How Do You Clean Oil Paint Brushes Without Paint Thinner?

How Do You Clean Oil Paint Brushes Without Paint Thinner? This is a common question by DIY painters especially the beginners, sometimes, the experienced too. It’s an interesting question that I want to address in this article. So please stay with me.

Oil-based paint is the most challenging paint type to remove from painting tools. You can get it off quickly while it’s still fresh on the brush; however, you’ll need a powerful solvent to dissolve it once it dries.

The most common solvent used to clean paint brushes is paint thinner because it serves the purpose quickly and efficiently. However, it also produces highly toxic fumes that can cause severe health implications.

You may experience light headaches and nausea when exposed to it for a short time and muscle weakness or bone marrow damage upon daily exposure. Paint thinner is also flammable, so you have to be careful where you use it and how you dispose of it. In short, how do you clean oil paint brushes without paint thinner?

Method 1: Using Oils

Using oils to clean oil-based paint may seem counterintuitive, but this method is very effective. 

Fresh oil will envelop the dried paint on your paintbrushes, softening it for easier removal. Once that happens, you can easily wipe the bristles clean, then wash the paintbrush with soap and water to ensure no oils remain.

Painters commonly use linseed oil and baby oil to clean their tools because they are both eco-friendly, unlike some oils, and they will not stain your hands.

Furthermore, they are gentle on your skin and the brush bristles, so you will not have to worry about harming yourself or damaging your painting tools.

Even though these oils are safe, I recommend wearing gloves whenever you use them to clean paintbrushes. Reason being once the dried oil paint softens, it regains its ability to leave stains on surfaces, which include your hands.

Follow the procedure below to clean oil paint brushes with oils.

Step 1: Remove Excess Paint From the Brush

Before dipping your paintbrush in oil, remove as much paint from it as possible. Doing this will reduce the amount of color you have to clean with the oil making your task more manageable.

  • Use a rag or paper towel to squeeze out the paint from the brush’s ferrule toward the tip. Make sure to be as gentle as possible to avoid pulling out the bristles from the base.

Step 2: Dip the Brush Into a Jar of Oil

Pour some linseed oil or baby oil into a disposable jar, then put your paintbrush in the oil. The goal is to ensure that the oil gets to all the paint particles, and you can guarantee this by swishing the brush lightly in the oil jar. You can also use your fingers to work the oil into the bristles.

Step 3: Wipe the Brush On a Rag or Rough Paper Towel

  • Move the brush back and forth on a rough paper towel – the same motion you use when painting. You can also wrap the paper towel around the paintbrush, then squeeze lightly. These actions will push out the paint from the brush, and you will see the towel getting dirtier by the minute. 
  • Move to a cleaner area of the rag when one part gets too dirty, and use fresh oil whenever your dipping oil gets saturated with paint.
  • You can also use a paintbrush comb to clean the center bristles and ensure that no paint remains at the edge of the ferrule.

It is hard to get to all the paint with just one round of wiping, so repeat the process by dipping your brush into the oil, swishing, then wiping until all the color comes off.

Step 4: Wash With Soap and Warm Running Water

After all the paint comes off, you can clean your brushes with regular soap and warm water.

  • Start by lathering the brush with some dish soap, then massage it into the bristles to break down the oil you used for cleaning.
  • Rinse the brush under running water to flush out the oils and any remaining color.
  • Keep lathering and rinsing until the brush gets clean and the water runs clear.
  • Afterward, use a clean paper towel to soak up the water in the bristles, then leave your brush to airdry overnight. 

Method 2: Using Citrus Solvent

The citrus solvent is the best replacement for paint thinner. It possesses all the chemical potency of paint thinner, but it is much safer on the environment and your health in general.

Manufacturers make citrus solvent by extracting citrus-peel oil from oranges and mixing it with 2% water. They do not add any additives, emulsions, or surfactants that make paint thinners as potent as they are. Here’s how to use citrus solvent to clean your paintbrushes:

  • After you finish painting, wipe your brush on the edge of the paint container to remove excess product. Afterward, wipe it on a rag to be more thorough.
  • Next, pour some citrus solvent into a bowl, then gently run your brush through it back and forth to loosen the paint. You can also wipe the paintbrush along the bottoms and sides of the container or use a brush comb to get off the color.

