When I try to look up videos or tips for painting with acrylic, I always see them dipping the paintbrush into water to clean. But every time I paint with acrylic paint, it seems there is a never ending supply of paint in my brush. Am I worrying too much about over-cleaning it? I don't try to add too much paint and I dip my brush in water to make it a little thinner so it isn't so gloopy. At least that is what I have been told to do when working with acrylic. I've been told paint thinner isn't necessary. Is there a technique I can use to clean my paintbrushes fast and effectively?

One thing I should add, I don't mean after I'm done using them. What I really am aiming at is needing to use the same size brush but with a different color. For example, my whole background is red. Well, then I have to clean out all the red because I need to use that same paintbrush for another color like yellow. I want my red brush to clean quickly so that I can get into the yellow and paint a different area. But cleaning the red out seems to take FOREVER! I dip in water, try to clean, squeeze out into a paper towel, and then use some construction paper to see how clean it is. Basically, it looks like I'm painting with just a slightly thinner coat of paint. I'd like to clean my brush without having to clean it several different times. This leads also into the fact that I would like to paint more than clean my brushes.

4 Answers 4


Dipping your brush into water isn't going to do anything other than get your brush wet. To actually clean a brush, you need physical agitation, and I don't mean "swish it around in the water jar a few times" agitation, but "mash it back and forth against your other hand while holding it under running water" agitation. Use some paint brush soap (or plain old hand soap) and really work up a lather. Rinse and repeat until the lather bears no trace of the pigment you were using, then rinse thoroughly.

If this sounds like too much work when all you want to do is switch pigments, there are two things that will help. One, don't put so much paint on your brush: put the paint on just the tip, not the whole thing. Of course, that's not a terribly effective way to paint a large area such as a background, which brings me to: Two, get more brushes. Basically, use one brush per color, or at least per color family. If you're switching between, say, vermilion and cadmium red, you can get away with just swishing the brush around in the water jar and wiping on a paper towel. You still need to do the thorough washing as soon as possible after you're done, though, since acrylic paint can dry on a brush even if it's sitting in water (plus, sitting in water is itself a bad thing for a brush).

  • Does the paint dry because it is leaking the contents of the water in the acrylic back into the cup of water, leaving behind the non-water form of it? Commented Sep 13, 2016 at 21:50
  • @ElBromista: I haven't the faintest idea. :) All I know is, keeping an acrylic-paint-covered paintbrush wet works for only a limited amount of time - maybe a day or so, at most. The bigger the brush, the more problems you're gonna have, so I think it may just be that the water can't penetrate to the inner parts of the brush, so it dries from the inside out.
    – Martha
    Commented Sep 13, 2016 at 22:16
  • Clean them fast. Acryclic paint dries quickly, so it's important to clean your paintbrushes as soon as possible after you've finished using them, so that the paint doesn't get the chance to start drying and hardening on the brush.

  • Massage the bristles thoroughly. Don't just dip the paintbrush into water and wiggle it around, and don't leave it standing in a pot of water for ages either. Hold the brush under running water and massage it with your fingers - tease apart the individual bristles, push and rub the brush against your palm, and keep on doing this until the water runs clear.

I could back this answer up with extensive links to and quotes from online advice and tutorials, but from your question it sounds like you've already found some of these, so I'll keep it short and sweet.

  • 2
    Another point that you can add is to also not soak your brush in paint. Acrylic is a fairly "rich" paint (for lack of a better term), and it's not something like watercolour - painting with acrylic will take less paint, and be less saturated.
    – Zizouz212
    Commented Sep 13, 2016 at 0:06

To quickly clean between color changes, I put a kitchen sponge in an old mushroom container, fill it with hot water and use it to wash the brush by dragging it back and forth over the hot, damp sponge. I then swish and rinse the brush in a large jar of cold water. This is usually enough for a clean color change using one brush. Of course, you do need to keep the water with the sponge in it hot and the swish and rinse water clean.

  • 1
    What's a mushroom container?
    – user24
    Commented Sep 6, 2017 at 14:21
  • I'd assume she means the small plastic bin that mushrooms come in at the grocery store. You could easily use a bowl or piece of tupperware.
    – aslum
    Commented Sep 11, 2017 at 18:55

I swish mine around in hot water (not warm, hot). It seems to wash the paint out of the brush better. I have a paint towel also to wipe my brush on after its wet from the water because I don't like the water dripping on my painting and in my paint when I am moving on to the next color and it also helps remove any excess paint on the brush after I use the hot water. Then I will wipe it on something else, maybe my skin or scratch paper to make sure.

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