Tole and Decorative Painting
Basic Brush Care

You just invested in a good quality set of brushes.  With a few pointers, and routine care and cleaning on your part, they'll maintain their shape and flexibility and last a long time.

The most important thing to remember is to clean your brushes every single time you paint and clean them thoroughly!  Just running them under water is absolutely not enough.   There are many commercial brush cleaners available, which all work well if you have them on hand.  If not, a bar of mild soap (or lard for oils) will do the trick.

Dampen the soap and pretend to paint it.  Practice a few fancy new strokes if you want, but DON'T scrub the brush into the soap.  You want to load the brush with soap in the same manner you load it with paint.  Gently.  Using your fingers, work the soap into the bristles, then rinse with cool water.  Then do it all again.  And again, if necessary.  Your aim should be to not leave a single trace of paint in the brush.  Paint allowed to remain in your brush will eventually "cake up" near the ferrule and distort the shape of the brush.

After you're sure your brush is squeaky clean, many experts recommend reloading the brush with soap and reshaping it with your fingers before storing, which helps maintain its original shape.  Just be sure to rinse the soap out thoroughly before you use it again.

Opinions differ on brush care from expert to expert, but most agree on a few definite do's and don'ts.

  1. Keep brushes moist while you're working but don't leave brushes sitting in the water (or turpentine) container.  This can cause the bristles to distort, resulting in uneven, sloppy strokes and, if your brush handles are wooden, it will cause the paint to peel off the handle.

  2. Rinse your brushes in cool water, not hot or even luke warm.  Hot water will not only distort the bristles, but will also, over time, dissolve the glue holding them in!

  3. Don't lean your brushes up against anything so that the weight of the brush is on it's bristles.

  4. Always store your brushes so the bristles are flat and not bent or stressed in any way.  There are a lot of clever ways to store your brushes when you aren't using them.  One of the most common ways is to just stand them on end, bristles up, in a jar.  Adding dry rice to the jar will keep them separated, avoiding unnecessary jostling.  Another similar idea is to poke them into a square of styrofoam or florist's clay.  Yet another inexpensive method is to cut out a piece of corrugated cardboard 2-3" wide, roll it up and insert it into the bottom of your brush container.  Placing the handle ends of your brushes into the corrugations in the cardboard will hold them all in place.  The thing to remember when storing your brushes bristles-up is to make sure they're thoroughly dry beforehand.

  5. Some brushes are sold with a little clear plastic cap over the bristles.  This is to protect the bristles during shipping and should be discarded.  Attempting to replace it could damage the bristles to the extent that the brush would be rendered useless.

  6. Alas, despite your vigilance, brushes do wear out eventually.  When they do, save them to use as scruffy brushes for stippling, dry blending, or painting clouds, shrubs, fur, even Santa's beard.

P.S. If you're anything like me (an incurable cat lover), keep your brushes in a tightly closed container to avoid those inevitable stray cat hairs that always want to mix it up with your brush bristles. It's much easier to eliminate them BEFORE you paint than to try to remove them from a freshly painted surface : )

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