You can use multiple bowls of citrus solvent to get rid of stubborn oil paint. Start by dipping the brush, then swirling it in one can of citrus solvent to get off most of the color.

Repeat in more separate containers until the paintbrush becomes clean. (this is a very wasteful method, so only use it if you have several brushes to clean and don’t mind using too much solvent)

  • Once all the paint comes off, rinse the brush under running water to remove all traces of the solvent. Next, put a little soap on the paintbrush, massage it gently into the bristles, and then rinse it thoroughly. 
  • Once the brush gets clean, blot it with a paper towel to remove excess water. Finally, reshape the bristles, and leave the tool to airdry overnight.

 Method 3: Using Oil Soap or Pink Soap

There is so much uncertainty among painters on whether soap and water are effective enough to clean oil paintbrushes. Most people lean towards avoiding this method, while others insist that you use it only at the end of other cleaning methods. 

Water by itself cannot dissolve oil-based paint. When you dip an oil brush in a bowl of water, it will form beads around the bristles without affecting the color. 

So to clean oil paint successfully using water, you need a medium that will break down the pigment first to make it easy to wash away with water – this is where soap comes in.

Pink soap is a product that cleans oils efficiently, so painters use it widely for cleaning oil paintbrushes. You can also use any other oil soap to clean your tools, provided the paint is still fresh, and you follow the procedure below.

  • Start by removing any excess paint on your brush by wiping it over a rag or rough paper.
  • Next, pour some pink soap into a jar. Make sure that it is enough to cover every inch of the bristles when you dip your brush in it.
  • Let the paintbrush soak in the soap for three to five minutes, then massage the bristles to get the paint off.
  • Rinse the brush under a faucet to remove the soap and the color. If some paint remains, soak the paintbrush in the soap for a few more minutes and rinse it again. Repeat the procedure until the faucet water runs clear.
  • Finally, pat the bristles dry with a paper towel, and allow your paintbrush to airdry.

Is Paint Thinner the Same as Mineral Spirits?

Paint thinner serves the same purposes as mineral spirits, but the two are different. It is a blanket term for all the solvents that painters use to thin oil paint before application and clean painting tools after finishing a project. 

On the other hand, mineral spirits are a type of paint thinner. We classify them among other paint-thinning solvents such as turpentine, toluene, naphtha, and acetone.

So, you can use “paint thinner” to refer to mineral spirits, but you cannot say “mineral spirits” as a general term for paint thinners.

Confusing the two products results from painters preferring to use mineral spirits more than the other solvents. The more they worked with it, the more they interchanged the two terms for each other.

Now, you cannot mention paint thinner without mineral spirits coming up. But what’s so special about mineral spirits?

Mineral spirits are heavily refined petroleum distillates. Manufacturers eliminate all Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and sulfur in petroleum, creating a less toxic solvent than other paint thinners.

The refined distillate produces fewer fumes, and there are “odorless” versions on the market, which is a plus for respiratory health. Moreover, oil paints thinned with mineral spirits tend to dry into a smoother coat than those thinned with other solvents.

On the downside, mineral spirits are more expensive than other paint thinners. A container of pure mineral spirits can cost up to 50% more, but it is worth it.

Can You Use Vegetable Oil To Clean Oil Paint Brushes?

Image of paint brushes. So, How Do You Clean Oil Paint Brushes Without Paint Thinner?You can use vegetable oil to cleanse oil paintbrushes, but I recommend only using it at the very end of your project. 

Using oil to clean paint brushes is an excellent method, but whichever oil you choose should be appropriate for the point where your project stands. You can use certain oils when you are in the middle of your project, while others are more suitable for the very end. Here’s why:

There are two standard types of oils – drying oils and non-drying oils. Drying oils become thick and hard whenever you expose them to air for a while. Some of the most common ones include linseed oil, walnut oil, tung oil, etc.

