Put on your science smock and goggles folks….we are blowing stuff up today with a Bunsen burner.
No not really.
But almost. Today is experiment day. If you know me at all, you know that I am a science geek at heart. I studied Bio Ed in college and this is right up my alley. Shoot…I am seriously considering buying a tri-fold cardboard backboard just to display my findings here today.
The theory we are testing : distilled white vinegar can clean dried up paintbrushes.
The hypothesis : yeah right.
So I had accidentally left one of my precious Purdy brushes in the sink and forgot to rinse it out. It dried overnight and this is how it looked even after being rinsed for approximately ten minutes under scalding hot water. It was tough and this was the best shape I could get the bristles in with only my hand. Usually I would clean up my paintbrushes using a paint thinner method but lately I have been lazy and letting them get a little more rough (the paint thinner is really strong and probably not the best thing to snort while pregnant).
Method #1 – SOAKING
So the first method that I read about online involved soaking the paintbrush in regular ole undiluted white distilled vinegar for an hour. I did two hours (with a timer) just to see how the results would fare.
Although it did seem to soften the clean bristles, the paint itself did not come off. I rubbed with my finger perpendicular to the bristle length and the dried bits still clung on for dear life. I also attempted to use a paper towel to remove the paint from the metal piece but still…no dice.
So that is when I broke out the big guns.
Method #2 – BOILING
I brought a pot (it’s an old pot that got the coating scratched off the bottom so don’t be scared) of vinegar to a boil (undiluted again) and decided to submerge the brush for ten minutes.
Let me tell ya…Jeremy almost killed me. It was very stinky.
Even after ten minutes, it still did not have any further evidence of paint removal. So I did an additional ten minutes (that would make my total twenty minutes) to see if that helped at all. At that time, I checked again and still the paint held on like red carpet boob tape.
Method #3 – EXCESS REMOVAL + BOILING
At this point, I decided that the vinegar alone was not strong enough to penetrate the hardened paint so I decided to go Freddy Kruger on it. Using a long non-serated knife I scraped off all the dried paint from the bristles always going with the direction away from the brush handle.
I thought that removing the dried stuff would help the vinegar get into the core of the brush and possibly clean and/or soften the brush from there. There was a tiny amount of bristle-loss with the sharp knife but for the most part it was very very limited.
After the excess paint was removed, I boiled the brush for another ten minutes.
After rinsing (while rubbing the bristles with my fingers), the brush did appear to have increased softness and flexibility. The bristles also appeared to be able to dry together vs. the former state where it was more of a chip brush and unusable for any cutting in.
Conclusion : the vinegar can be used to soften bristles if the majority of excess dried paint can be removed
Overall, I think this is a really successful experiment…now I know that I can salvage some of my brushes that have been woefully neglected and their fate is not necessarily the trash can. Plus, it is also nice to have a more all-natural method even if there is danger involved (I’m betting right now that if I lose a finger, it’ll be the pointer).
What I learned…don’t believe everything you read on Pinterest. And if you want to empty a house, boil some vinegar for ten minutes. Also, the steam from a vinegar boil is a great way to clean a vent hood 🙂
I was a theatre major in college and in my scenic painting class we had a whole lesson on the care and cleaning of paint brushes. It’s generally not a good to use hot water at all to clean your brushes but yours is definitely a special circumstance! I would recommend a wire bristle brush each time you clean your brushes. Mine came in a pack of three, one plastic, one brass, and one stainless. I use them every time I clean brushes to get the stuff at the top that gets dried on while you work. Works like a charm without tearing up the bristles. And ditto on the hot vinegar. My husband hates when I descale our coffee maker every month but it doesn’t bother me a bit.
Using a lice comb on the bristles works well to get the dried paint off after the boiling vinegar since it is meant to completely separate each hair shaft. Good luck!
I like how your black counters are some what reminiscent of the soapstone science lab counters!
