How To Clean Hardened Paint Brushes

It is only normal as a DIYer to become very accustomed to painting things on a regular basis and if you’re anything like I am, then knowing how to clean hardened paint brushes after forgetting to clean them on time, is as important as expanding the lifespan of your paintbrush.

Generally, paintbrushes aren’t cheap. I mean you literally have to learn how to have them remain clean and maintained for future DIY purposes.

One thing professional painters have caught the light in and I feel every DIYer too should know is that the more appropriate care you give to your brush, the more it will last you for years while still producing a top-quality finish always.

Painting can come as a hassle if your brushes get dried out. In this kinda situation, our first instinct is to go out to the hardware store and purchase new brushes. However, if you’re the type that does this on a continuous basis, then you’d agree with me it could end up costing you a whole lot of money along the line.

Fortunately, hardened paintbrushes can be cleaned, restored and maintained in several ways. The interesting part of it is that most of these cleaning methods are quite simple and inexpensive. Let’s just get into it already!

Also Reads: Best Paint Sprayers for oil based paint

Cleaning hardened paint brushes.

Cleaning hardened paint brushes.

Okay, so you make use of your brushes as frequently as possible but you don’t get to clean and store them immediately after completing your project.

Now, the brushes are all dried out and you’re looking for the methods in which you can help clean and restore them. Well, below are some of the effective methods that can help.

  • Fabric softener

Before going deep into how this works, it is important to note that this method would only work if the paint that is stuck on your brushes is water-based, that is paint with latex and acrylic.

Not only is fabric softener useful for getting your clothes and sheets fluffy, it can also be used to clean many things which obviously include hardened paint brushes.

For this method, only a small amount of fabric softener is needed(A cup) while you mix with 4 cups of warm water in a bucket. Although there may be need to adjust this ratio if your brushes or rollers are large. So once you’ve had your fabric softener solution mixed together, the cleaning process is quite easy to do.


  • Swirl your hardened paintbrush into the fabric softener solution until you begin to notice the paint getting off the brush. The paint should sink to the bottom of the bucket.
  • Once you’re sure the paintbrush is well cleaned, then give the brush a rinse in the sink to remove any remaining fabric softener solution while you wipe the brush thoroughly using a paper towel.
  • Allow the brush(brushes) enough time to dry of which should be done on a flat horizontal surface. Never allow the brush dry upright as this could lead to water seeping into the handle hence causing damage to the brush.

I often recommend doing this same cleaning method after every painting project in order to increase the longevity of the brush plus the more frequently you use the fabric softener method, the better the performance of your paintbrush will be.

How To Clean Hardened Paint Brushes
  • Using solvents

This is basically the most commonly used cleaning method for hardened paint brushes because it is very quick and highly effective. I mean, the only thing that may serve as a challenge for you not to use it is the fact that you may not have any solvents on hand.

Meanwhile, in this case, you can easily run down to your nearest grocery or box store to pick up some.

Although solvents can be more expensive than every other cleaning solution on the list, however, the good part of it is that you’re not only limited to cleaning brushes that have been dried out with water-based paints.

This method will work perfectly even for cleaning oil-based paints as well. So if you have plans to clean oil-based paints, then you’ll need to use the right solvent like mineral spirits or turpentine.

Below is what the process looks like when using solvents to get your hardened brushes clean.


Using your fingers, start by removing any excess paint from the brush.

Pour a small amount of solvent into a non-food container and swirl your brush into the solvent until all of the hardened paint has been removed.

Lastly, reshape the bristles of your brush using your fingers while you store it horizontally so that it can dry completely.

  • Vinegar

Both standard white vinegar and apple cider vinegar are effective cleaning resorts when it comes to cleaning hardened paint brushes.

While they are the cheapest option for cleaning, if you can’t stand the smell of vinegar then you probably might not be able to use this method. It just may not work for you. And aside from that, it can also be time-consuming.

However, if you’re not all that concerned about the smell and also, spending more time cleaning your brushes. Then why not? It’s an ideal and easy run-to solution. And just like I mentioned for the fabric softener method earlier, the vinegar method would only work with water-based paints.

So before using the vinegar, there’s a need to boil it over an open flame. Below are the steps required when using white vinegar as well as apple cider.

  • White vinegar method
Cleaning hardened paint brushes.
  • After boiling in a pot over an open flame, place your hardened paint brush in the white vinegar solution.
  • Allow your brushes 20 minutes thereabout to sit properly in the solution.
  • After which you wash them with soap and warm water while using your hands to remove the hardened paint.
  • Then, rinse the brushes thoroughly in the sink and allow them to dry completely on a flat, horizontal surface.

  • Apple cider vinegar method.

i. Once boiled, get your apple cider vinegar poured into a jar. Be sure it is enough to coat the bristles of the brushes.

ii. Allow your paint sleep in the apple cider vinegar solution overnight, after which you scrub out any remaining paint the next day.

iii. Lastly, rinse the brush thoroughly in a sink and ensure it dries on a flat surface, horizontally.

  • Rubbing Alcohol

For me, this method is like the least favorite of all my options and this is because it requires a follow-up step.

Rubbing alcohol tends to dry out paint brushes, so you’ll need to take a bar of moisturizing soap to your brush once you’ve had it cleaned.

Haven said that, if you seek a quick and relatively inexpensive way to clean your brushes, then this may likely be the method to run with.

All you need to do is simply dip your hardened brush into a small amount of rubbing alcohol. You’d have the paint coming out of the brush already. Then you can go ahead to wash the paintbrush properly with your soap and warm water.

Best item for cleaning paint brushes generally.

The needed requirement to clean your brush will basically be determined by the type of paint you have been using. If you’re using water-based paint, then washing under running water is just the ideal option.

However, if it’s a non-water-based paint, then you’ll need to use a specialist solution. Typically this includes the white spirit or a brush cleaner.

You can check the paint container to see the manufacturer’s recommendation and run with that. Trust me, investing in a paintbrush comb is worth it as they do not even cost much, running through the bristles after you have finished cleaning. This would also help restore the brush to as good as new and ready for the next DIY project.

Final thought on How To Clean Hardened Paint Brushes

Perhaps you’re also facing some challenges dealing with how to clean hardened paint brushes , I recommend you use any of the methods listed above and see which one works best for you. However, there’s literally nothing that beats keeping your paint brushes from drying out.

Just by washing them with soap and water after every use, you’re gradually enhancing the lifespan of your brush such that you’d have it serve you for a very long period of time, maintain the bristles of your brushes soft and nimble and as well,  save you money in the long run.

Important Reads:

Best HVLP spray gun for latex paint

Can you spray paint over stained wood