New Life for Old Brushes

Q. I was given some old brushes that reek of turpentine, and my medium is acrylics. How do I clean off the turpentine to make them useful?

A. I assume the brushes are made from natural hair or bristles. Because turpentine will eventually evaporate, the easiest option is to let the brushes air out. Although it’s poor practice to wash any natural hair brushes in a detergent, one such cleaning might hurry the process (though it may limit the life of the brush).

A rule of thumb is to restrict every brush’s usage to one medium, because each brush is generally designed for a particular purpose. Solvents, including water, react differently on different fibers. Pristine natural hair and bristle brushes should be cleaned using lukewarm—not hot—water with soap (not detergent) or a commercial artists’ brush cleaner. The lather should be worked in and up from the ferrule gently with a soft toothbrush or hand, repeating as often as necessary. The brushes you were given were obviously not cared for properly.

Synthetic brushes are a better choice for you, because acrylics dry very quickly and can destroy natural hairs if the brushes are not cleaned correctly. Synthetic-fibered brushes can be washed with a detergent.

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