How to Clean Paint Brushes With Turpentine

Updated April 17, 2017

Clean your paint brushes and you can use them up to 100 times. For latex paint, use soap and water. For oil-based or enamel paint, use turpentine. Turpentine is less toxic than other oil-based solvents. It is free of petroleum distillates

Keep your brushes intended for use with oil-based paint slightly moist with just a bit of turpentine. This preserves the brush, and starting with a moistened brush makes it easier to clean. It also gets the solvent into the brush farther toward the handle than the paint so that all paint can be more easily removed.

When you're finished painting, paint off excess onto the surface you are painting or onto a spare piece of wood or cardboard. Then wipe excess paint gently off the brush onto a disposable rag or your trousers. You can also use paper towels. You’ll need less turpentine this way.

Find an open container a little wider than your brush. For turpentine, use a metal or glass container. Turpentine will dissolve plastic. You can reuse solvent, even if you’ve used it with a different colour, so you may want your container to have a lid.

Ideally, put enough turpentine in the container to cover the bristles so all cleaning can be done by swishing. That is, if the bristles are 4 inches long, use 4 1/2 inches of turpentine.

Soaking is good. It would be best if you could suspend the brush in the solvent without resting it on its tips. Resting the brush in the container on the bristles for a little while is all right, for half an hour or so. You don’t want the bristles to be permanently bent.

Move the brush back and forth in the liquid to soak out some paint. Paint will be further released by pushing the tips of the bristles against the bottom of the container so that they bend and separate. Do this slowly and gently and not too much or you may lose bristles. How gentle you want to be may depend on the purpose, size and expense of the brush.

After removing the paint with turpentine, remove the turpentine. Clean the brush in a solution of warm soap and water. Avoid hot water as it may loosen bristles. Then rinse in water to remove the soap.

When storing the brushes, it’s all right if a bit of turpentine remains in them as a moistener. You can smooth clean bristles with an old comb. Store brushes handle down so the bristles remain smooth and straight.


You may want to wear rubber gloves if you use turpentine frequently and it is irritating to your hands. Always use separate brushes for oil-based and water-based paint. Oil and water do reject each other. If you take a break, you can leave the brush you've been using in the container of solvent, wipe it off and resume.


Turpentine is flammable. Be careful using it and do not store turpentine-soaked rags.

Things You'll Need

  • Recently used paint brushes
  • Turpentine
  • Metal or glass container
  • Rags or paper towels
  • Soap and water solution
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About the Author

Cheryl Card is based in Denver, Colo., and has been writing seriously since 1993. Her specialties are government, health care, human potential and international studies. Card holds a Bachelor of Arts in government from Cornell University and a Master of Arts from the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. She has made numerous contributions to eHow.