Airfield Models - How To

Clean a Paint Brush

July 28, 2017

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Airfield Models ( to Clean a Paint Brush

Please read the Safety Page.  It contains important information about protecting yourself.  Many paints, thinners, solvents and associated chemicals are dangerous!

Good paint brushes are expensive.  They can also be hard to find unless you have a good art store in your area, which many of us do not.  I have ruined my share of brushes in a variety of ways, but over the years I have learned how to take care of these tools.

Proper care and maintenance of your paint brushes will ensure that they last longer and are ready to perform when you need them to.


Before Painting

  1. Dip the brush in a slow drying thinner for the paint you are about to use.  For example, use mineral spirits instead of lacquer thinner for oil based paints.  The thinner fills the area around the ferrule and helps prevent paint from filling this area.

  2. Brush across a Kleenex to remove the majority of the solvent.

  3. After dipping the brush in paint the first time, touch the tip to a Kleenex to start the paint flowing and to make sure there is not too much solvent still in the brush.

  4. Never dip the bristles more than halfway in the paint.  If you need more paint, use a larger brush.

  5. Thin your paint properly.  Thick paint doesn’t work well and is harder to clean from brushes.

  6. Prepare three jars of brush cleaner.  Label the jars (in order from dirtiest to cleanest solvent)  1 through 3.  I use empty Tamiya acrylic jars having a black cap, a gray cap and a white cap as follows:

    #1 Jar with black cap is dirtiest thinner.

    #2 Jar with gray cap is less dirty.

    #3 Jar with white cap is cleanest thinner.


After Painting

  1. Never drag your paint brush across the bottom of the jar.  Never sit your brush in a jar and let it “soak.”  The first time you do that, the brush is ruined.

  2. Dip your brush in the #1 jar of brush cleaner to initially remove the bulk of the paint.  Don’t swish it around.  Just dip it in for a few seconds.  Next touch the point of the brush to a folded Kleenex and let the Kleenex draw the paint from the brush.

Do not brush the Kleenex.  You can draw the brush across the Kleenex letting the paint fill the small gap between the brush and Kleenex.  This draws the paint to the tip from which it eventually flows to the Kleenex.  You may have to do this many, many times.

  1. Repeat until the bristles look fairly clean and there isn’t much pigment coming from the brush

  2. Use the #2 jar and repeat.

  3. Use the #3 jar and repeat.

  4. Take the brush to the sink and start some warm water flowing.  Put a tiny drop of liquid dish soap in your palm with some water and get the brush wet.  Use shampoo for natural hair brushes such as sable.

  5. Gently swirl the brush in your palm.  If you kink the bristles, the brush is ruined.  You will notice more pigment coming from the brush.  Continue doing this, changing the soap and water often, until the soap stays clean.

  6. Do as the above step without soap until no more suds are produced when you swirl the brush.

  7. Gently shake the excess water from the brush.

  8. Shape the brush to have a sharp point and a full belly

  9. Lay the brush on a counter with the bristles overhanging or stand the brush on the handle to dry.

  10. Replace the clear plastic tube over the bristles to protect the brush when it is dry.



  • Keep the brushes you use for dry brushing separate from the brushes you use to paint.  Dry brushing is extremely abusive to your brushes.

  • Some people advocate having a separate set of brushes for different types of paints (one set for oil base, another for acrylics).  Additionally, they advocate using one set for reds, one for yellows, one for white, one for metallics and another for all other dark colors.

    The reason for this is so that paints don’t get contaminated from pigment left behind in the brush.  Also, some people think that using different types of paints in the same brush makes the brush “explode” meaning the bristles no longer form a nice point.

    If you do the math, this adds up to hundreds of brushes.  I don’t know about you, but I’m not that organized.  I use the cleaning method above, use one set of brushes for painting and another for dry brushing and have no problems.  It is your choice.

    I also have a set of utility brushes (ruined brushes) I use for dusting, glues, putties, etc.

  • When the #1 jar is too dirty to use any more, rotate the caps so that the #2 jar becomes the #1 jar and so forth.  Clean the old #1 jar and put in fresh solvent and call it the #3 jar.

  • If you are going to paint more than one similar color (gray, then black) you do not need to wash the brush between colors.  Just clean with solvent and then dip in thinner again.


Recommended Methods for Ruining Paint Brushes

  • Let paint dry in the brush.

  • Don’t clean the brush thoroughly.

  • Bend the bristles enough to kink them.  My personal favorite is to not pay close attention when I’m putting it in solvent and catching the edge of the jar.  This spreads the bristles far enough apart to ruin the brush.

  • Leave the paint brush sitting on its bristles.

  • Dip the brush into the paint past the ferrule (the ferrule is the metal thingy that holds the bristles).  This doesn’t ruin the brush… it just makes the brush almost impossible to clean)

  • Use it for dry-brushing.

  • Use it for glue or putty.


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