the dried paint from the bristles. Test how easily the bristles come off by running a finger across the bristles. If the paint comes off easily, then repeat step 2. You should now be able to run the bristles along a piece of paper to remove the dried paint. Repeat steps 2 and 3 until the dried paint is all gone. Be sure to save your brush cleaning water so you can re-use it. You can also add a few drops of dish soap to the water to make it easier to remove some of the paint residue. If your brush cleaner water is too dirty, add some more hot water.

Old Comb For Physical Removal

This method works best if you have dried acrylic paint on one or two brushes. Mix a small amount of dish soap with water and stir. You'll need about 5 drops of dish soap and about half a cup of water.

Dip the brush in the water/soap mixture and use an old comb to scrub the brushes gently. If you have a large section of dried paint on the brush, be sure to get the comb partially submerged in the paint so you can really scrub at the paint. If you don't have an old comb, you can use a sponge or a section of a paint brush to help remove the paint.

Once the paint is cleaned off the brush, rinse in clean water until it runs clear.

This method can be a little tough on your brushes, especially if they have already started to breakdown. If the brushes are on their way out anyway, this might be a great way to get a final use of them.

Giving Your Brush A Haircut

One way to clean brushes is to give them a haircut.

Take the brush you want to clean, unscrew the bristles and then use the scissors to cut them down to only about a quarter of an inch.

Then, wash the brush as usual and then sit back and enjoy your clean brush.

Have An Honest Debrief With Yourself

One of the first things you need to recognize in order to begin painting is that you are responsible for your emotions. You are no longer a helpless victim dependent on someone or something else for happiness in life, and you can no longer blame the past on your present mood.

That’s because everything that’s happened up until this point is part of your past; it’s the reason you are who you are today. And you need to embrace that one-hundred percent; everything that has happened to you has been part of your journey to where you are today.

So now the bad news. You are responsible not only for your present experiences but also for your future experiences!

And you can’t blame the biology or chemistry either! You are totally responsible for what experiences will be created in your future. Now that’s a powerful realization.

Always Have Water Handy

The best solvent for removing paint from brushes is water. Acetone, turpentine, and sometimes commercial paint removers can be used, but water is probably the quickest and least damaging of the commercial solvents. Always use water first and use commercial solvents only after water has failed.

Keep Yourself On A Schedule

As a graphic designer, I have limited time every day to work on my business. The whole process starts with the conditioning of the mind; reminders and methods of staying on track must be programmed into the subconscious before the beginning of work.

Using a dedicated day planner is the most efficient and targeted way to get some things done every morning. Once you’ve decided what needs to be done, set a dedicated time period for each task. The 12-hour periods specify the time of the day for working purposes.

The 8-hour periods designate the time of the day to do something that is unrelated to work, but equally important. During this time, you can clean up the office, do your laundry or go for a yoga class.

There is no guilt attached to taking a break or vacation after the third hour of work. If you are someone who works best in the morning, you may want to allocate the first hours of the day for work, the middle ones for socializing and the rest of the day for physical exercise.

Examining Your Washing Habits

Paint brushes are the single most expensive thing you need to purchase for acrylic painting. It is very important to invest in a good set of brushes and it is even more important to take care of them well.

A common mistake that most beginners make is not washing their brushes immediately after use. The very first rule in painting is “clean as you go.” So as soon as you are done using the brush, clean it and store it in a dry place.

Even if you are not finished with the painting you can clean the brush immediately. With your brush cleaner at hand you can immediately remove the paint from the brush.

If you forget to clean your brush and let the paint dry in it, you will have to use a solvent or solvent-based cleaner to loosen the dried paint from the brush. This may dissolve the glue or wood and you may lose your natural hair brush.

Closing Thoughts On Brush Preservation And Cleaning

I have a great interest in fine paintings, and I like to think that I have some knowledge of how the old masters went about things. This article section titled "Brushes" really interested me. So I decided to share some of the great advice given by experienced brush artists.

I learned some good techniques that I need to try the next time I am faced with a load of old brushes filled with dried-up paint. The whole idea of stretching and resting the brushes is really interesting, and I have started to think like a true artist and how I can keep my brushes in top shape for a long time.

I will never throw out a brush I can use. Now my problem is going to be that I own more brushes than models I can paint! This article is almost a treatise on the importance of keeping your brushes healthy and happy!

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