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Cleaning Your Finishing Brushes

wood finishing

by Alan Noel
Professional Wood Finisher


If you have looked at high quality brushes such as ox-hair and china bristle for varnishing/lacquering or enameling and nylon/polyester brushes for latex paints, the prices may surprise you. Ox-hair brushes are the softest, most supple and are a natural bristle which is the best to use with varnishes and oil based paints and stain. Nylon or nylon/polyester brushes are best used with latex paints and water based finishes. Keeping these tools CLEAN is the key to a great job and longevity of the tool itself. Here are some tips to help you keep your finishing brushes clean:

  1. For all brushes used with water based materials, simply wash out as much material as you can with warm water. Next rub the wet brush on a bar of hand soap (Ivory works great) for a minute or two and then rub the brush in a circular motion in the palm of your hand adding a little water as you go. It should begin to lather fairly quickly.
  2. Now, gently squeeze the lather towards the end of the bristles and look for any discoloration. If the lather shows NO signs of discoloration and the soap is completely white, rinse the brush again and you are done. If the lather isn't one hundred percent white repeat until all traces of color are completely gone. Wrap the brush in newspaper and hang to dry.
  3. For all oil based materials first dip the brush in lacquer thinner. Mineral spirits will work but in my experience, lacquer thinner works best. Then repeat the steps above until the lather is COMPLETELY white. Rinse with water and wrap with newspaper and hang to dry.
  4. For latex brushes with material that will not wash out place the brush in a container of Denatured Alcohol and cover for a day or two. This will liquify the remaining material and then the brush can be washed.
  5. For oils place the brush in a methylene chloride based stripper and cover for a couple of days. This will loosen the material from the brush and then it can be washed.
  6. Always be sure to keep repeating the process until the lather is completely white and devoid of ALL color.



Visiting Atlanta? Attend one of Alan's upcoming highly informative Highland Woodworking wood finishing seminars:

Finishing the Finish, April 13, 2011

Spray Finishing, Apr 30, 2011

Antiques Show and Tell, May 14, 2011

French Polish Workshop, May 18, 2011

Visit Highland Woodworking's Online
Wood Finishing Supplies Department




Alan can be reached directly via email c/o Alan Noel Furniture Refinishing at anoelfurniturere@bellsouth.net.


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