Tools for Working Wood
The Art of Brushmaking
and
The Gramercy Tools Finishing Brush

How to Clean a Finishing Brush

Introduction

Cleaning a brush is different for each type of finish.

When you are done finishing your work, you must clean your brush. If you are just done for that session and plan to use your brush within a day or so, you can delay a complete cleaning and keep the bristles from hardening for a day or two by wrapping

the brush in plastic wrap to prevent air contact. Another method of keeping the brush from drying out is to hang the brush in the solvent used for the finish. You may need to drill a new hole in the handle if the jar or other container you use isn't deep enough. Don't let the bristles touch the bottom of the container or they may become permanently bent. There is a risk here of course that the plastic wrap isn't tight enough or that the finish evaporates before you return to finishing, but with normal precautions storing a brush wet is a good way to minimize the amount of cleaning you actually have to do. Some finishes like shellac, however, are so easy to redissolve that a dried brush isn't a problem.


Shellac
You don't have to clean a shellac brush if you use it only for shellac because dried shellac dissolves so quickly in alcohol. Simply wrap the brush to keep it clean, then soak it in denatured alcohol for several minutes before using the next time.

To clean the brush, rinse it several times in clean denatured alcohol, shaking out as much of the liquid as possible between each rinse. Or, much easier and more effective, rinse it in household ammonia and water, about one part ammonia to two parts water. Then wash in soap and water as described below.

Lacquer
You don't have to clean a lacquer brush if you use it only for lacquer because dried lacquer dissolves so quickly in lacquer thinner. Simply wrap the brush to keep it clean, then soak it in lacquer thinner for several minutes before using the next time.

To clean the brush, rinse it several times in clean lacquer thinner, shaking out as much of the liquid as possible between each rinse. Then wash in soap and water as described above.

Water-Based Finish
Wash in soap and water as described above. It is important to remember that once a water based polymerizing finish dries in the brush, it is no longer water soluble, so remember to clean the brush promptly after use.

Oil and Varnish
Rinse several times in clean mineral spirits (paint thinner), shaking out as much of the liquid as possible between each rinse. Then rinse in lacquer thinner and shake. This removes the oily mineral spirits and makes washing with soap and water easier. Then wash in soap and water as described above.

Oil and varnish finishes are the most difficult to clean from brushes. Be sure you have completely washed the oily feel from the bristles before storing the brush. The bristles should not be stiff after they have dried from the washing.

Final Steps

The step for cleaning a brush is the same for all types of finish. Wash the brush in soap and water until the soap sudses to its maximum, and wrap the brush in paper to keep it clean and cause the bristles to dry straight. Construction paper (like the kind of paper your brush came packed in) is best because it absorbs water best, but any type of paper will work. Hold the wrapping in place with masking tape or a rubber band.

Our Gramercy brushes have very fine ox-hair bristles, which can become bent and intertwined during washing, so it's best to comb them straight before wrapping. A hair comb works well.