On the other hand, non-drying oils remain liquid even when exposed to the air. Furthermore, you can easily clean them up with soap and water. The most common non-drying oils include vegetable oil, olive oil, almond oil, etc.

Whatever oil you use to clean your oil paintbrushes will likely end up on your surface, mainly if you are in the middle of your project. So if you use a non-drying oil such as vegetable oil, it will mix with your paint when you resume your project.

Consequently, the oil will impede the drying of your paint and ruin your finish which may cause you to start over. So vegetable oil is best left for cleaning tools after finishing your project.

Can You Store Oil-Based Paint Brushes Overnight?

You can store oil paint brushes overnight, provided you take the proper measures to keep the oil paint from drying on the bristles. You can keep color from drying your brushes by wrapping them in cling film then storing them in a cool, dry place overnight.

This method will help keep the paint on the bristles fresh if you are too tired to clean your brushes immediately after a project.

However, I recommend cleaning your oil brushes before storing them to keep the bristles in good shape. If you allow oil paint to dry on them, you will have to deal with the following problems:

  • You will have to use a lot of energy to get the dried oil paint off the brushes because oil-based paint becomes very hard after it dries.
  • When removing the dried paint, the extra force you apply may cause the brush bristles to bend, break or flay outwards. Once this happens, you will have to purchase new oil paintbrushes.
  • Even if the bristles do not bend or break, they will become fragile, and fragile brush bristles produce poor paint finishes.

What Do You Do With Oil Paint Brushes Between Coats?

Oil-based paint takes too long to dry, so we recommend waiting for at least 24 hours before applying a second coat. During that waiting time, your oil paint brushes are at risk of drying out, and some painters often wash them to prevent that from happening.

Washing oil paint brushes between coats of paint is not a bad idea, but it is very tedious. It takes a lot of time; hence, you will be giving yourself extra work on top of your project.

Furthermore, if you intend to apply multiple coats, you will have to clean the brushes numerous times, which is a sure way of ruining your tools.

Since you are still in the middle of your painting project, I recommend keeping the paint on the brush fresh until your surface is ready for another coat.

The best way to keep the color fresh is by freezing the tools – the cold temperature will slow down evaporation, keeping the oil paint from drying out. Here’s how to do it:

  • When you finish applying the first coat, run your paintbrush on the edge of the opening of the paint container to remove excess product.
  • Next, carefully wrap the bristles with a clear cling film, ensuring no strand remains uncovered.
  • Put the wrapped brush in a freezer bag, press it to get out as much air as possible, and put it in your freezer until your first coat dries.
  • After the 24 hours are up, take your painting supplies out of the freezer 30 minutes before you resume painting to let them thaw naturally. However, don’t leave them out for too long because they may start drying. If you don’t have enough time to let them thaw naturally, you can put the brushes in hot water for some time to speed up the process.


  1. Do not remove the brushes from the freezer bag if you go with the hot water method. The heat may thaw the paint, but it will also ruin your brushes upon direct contact.
  2. Never freeze the main paint container because the paint will freeze and change its consistency which won’t be ideal for your project.

How Do You Keep Oil Paint Brushes Wet?

Sometimes, you may need to take a few breaks during a project. You must keep your oil paint brushes wet during the time off to avoid any problems when you pick up from where you left off.

If it is a short break that will take you five or ten minutes, stick your paintbrush back into the paint container and leave it there. But if your rest will take an hour or more, it is best to put the oil brushes in a bucket of water.

It may seem odd to put oil paintbrushes in water to keep them wet – especially since I’ve been discouraging water use throughout this article. Don’t get me wrong; I only dissuade you from using water to clean oil paint brushes because it won’t get the job done correctly.

Since water and oil paint do not mix, it is the perfect way to keep your brushes wet without interfering with your oil paint. The water will interrupt the oxygen supply to the color, so the paint will not oxidize and dry out.

When you’re ready to resume, take your brush out of the water, wipe it off on scrap wood to remove the moisture then proceed with painting. 

