Dear Rie,

I just picked up my first Kolinsky brush but I am afraid to use it and get it dirty. What can I use to clean it up and keep it like new?



Dear Diiirty,

Good brush maintaince is actually not all that hard. There are numerous thing that can be used around the house for cleaning your brushes as well as products that are specifically made to clean your paint brushes. The biggest key is to do it regularly and not let paint set in your brush.

As far as around the house you can use a bit of Dawn dish soap and gently message the bristles of the brush to work out any paint that maybe stuck. After you’re done you just need to rinse well and dry the brush laying flat (you don’t want water to soak into the handle). You can also do the same thing with shampoo. Just make sure to not use anything to caustic.

As far as thing you can buy the favorite among painters is brush soap, specifically the Masters Brush Cleaner and Preserver. It’s similar to a shaving soap with a little bit of grit mixed in that “scrapes” the paint from in-between in the bristles. I typically use it multiple times while painting to ensure that paint doesn’t get into the ferrule. There is also Mona Lisa’s Pink Soap that is fairly popular. It’s like dish soap in consistency that you have to work into the brush and then rinse out. One important after-clean step other than drying the brush flat is to make sure you reshape it. With brush soap you simply take some of the lather and shape the tip back to a point. With liquid soaps there are products called brush shaper, which is similar to a weak,  water soluble glue.

Lastly you have the harsher cleaners designed to soak the brush in. A favorite of Larry’s is Winsor and Newton Brush Cleaner. You soak the bristles and part of the ferrule in the cleaner and is dissolves the binders and rebinds with the pigment to pull the paints that managed to get into the ferrule out. You have to be careful with most of these cleaners because they can strip  the paint and lacquer off the handle of the brush. You really should not have to use these more than once or twice a month if you are cleaning them properly.


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