How to Clean Dried Acrylic Paint Brushes?

We bet you didn't know these tips before

Painting is exciting and creative, and it gives us a lot of joy and inspiration. However, this is also quite a “dirty job”! After a single painting session, your clothes, hands, and of course your paint brushes will be covered with paint splatters and blots.

And if certain types of paint are very easy to wash off (for example, watercolor), others are way harder to deal with.

Acrylic paint is one of those. Of course, this paint is not such a tough nut as oil paint, but acrylics also require quite an effort and some time to remove the paint marks from fabrics, hands and brushes. Otherwise, if you leave this paint on your artistic tools, they might get useless!

So today we want to tell you more about cleaning paint brushes from acrylic paint leftovers. You will learn how to get dried acrylic paint out of brushes in six different ways!

Also, we will share a few handy life hacks with you on how to keep your painting tools clean easier and avoid that dry paint buildup.

Finally, you are going to learn what types of brushes are typically used for painting with acrylics, and how the distinctions between these types of brushes may affect the way they should be cleaned.

Related: Watercolor vs Acrylic Paint

How to Clean Paint Brushes With Dried Acrylic Paint?

Cleaning up paint brushes, especially after an active painting session when you used many paints and often changed brushes, is the not-so-fun part about painting art and crafts!

It is incredibly boring to take all those stained brushes to the bathroom or wherever you usually clean them and wash them all making sure that no paint is left between the bristles… Unfortunately, someone has to do it because you will need those same tools the next time!

Cleaning brushes extend their lifespan. But if you are lazy and you leave acrylic paint dried on the bristles, be sure that it will quickly deteriorate them. You definitely want to avoid this scenario, especially if you are a frequent painter and know how costly quality art supplies are.

So, here is the question: how do you clean dried acrylic paint out of brushes?

In the majority of cases, you can clean dried acrylic paint out of brushes with a solvent like commercial brush cleaners, soap, and alcohols.

It is best never to let them dry with paint still on them, however. Like this, you will be able to avoid crusty and hard brushes in the first place as well.

There is more than one way of restoring paint brushes that have dried up with acrylic paint on their bristles. The method you choose to stick to depends on what you already have at hand or what you are willing to spend.
Below, you can find several most common methods that can be used if you want to know how to get dried acrylic paint out of your paint brushes.

How to Remove Dry Acrylic Paint from Brushes | Art Hacks | Restore Damaged BrushesHow to Remove Dry Acrylic Paint from Brushes | Art Hacks | Restore Damaged Brushes

Related: How to Get Acrylic Paint Off Wood?

Cleaning Dried Acrylic Paint Brushes With Acetone

Acetone has the same effect on dried acrylic paint on brushes as it has on your painted nails. It also dissolves the paint on the brush bristles in a similar fashion.

However, acetone is harsh so you might want to avoid it for plastic or synthetic brushes for this reason.

But if you still want to make use of this substance, in order to remove acrylic paint from brushes with acetone, keep contact to a minimum and do not prolong the time the brush sits in it. The general sequence of actions needed for cleaning looks like this:

  • Put all of your dried paint brushes into a suitable-sized glass jar for them to stand in with the bristles inside.
  • Pour a sizable amount of acetone into the glass jar to keep it above the bristles a bit.
  • Allow the brushes to sit inside a bit. Like this, the solvent penetrates the tough acrylic paint coating on the bristles.
  • Usually, it may take from five to thirty minutes, depending on how much paint you have on the brushes and how hard it is. While acetone is working, you should see some of the dry pigment getting softer and gradually sliding off into the water.
  • Prep warm soapy water with liquid dishwashing soap in a separate tank.
  • Now transfer the brushes to the soapy mixture and swish them.
  • Dry paint particles should come off easily.
  • Rinse the brushes in running water and dry them by laying flat.
Cleaning Dried Acrylic Paint Brushes With Acetone
via crello: megaflopp

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Removing Acrylic Paint From Brushes With Rubbing Alcohol

As all of you know, rubbing alcohol is a type of household name for its antiseptic properties. It is commonly used in homes to clean and disinfect a range of surfaces.

