How to clean paintbrushes that have hardened

Written by catherine lovering
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How to clean paintbrushes that have hardened
Keep your brushes clean and reusable with proper cleaning. (Comstock/Comstock/Getty Images)

To keep paintbrushes in top form, they should be cleaned immediately after use. But paintbrushes left unclean and dried still can be restored to usable condition. Take the time to recall what kind of paint was last used so you will be able to choose the best method to soften the bristles; latex paint is water-based and easier to clean than oil paint, which is much more stubborn to remove.

Skill level:
Moderately Challenging

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Things you need

  • Large glass jar or metal pail
  • Dish soap
  • Warm water
  • Coat hanger
  • Disposable latex gloves
  • Wire paint comb
  • Drop cloths or newspaper
  • Paint smock
  • Goggles
  • 3 metal containers
  • Paint thinner
  • Paper towels

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Instructions

    Clean Dried Latex Paint

  1. 1

    Fill a glass jar or metal pail with warm, soapy water.

  2. 2

    Thread a coat hanger wire through the hole in the handle of the paintbrush.

  3. 3

    Lay the coat hanger wire across the mouth of the jar or pail so the paintbrush is suspended in the water. The liquid should cover the brush bristles while the coat hanger prevents the bristles from touching the bottom of the jar. This prevents further damage to the bristles, which will curl against the bottom.

  4. 4

    Leave the hardened brush to soak for at least 30 minutes.

  5. 5

    Transfer the brush and jar to a sink. Put on disposable gloves. Remove the brush from the soapy water. Run the brush under warm water and clean out the paint by spreading the bristles apart with your gloved fingers.

  6. 6

    Comb out the excess paint over the sink using a wire paint comb.

  7. 7

    Rinse the brush under the tap. Shake out excess water.

  8. 8

    Hang the brush up to dry.

    Clean Dried Oil Paint

  1. 1

    Place drop cloths or newspapers on your work surface. Wear a smock to protect your clothing and place a pair of goggles over your eyes; put on disposable latex gloves.

  2. 2

    Place three metal containers on your protected work area. Fill each container halfway with paint thinner.

  3. 3

    Place the hardened paintbrush bristle-side down in the first container of paint thinner. Allow the brush to soak for at least 30 minutes.

  4. 4

    Lay down several layers of clean paper towel on the work surface near the containers of paint thinner.

  5. 5

    Move the brush around in the paint thinner to further loosen the paint. Remove the brush from the thinner and blot out the thinner by pressing the bristles against the paper towel.

  6. 6

    Place the brush in the second container of paint thinner. Move the brush around to move remaining paint. Remove the brush and again blot out the paint thinner onto the paper towel.

  7. 7

    Place the brush in the last container. Leave the brush in this container for three to five minutes to soak. Remove the brush from the thinner and squeeze the bristles with your gloved hand to expel excess thinner back into the container.

  8. 8

    Dry the brush with paper towel and hang to store.

  9. 9

    Dispose of the paint thinner according to local regulations for throwing away hazardous waste.

Tips and warnings

  • Contact your local paint store for product recommendations if the soapy water or paint thinner do not remove the dried paint.

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