Katie- my hubby is scenic painter and he cleans all of his paint brushes with Murphy’s Oil soap. He also has a wire brush that he uses to clean dried paint off. Ditto to the previous poster about hot water. Also if you can’t clean your brushes right away wrap them in a damp ray which will help keep the paint from drying. With all the being said though, if I don’t clean brushes right away I have some serious ‘splainin to do 🙂
Definitely wire brush. A friend of mine told me about that years ago and I’m here to tell ya, you can get almost every speck of paint off a brush! Be sure to try it. I do it when cleaning my brushes directly after use and they look virtually brand new after several years and many, many gallons of paint!
I like to use hair conditioner for softening my paint brushes after I wash them up. Just massage it in the bristles and rinse. Though unfortunately it won’t get rid of those dried, crusty bits of latex paint.
I have that pot. Disappointed to learn they didn’t last for you. What pots and pans do you currently use and do you recommend them?
I can’t help but think if white vinegar dissolved paint there would be no market for paint stripping chemicals.
I buy the $5 Wooster Shortcut brushes and toss them after a use or two. But I did just splurge on a $19 ‘Chinex’ one where the bristles are made of a special plastic that cleans up more easily.
But you’ve seen what pro painters cost, so I justify new brushes and rollers as very worthwhile.
Michelle | Birds of Berwick says
My husband saves his favorite thing on his place to eat last. I read your blog last Katie. I think you know what that means. 🙂
Jane Davila says
I use CitraSolv natural cleaner and degreaser on dried up brushes. Put it in a cup (not plastic) and let it soak for a few hours or overnight. Use a metal dog comb or wire brush to get the top part clean and then wash with dish washing liquid. A couple of drops of hair conditioner massaged into the bristles will restore the softness and help the bristles lay flat. Works a charm nearly every time!
Try liquid fabric softener. I think the ratio is 1/2 fabric softener to 1/2 water. It’s been awhile since I’ve tried this, but it works pretty well. And, it doesn’t smell either!
Michelle | Birds of Berwick says
plate… not place. Can’t even spell the right word when I’m giving you a complement. We should be besties xo
Oooo! I love the science experiment. In addition to the venthood cleaning, I have had excellent luck putting combining 1 cup water and 1 cup white vinegar in a microwave safe bowl and then microwaving it for 90 sec – 2 minutes. You can simply wipe your microwave clean of all the gunky build up. FUN.
Or….next time you know you won’t get to clean up your brush again, while still wet and paint-y, tightly wrap it in plastic wrap. It will keep it from drying out.
And if you want to get your brush back in shape now, coat the bristles in Vaseline and tightly wrap in plastic wrap until it’s back to its good ole shape.
I also recommend using a stiff wire brush. Think something similar to what you’d use to clean your grill. It removes the outer dried paint like a champ! You can also buy paint combs. I think Purdy makes them. Worth the 5 bucks to help loosen the stubborn clump in the middle! Do you know about the freezer trick? If you’re feeling too lazy to clean a brush right after finishing a big project (if you’re like me) just wrap the brush in tin foil, freeze, and then thaw when you’re ready to clean and the paint harden at all.
I can smell the hot vinegar through my computer! My hubs hates the smell even when I use vinegar to clean our coffee machine, so I can’t even imagine boiling it for 20 minutes.
Don Gilmartin says
Hi Guys…all your suggestions are terrific for sure!… But since paint is one of our main staples in DIY life, we all need to have one of these “spinnie thingies” ( I don’t know what its called). I don’t rep the product, own the company or have anything to do with it at all… But I noticed a few of the guys on my crews use them and they clean their brushes in seconds. Now i use one they gave to me and its a life saver! Now the only problem is my wife “adopted it” so i gotta ask the guys for another one…Anyway, I just thought I’d pass it along.
Wire brush and plain water! Obviously this is better for not dried out brushes. But I’ve never used paint thinner to clean my brushes, just the wire brush and water. I know it may seem like you’re going to destroy the bristles but you won’t, just brush from the handle down. I sometimes lean the brush against the side of the sink and scrub away.
