Every painter needs a solid brush cleaning and care protocol. For miniature painters, this is especially important because brushes are often small, fragile, and expensive! If you’re a miniature painter and hobbyist who loves work on scale models, tabletop gaming minis, and similar small figures, your brushes are your most important tool. Acrylic paints dry quickly and if left on a paint brush will slowly destroy bristles and ruin the brush. Brush care is essential for extending a brush’s service life, and will enhance your enjoyment of the miniature painting hobby.
In this article, I summarize the best practice for brush care and maintenance.
Whether you’re a tabletop gamer such as for Warhammer 40k, Bolt Action, Infinity, or Warmachine/Hordes, your miniature hobby painting will require good tools and the knowledge to care for them. This is especially true if you use more expensive Kolinsky sable brushes for your work. Continue reading for more info tips and review for best brush care practices!
Top 5 cleaning tips for your miniature paint brushes (TL:DR)
- Remove any residual acrylic paint by swishing your brushes in clean water (read about my favorite water pot)
- Use a dedicated brush soap, like Masters Brush Soap & Cleaner , an inexpensive but effective way to keep your brushes in top shape
- Try and hang your brushes vertically to dry (bristle tip down), or horizontally with a brush rest
- For a more thorough deep cleaning, soak your brushes up to the ferrule in Winsor & Newton’s Brush Restorer solution
- Use cool or lukewarm water to avoid damaging your bristles and brush
Read on below for optimal care tips for your paint brushes!
When should I clean my small paint brushes?
Here is the recommended cleaning service schedule for your paint brushes:
- After every painting session, a thorough wash and rinse with clean cool or lukewarm water. Use brush soap, for best results.
- Every week or every 3-4 hours of painting (whichever comes first), perform a deep cleaning using a liquid brush cleaner. This helps remove paint from deeper in the bristles, e.g., up in the ferrule.
You should clean your brushes at the very least with clean water after every painting session. It doesn’t matter if you only painted a few strokes on a miniature, or embarked on an epic overnight painting session, you should rinse your hobby paint brushes in clean water after every session to remove any acrylic medium from the bristles. Better yet, you should use a dedicated brush soap formulated for cleaning brushes (more about this below).
If you’ve taken the steps to avoid getting paint up in the ferrule (the metal part of a paintbrush), then you’re also on the right track for keeping your brush life long and healthy. Acrylic paint seeping up into the ferrule will eventually disrupt and damage the bristles, and the brush will lose its shape.
For best results with brush care, I recommend a deeper cleaning using liquid Brush Cleaners and Restorers every week if you paint on a regular basis, e.g., more than 3 hours per week. These are specialized brush cleaning solutions work best on natural hair bristles (which require extra care), but will also help clean synthetic brushes, too. These liquid brush cleaners will get up into the ferrule where acrylic paints and inks tend to hide and break them down so you can clean them out. Another side benefit to these cleaners is that many of them act as restorers, helping to restore and maintain the oils in natural-haired bristles that supports their ability to maintain shape, snap, and paint flow.
Read on for more details for how to best clean and keep your brushes like-new!
What are the best soaps and cleaners for miniature brushes?
I’ve tried many brush cleaners! But, I realized keeping it simple was the best rule to follow. Not only are you more compliant with your brush care routine, you’ll spend less money.
I recommend two products for all your brush care needs:
- General Pencil Masters Brush Cleaner & Preserver – a fantastic, simple conditioning soap you should use after each and every miniature painting session.
- Winsor & Newton Brush Cleaner & Restorer – a more robust liquid solution for deeper brush cleaning. Use this less often, as it works best with a 10-30 minute soaking in a cup/mug or brush tank. I also happen to use this for cleaning out internal clogs in my airbrush. Works like magic!
The most popular and effective soap for cleaning out paint brushes for painting miniatures. Rinse your brush off in clean water, lather up the soap in your paint brush, and rinse off. Repeat, if necessary. To reshape brushes, you can leave the foamy soap behind without rinsing. In most cases, the dried soap residue will help your misshapen brushes regain their shape. See easy steps for how to use this brush soap below.
This liquid brush cleaner is best used as a deeper cleaning solution. I recommend using this after every 3-4 hours of miniature painting. Because it is a bit more expensive, you’ll want to store it in a jar or brush tank, so you can reuse the solution. For best results, soak your brushes up to the metal ferrule for 10-30 minutes.
Wipe off your bristles on a paper towel or cloth, and you should see some deeper residual paint coming off. Repeat for more soiled brushes. You can use brush soap afterwards to “reshape” your brush tips.
How do I use brush soap and cleaner?
