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How to Clean Watercolor Brushes

how to clean watercolor brushes

For a professional watercolor artist or hobbyist like you, watercolor brushes must be your prized possession. You might have invested in premium quality synthetic or natural brushes to showcase your watercolor art in the best way possible.

However, could your watercolor brushes perform flawlessly without proper care and cleaning? Much worse, they can wear out quite sooner than you think. Ultimately, you have to throw them away and buy new ones. What a waste of brushes!

How to clean watercolor brushes, then? If you could give your watercolor brushes some love and occasional cleaning, you would be surprised how long they can last. Some brushes can stay in pristine condition for many years or even decades!

Why You Should Clean Your Watercolor Brushes Properly

Paint deposits tend to build up between the bristles and around the ferrule as you use your watercolor brushes over time. Without regular care and a cleaning routine, these paint deposits, dirt, pigment, and other dust particles would be difficult to remove, especially if they find their way near the ferrule.

Fortunately, watercolor is relatively forgiving with brushes. Since it is water-based, you can remove and rinse them off much more easily. However, this does not mean forgoing cleaning. As you read on, you will find the best tips on how to wash watercolor brushes properly by following a correct cleaning routine.

Watercolor Brushes: Best Ways on How to Clean Watercolor Brushes

Soak the brushes in clean water

One of the first things to do is prepare a jar of clean water. Soak or dip your brush in it to dampen the bristles. Make sure you soak the brush in the water but not too long.

Furthermore, protect the ferrule from getting wet as you soak the brush in the water. When the ferrule gets wet and the paint residues get stuck in the ferrule, it will be difficult to remove them.

Use mild soap or brush soap

As you take the brush out of the water, gently rub the brush in soap. You can apply light pressure on the brush and twist it gently to pick up enough soap. Just make sure to twist and push the brush down gently from different sides to prevent any shape deformation.

It is important that you use mild soap or brush soap when cleaning the brushes to avoid any further damage. Using the right type of soap is a significant factor to keep your watercolor brush tips supple and in perfect shape.

Use a clean plate or tray to clear the pigment buildup

The next thing to do is to press the brush gently on a clean plate or tray. Move the brush in a circular motion or twist it gently until you see the paint deposits and residues coming off the bristles.

Do not press it down right from the middle of the bristles to avoid deformation or the bristles to splay outward.

Remove paint from the ferrule using brush soap and a toothpick

rinse the watercolor brush

The ferrule is an integral part of the brush, a delicate piece that binds the bristles together. As much as possible, we keep the water or paint from getting into the ferrule to prevent any damage. But sometimes, it is inevitable.

When paint residues in the ferrule are present, dip the brush in the water. Afterward, pick up some brush soap and press the brush down gently on tissue paper. Make sure the ferrule touches the tissue. Then, twist the brush slowly and gently to clean all sides of the ferrule.

However, some paint residues and particles do not come off easily in one go. In that case, you can use a toothpick to slowly and lightly drag the paint out from the bristles. Start from the edge of the ferrule and push the paint particles away from the brush. After that, dip it in the water for quick rinsing.

Rinse the brush

Dip the brush back into the water for quick rinsing. But if some paint residues are still visible, repeat the process.

Reform the tip of your brush

Use your fingertips, a dry cloth, or tissue to reform the brush back in its original shape. Since the bristles are delicate, it is important that you reshape them lightly.

Clean the handle with a damp cloth or tissue

As you use the brush, you sometimes do not notice how much paint you have on your hands and accidentally transfer it to the brush handle. This leaves stains or paints residues on the handle. To clean stains or paint residues, simply wipe the handle with a damp tissue or towel.

Lay the brushes flat to dry

After cleaning the brushes, lay the brushes flat on a clean surface to dry. Do not rub them harshly on a towel or tissue to speed up drying. Allow them to air dry so they can freely dry in whatever direction the bristles need to form.

Laying the brushes flat is the ideal drying position to prevent any water from getting into the ferrules. When this happens, it may result in cracked handles and ferrules.

What Not to Do When Cleaning Your Watercolor Brushes

how to wash watercolor brushes properly

Do not cut or shave the bristles

If you think a few trims can give your watercolor brush a better shape and quality, you are utterly mistaken. Never cut or shave the bristles just because you want to reshape them or get rid of some bristle fallouts. Simply reshape the brush with your fingertips after rinsing it.

When you cut the bristles, they may never turn the way they used to. You will probably cause more damage than keep them in pristine condition. Much worse, it will affect its quality and performance. Thus, it is imperative to keep the length of the bristles and wash it thoroughly before and after using them.

Do not use shampoo or any abrasive cleaning product

Washing the watercolor brushes does not mean you can use any cleaning product like bleach or other chemical household cleaners. Some use shampoo but it is better not to use it since it is not formulated for the delicate tips of watercolor brushes.

If you have invested in premium quality brushes, might as well invest in a soap that is specially formulated for brushes. A mild soap will do as well.

Do not soak them too long with the brush head facing downward

Some believe that soaking the brushes too long in the water will get rid of the paint residues effectively and quickly. Actually, it does not. Much more so if you let the brushes sit in the water too long with the brush head facing downward. That will deform the brush’s shape.


Keeping your brushes clean promotes a longer lifespan and efficient performance. However, it is not just about washing the brushes with soap and water. If you are meticulous about how to clean watercolor brushes and the rest of your art supplies, you will likely have a stash that will last for quite a long time.

The perfect cleaning routine includes the right choice of cleaning materials and the proper manner of handling your precious brushes. The detailed guide in this article will help you accomplish that, thereby preserving your watercolor brushes in the best way possible!

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