You can keep the tools in water for up to one week. After that, the slime will start to grow in the water and eventually on your brushes. So if you want to leave your painting tools in the water for longer, ensure that you keep the water fresh by changing the water regularly.

How To Clean Oil Paint Brushes Between Colors

If you are painting with different colors, but you only have one brush, you will have to clean it during every color change. You will also have to do it fast so that your project does not stay dormant for too long.

You can use paint thinner for this task because it will quickly remove all traces of the first color. However, be careful not to leave too much solvent on the brush, as it will thin out the first few strokes of paint you put on the surface.

If paint thinner is not an option for you, you can use drying oils like linseed or walnut oil to clean the brushes. These products work well when cleaning oil paint brushes, but they take longer than solvents to take the color off.

Furthermore, you will need specialized brush cleaning equipment to ensure that all the color comes off in the short time you have.

The three must-have brush cleaning tools are the metal brush washer, brush comb, and paintbrush spinner. These pieces of equipment make cleaning oil paint brushes faster and easier. Moreover, they reduce the risk of ruining your tools as you clean them. 

  1. Metal Brush Washer

A brush washer is a small tank that you fill with a solvent or oil that you can use to clean oil paintbrushes. They come in several capacities ranging from 200ml up to 2 liters, so you can choose one according to the brush size you have.

Brush washers also come with a removable wire mesh that you fix in the tank. So when you rub your brush against the mesh, it dislodges the color in the bristles, leaving your painting tool clean.

Furthermore, the mesh doesn’t touch the tank’s bottom, so all the sediment from your brush will sink to the bottom. This way, the top of your cleaning medium will stay cleaner for longer, which is great when cleaning oil paint brushes between colors.

  1. Brush Comb

A paintbrush comb looks like a tail comb made of metal, and it has sturdier bristles. Most of them are multipurpose, having one side with “teeth” for cleaning brushes and the other side slightly curved for cleaning paint rollers

These tools work well to safely separate the paintbrush bristles when cleaning and remove paint residue from the brush’s head to the tip.

  1. Paintbrush Spinner

A paintbrush spinner does what its name says – it spins the brush after cleaning to get rid of excess cleaning solvent and any remaining paint trapped in the bristles. You can rotate your brushes by hand, but you can make the work even faster and easier with a spinner.

So, how do you utilize all these tools to clean oil paint brushes between colors?

  • Start by filling the metal brush washer with a cleaning medium and then fix the removable wire mesh.
  • Next, dip your dirty oil brush into the washer and rub it at the bottom to remove some paint. Use the brush comb to ensure that you get to the color between each bristle, and repeat these actions until all the paint comes off.
  • Finally, fix your brush on the brush spinner and work it to remove the solvent you used, then resume painting with your new color.

What Does A Paint Thinner Do?

A paint thinner breaks down the binders holding the pigments of oil-based paint, primers, and stains. Consequently, the paint’s viscosity reduces, making it easy to use when you need to work with a thinner product. It also makes thick paint easy to use in sprayer applicators.

Since paint thinner dissolves paint, you can use it to remove the stain on brushes and rollers and clean up paint spills. Furthermore, It can restore hardened paint in a container caused by leaving it open for a long time.

  • Why Shouldn’t You Use a Paint Thinner?

Paint thinner is unrefined petroleum meaning it has high levels of Volatile Organic Compounds. When it evaporates, its vapors build up slowly in the space you are working, especially with poor ventilation.

Exposure to paint thinner vapor can have adverse effects on your health depending on how long and how often you get exposed to it. A little exposure can cause minor short-term effects such as headaches, dizziness, nausea, loss of consciousness, shortness of breath, etc. Upon long-term exposure, you can experience muscle weakness, multi-organ toxicity, and eventually death.

Health effects aside, paint thinner is also highly flammable, so you must use it away from flames or sparks and ensure that you dispose of it properly. Avoid pouring it down drains to prevent the toxic elements from leaking into the environment or polluting groundwater.