Don Gilmartin says
Guys, I found the brush and roller spinner…totally original name for it..If I called it a “spinnie thingie” on a job site, I’d be shot! Anyway here’s the link to it:
[email protected] A Design Story says
Wow… I am going to try this to a ruined Purdy I can’t bring myself to throw away. I have new one’s but I just can’t let go of this one yet…
With terribly neglectd brushes, I’ve had good luck with cheap nail varnish remover.
Your husband and I must have had similar teachers. I remember during the care/cleaning lesson when we had to do a presentation on brushes and he gave me hell for hot gluing a cheap chip brush to the poster board. He said all brushes were worthy and detailed how they are all constructed, etc. Mind blowing. Who would have thought $45k a year and what I took away was that I take great care to clean my brushes? I’ve never cleaned with Murphy’s Oil soap (which is brilliant, btw) but I have rubbed the bristles with vitamin E oil after cleaning to keep the bristles supple. Oh, higher education, you kill me.
Have you tried soaking your brush in a hot water + T.S.P. (Trisodium Phosphate) solution? It worked for me when I left my best brush out by accident.
Peggy Schomaker says
The most reliable paint guy at our Lowe’s told me to soak my paint brushes in straight ammonia to clean them. Today’s paint has a lot of resin (?) and brushes are very difficult to clean–as you know!
I believe I would save that one for “special” projects and buy a new one for interior walls and trim. But that’s just my opinion. 🙂
Mary | Lemon Grove Blog says
Emily – so many good tips! Between Katie’s little experiment and your advice, I feel like I can finally start to take better care of my paint brushes. I’m a chronic paint brush abuser over here 😀
I don’t use the freezer…I usually wrap in a damp paper towel and toss in a plastic bag before putting it in the fridge.
xo – kb
Most of the other pots and pans in that set still are good but I guess I used a metal spoon that scratched the bottom too deep and so the black bits are not there anymore 🙁
xo – kb
In art school my concentration was painting. I was really terrible about paintbrush care and threw many out until I discovered Murphy’s oil soap! I leave brushes in it overnight and it always does the trick. It not only cleans, but conditions non-synthetic bristles!
Brushmaker Wooster recommends using pumice soap so now I use my apricot facial scrub on brushes and it works great.
My mom used to randomly boil vinegar to kill the germs in the air…
I agree with all of the other comments about Murphys Oil Soap! I went to school to be an art teacher and learned that amazing trick. If it doesn’t loosen enough of the paint off after a 24 hour soak, wash it out and let soak for a few days in a cup full of Murphys. Not only does it break down the paint but it conditions the brush bristles.
I’ve had great success with Mrs. Meyers spray/liquid on literally all paint projects. Removed paint drips from our hardwood floors, me (hands), brushes, sink and the list goes on. We have 1940 glass door knobs that were painted over a million times. I tried soaking everything minus the glass knob in Mrs. Meyers and hot water for a day or so. Presto, peels right off.
I don’t know why…but this is hilarious 🙂
xo – kb
I don’t paint nearly as much as you do, but it is my habit to just buy new brushes every time I paint. I can never get the brushes clean enough so I just throw them away. If I painted more than once a year, my budget would definitely call for cleaning brushes though!
Linda B says
My tried and true method is a soak in half ammonia half vinegar. It reply loosens up dried on paint
Similar to a paint comb, you can use a flea comb (you know, for pets). I saw this tip on Pinterest and tested it — works great!
Jessica G says
Murphy’s Oil Soap pretty much cleans everything! Did you know it will take melted crayon out of a kid’s down winter jacket? Oh my mom sure does!
Emily @ Life on Food says
I have this problem right now. On the list today was to go get a new paint brush. Cannot wait to get on with my trail. Hopefully it will work for me too.