Here are 9 steps for cleaning your brushes:
- Wipe off excess paint from your brushes on a paper towel
- Dip your brushes in clean water and swish the bristles around to get any paint washed out
- Don’t jab the bristle tips or splay bristles on the bottle or side of the paint
- Shake off excess water and gently wipe the bristles along (lengthwise) a paper towel or clean cloth to remove excess water
- Repeat steps 1-4, if you don’t want to use soap. This might be okay for very short painting sessions. For longer painting sessions, and best care of your brushes go to step 6.
- Wet your brush again using a small bit of water and lather up your brush soap
- Use your fingers and rub the foamy lather into the bristles
- Go to step 1-4 again
- Store your brushes lying horizontally or vertically with the bristle tips down (you can hang them with a vertical brush holder)
For a deeper cleaning after a week or so of painting minis, or for visibly dried acrylic paint on bristles, you should use a full-strength liquid cleaning solution.
Here’s how to deep clean your small brushes with Winsor & Newton Brush Cleaner and Restorer:
- After you using brush soap, rinse your brush using clean water, and wipe off excess moisture on a paper towel or soft cloth
- Submerge the brush tip up to the ferrule in the cleaner (note: the cleaner will melt the lacquer on a wooden paint handle)
- Let the brush soak for 10-30 minutes, depending on how much dried paint you need to remove
- Shake off excess brush cleaner on the side of the container, and wipe the brush on a paper towel to absorb excess cleaner
- Repeat steps above, if necessary
- Rinse off any brush cleaner in cool or lukewarm water
In my experience, the water-soap routine for regular brush care works great. But, after a while a brush tends to build up residues deeper in the bristles and requires a stronger brush cleaning solution. Using a full-strength brush cleaner is good for brushes that have visible caked up, dried acrylic paint on the bristles.
To get a brush like this clean and maintain the brush shape and painting enjoyment, I highly-recommend using liquid soaps and preservers. The reason I wouldn’t use these on a routine basis is because these liquid brush cleaners tend to be more expensive and are harsher chemicals (e.g., they also smell a bit).
Remember to reshape your brushes after each cleaning session and store your brushes horizontally or vertically with the bristles facing downwards.
How to clean synthetic versus natural bristle brushes?
Synthetic brushes are more durable and generally less expensive, so you can follow the same instructions as you would for more expensive kolinsky sable paint brushes. This includes cleaning dry brushes. Most dry brushes are made of durable fiber bristles, e.g., hog hair, or synthetic material, which clean up well with the same approaches you would use with any other kind of paint brush.
Key points for optimal brush care for any kind of brush material:
- Avoid letting acrylic paint dry on the bristles
- Avoid using hot water for cleaning your brushes
- Reshape the brush tips after cleaning
- Store brushes horizontally or vertically to avoid water logging wooden brush handles
- Don’t let brushes soak in solvents, cleaners, or water for any prolonged period of time
- Don’t let your brushes rest on their bristle heads or tufts
Where should I store paint brushes for optimal care?
You should store brushes horizontally or vertically. Keep your brushes in a place at room temperature 20–22 °C (68–72 °F). The location and ambient conditions for best brush storage are more important for natural hair bristle brushes, e.g., sables, since these are organic materials and more susceptible to environmental conditions.
RELATED: 7 REASONS YOUR BRUSHES FALL APART
If you’re looking for holders and storage options for brushes, take a look at a few I’ve reviewed here.
Horizontal Brush Holder
The best way to store your brushes after use and cleaning is horizontally (or vertically). This brush holder works great for brushes of any length and will fit the common 8″ length of most brushes we use as miniature painters. Easy access and aesthetics make this brush holder one of my favorites!
Video overview of brushes and proper brush care for painting miniatures
Why you need to clean your brushes for painting miniatures
If you don’t clean your brushes, they will fail you. I’ve dabbled with all kinds of cleaners, soaps, and brush restorers. It doesn’t matter what brush you use, for best results when painting minis, you need to clean and condition your brushes.
Hate brush hair splitting? Look, there are bad quality paint brushes, and then there’s your neglect. It could be your fault your brushes break apart.
How do you care for your expensive sable brushes for painting miniatures? What is the best way to clean and condition your kolinsky sable brushes for miniature and model painting? Kolinsky sable brushes are a natural haired bristle and require special attention for them to reach their expected service life. This includes cleaning off residual acrylic paint after each session and conditioning the bristles so they retain their natural oils and moisture (which contribute to the brush’s desirable painting characteristics).
Casual or professional miniature painters must all follow the same guidelines for brush care. If you want a more enjoyable and productive experience painting miniatures, cleaning and maintaining your brushes is essential.
The brush care tips and protocols in this article are based on my experience and what I’ve learned from other painters. How do you care for your brushes?
Here’s one final tip I embrace related to brush care and the miniature painting hobby. Don’t baby your tools. Use them well and enjoy the hobby!