Paint thinner also produces a foul odor that is hard to ignore and causes skin and eye irritation. So ensure that you wear protective gear such as coveralls, goggles, a mask, and gloves whenever you are using paint thinner.

Different Brush Cleaning Tips

We know that cleaning your paintbrushes is a crucial step after painting; however, you will do more harm than good to your brushes without proper cleaning techniques. The following are a few things you should keep in mind whenever you clean your paintbrushes:

  1. Wash your brushes immediately. If you let your paintbrushes sit after finishing your project, the paint will dry on the bristles. It will also harden on the brush’s base near the ferrule, making it difficult to remove.
  2. Never use shellac remover, lacquer thinner, or acetone to clean your paintbrushes. These solvents can dissolve the adhesives that hold the brush bristles in place, rendering your brush useless.
  3. Always ensure that you remove all the paint from the brush every time you clean it. If you keep leaving little bits of paint particles, they will accumulate as dry paint and stiffen the brush bristles over time.
  4. Do not let your dirty brushes soak in solvent for too long. Submerging them for extended periods will cause the wooden handle to crack and weaken the adhesive holding the bristles in place.
  5. Avoid using metal scrubbing brushes to clean your paintbrushes. They are too aggressive on the bristles, so stick to a brush comb instead.
  6. Never store your paintbrushes with the bristles down because they will bend eventually. Instead, keep them upright, standing on their handles because they are sturdier.
  7. Always reshape the brush bristles after washing your tools to maintain their original shape.
  8. When cleaning, don’t hold your brush upside down because the water will push tiny paint particles down into the ferrule.

Here’s How to Clean Oil Paint Brushes Without Using Solvents:

Frequently Asked Questions

Here are some of the questions that you will likely interact with around the subject:

  • Can You Use Rubbing Alcohol To Clean Oil Paint Brushes?

You can use rubbing alcohol to clean your brushes, but I do not recommend it. Rubbing alcohol is harsh on brush hairs, especially natural-hair bristles. It dries them out, so you will have to condition the strands to keep them in good form.

  • How Do You Restore Old Paintbrushes?

You can use white vinegar to revive your dried-out paintbrushes. Soak the brushes in some vinegar in a saucepan for about one hour. Next, heat the saucepan on a stove and let the tool simmer in the vinegar for a few minutes.

Afterward, rinse your revived brushes with running water, reshape the bristles, and let the brush dry.

  • Can I Use Vegetable Oil To Clean Oil Paintbrushes?

Yes, you can use vegetable oil or other non-drying oils such as olive oil or mineral oil to clean oil paint brushes. However, I recommend using these oils only at the end of your project because they may interfere with drying your oil paint.

  • How Do You Clean Oil Paint Brushes Without Paint Solvents?

To avoid solvents, you can use oils to clean your oil paintbrushes. Start by putting your dirty brushes in a jar, then pour baby oil, linseed oil, or olive oil on them to cover the bristles only.

Next, swish the paintbrush in the oil for about 30 seconds to loosen the paint, then wipe the brush on a paper towel. Repeat the procedure until all the color comes off, then wash the brush with soap and running water.

  • What Can I Use Instead Of Paint Thinner?

You can use citrus solvent as a substitute for paint thinner. It is gentle on the environment because manufacturers extract its oils from orange peels. Furthermore, it produces less odor; hence, it causes fewer respiratory and skin irritations than paint thinner.


Oil-based paint requires strong solvents to remove it from painting tools. The most common solvent used for this task is paint thinner, but it has severe health effects and is harmful to the environment. So, 

How Do You Clean Oil Paint Brushes Without Paint Thinner?

You can use linseed oil, baby oil, or vegetable oil to remove oil paint from your brushes. You can also utilize pink soap or oil soap, but citrus thinner is the safest on the market if you prefer solvents.

Even though oils clean the brushes properly, you can only use each of them at specific points in your project. You can use drying oils such as linseed oil and walnut oil in the middle or at the end of your project, but non-drying oils like vegetable oil and the olive oil only work best for the final cleaning steps.