Yeah, unfortunately it’s hard to use ‘green’ methods to dissolve away dried-on latex paint… as mentioned in some comments above, you really need a much stronger (probably oil-based) organic solvent … (and I don’t mean organic like earth-friendly, I mean it as the chemistry term, for your inner-nerd)
Jess H says
I have a small can of thinners that I use to clean the dried on paint off my paintbrushes. I also use thinners to unclog my silk screen that I use for screen printing. Thinners will change your life! I’d tried everything and never had any luck. You only need a small amount and it will clean all the paint off in a matter of seconds! 🙂
as oil-based paint is insoluble in water, vinegar won’t help much to dissolve the paint.
Besides organic solvents such as paint thinner, nail polish remover and more effective “stinky stuff”, I also think a wire brush is your best option as it removes the paint chips physically rather than chemically.
Of course, organic solvents (VOCs/NVOCs) are to be avoided especially when you’re pregnant, but vinegar steam is not exactly healthy for your lungs as well, so please do this in a well-ventilated area or at least open your kitchen windows when you’re boiling vinegar.
Kate S. says
This is cheap and has been indispensable to me, although for stuck on paint I’d be using it after soaking. http://www.amazon.com/Wooster-Brush-1831-Painters-Comb/dp/B000LDLPC8
Brooke @ Putter Home says
I’ve attempted cleaning mine with vinegar too. There just doesn’t seem to be a great solution that doesn’t involve scrubbing and scraping. Couple things I like to do – I started using Ace hardware brushes that are coated in Teflon, they clean up really well. Also, after I clean them off and the water is running clear I do a final rinse cycle with a dollop of cheap fabric softener in a cup of water and then rinse again. There’s something about the fabric softener that helps get off unseen paint. Fabric softener is also my go to wallpaper remover. Just mix 1 part softener to 3 parts hot water in a spray bottle and go to town…
This guy (http://www.jackpauhl.com/and-you-thought-you-cleaned-it-good/) is a professional painter and does insanely meticulous reviews of all things painterly, and he cleans his brushes with Krud Kutter. On his recommendation, we got some, and MAN it works. It’s available at Home Depot and isn’t fumy really at all. You just drop your brush in to soak — yours you might want to soak overnight — and then you’re able to rinse all that stuff right off with water.
Kristin @ Making Home says
Rubbing Alcohol! It will clean up dried latex paint no matter how long it’s been there. Soak your brush in it, or use it to wipe up stray splatters. Works like a charm! It’s pretty amazing actually.
I’ve been a painting contractor for the past 35 years. The fastest way to ruin brushes is to use a wire brush for removing dried/gummy from the bristles. Get the paint softened first by soaking (hang the brush in the soak solution) then use a plastic putty knife to push the paint off. I’m in Texas so have to paint when it’s often blazing hot so the paint on the brushes tend to dry further up by the ferrules. I have my crews hang those in their appropriate cleaning solutions when the drying starts and grab another clean brush. Then a helper fully cleans those and sets them out to dry so they’ll be ready when the painters need a clean brush.
I use a mix of raw linseed oil and turpentine to keep my natural bristle brushes soft. As the bristles on all my brushes wear away from cutting in (rounded ends) or become uneven in the center I’ll dip their handles in red paint to signify that they’re worn so should be used for priming and rough surfaces. When they get really worn then the handles get dipped in orange paint to signify that they’re dusters. If any have real hard paint 1/2″ or more below the ferrule then I cut a series of slots thru that using a 1/4″ chisel which enables the remaining bristles to flare out so the duster can sweep a wider area when pressed down.
It’s better to clean the brushes ASAP or let them soak overnight while hanging than wrapping them up to stick in the freezer.
I like that concoction of linseed oil and turpentine. I’d have to look into if that was safe for pregnant gals 🙂
xo – kb
Carl H. says
This is a lot of work to clean a paint brush. I use the Paint Piranha, only takes me about 5 minutes.
Thomas Roberge says
Going to go check it out now!! I am too terrible at cleaning out my brushes. That makes me feel tired
Kim Schellenberg says
“…the paint held on like red carpet boob tape!”
My new favourite quote! Lol!