Another property of rubbing alcohol is the ability to remove stains on surfaces and it works great for temporary and even permanent marks from ink or oil!

So you might already guess that it breaks down acrylic paint in its dried form as well.

The process of cleaning dried acrylic paint brushes with rubbing alcohol is similar to the one used for acetone.

You will follow the same steps that we have described above, but using 70-90% rubbing alcohol instead of acetone.

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Use Brush Cleaning Formula

There are lots of commercial brush cleaners on the market now that clean as effectively, and maybe even better than acetone and rubbing alcohol.

Some artists argue that those cleaning formulas are actually rubbing alcohol or acetone that have been simply repackaged and labeled, but that is not entirely true for all brands.

The best commercial brush cleaners are actually biodegradable. They do not have a strong odor, and also they are tough on the paint but far gentler on bristles than acetone or rubbing alcohol.

Clean Dry Acrylic Paint With Hand Sanitizer

Hand sanitizers are alcohol-based antiseptic products that are typically used for disinfecting hands.

The type of alcohol used in these substances is ethyl alcohol and it produces the same results as rubbing (isopropyl) alcohol when cleaning paint off of brushes!

So if you have some hand sanitizer at home, and you need to remove dry acrylic paint from your brushes urgently, it can save your dried acrylic paint brushes pretty quickly.

Actually cleaning brushes with this method is very simple!

  1. Wear some gloves because this will be messy.
  2. Squirt hand sanitizer on the palm and rub the brush bristles quickly and vigorously into the gel until the dried paint disintegrates.
  3. Remove and discard the paint clamps and repeat the process.
  4. Wash your brushes with warm soapy water and rinse.

However, we need to warn you that, even though this method is fast and affordable, and also quite effective, it works better on small paint brushes that don’t have much dry paint buildup.

Try Out Murphy’s Oil Soap

The longer a paintbrush stays with the dried paint on it, the less the chances of its revival. You will be really lucky if you are able to recover anything after 48 hours! Murphy’s oil soap is the ultimate solution in this case.

This vegetable oil soap is the most effective product that can be used in order to remove the hard crusty mass of acrylic paint from your paintbrushes.

Just be sure that the paint has dried for up to four days.

How to clean dried acrylic paint brushes using Murphy’s oil soap? Easily!

  1. Pour some Murphy’s oil soap in a glass jar. It should be enough to cover the bristles.
  2. Put the brushes inside and let them sit there in the soapy “bath” for two to three days. It is a long time indeed, but if these brushes are among your most prized painting tools, it is worth the wait.
  3. After a couple of days, you will notice that paint sludge has sunk to the floor of the jar.
  4. Now toap the bristles gently to the bottom of the jar in order to dislodge any leftover paint.
  5. Remove your painting tools from the jar and wash with a little bit of water. Rub the bristles gently to make the soap foam, and use a paper towel to wipe them down.
  6. Rinse the brushes with clean water.
Try Out Murphy’s Oil Soap
via wikipedia

Try to Comb Dry Paint Out Of Your Brushes

This method may sound crazy but it really works. A fine-toothed comb is an alternative way for those who need to get rid of dried acrylic paint on brushes. You simply comb out the paint, literally.

But first, you need to moisten the bristles of your brushes with water or oil. It will loosen the paint crust and provide better slip. As a result, you will manage to prevent unnecessary strain on the bristles and hands.

Directions for combing dried acrylic paint brushes are the following:

  1. Get a strong fine-toothed comb, a toothbrush or a fingernail brush that you don’t use anymore.
  2. Get a glass jar with a little water or vegetable oil.
  3. Wet the dried paint by soaking the bristles for a few minutes.
  4. Remove the brush and use your fingers to hold the bristles firmly at the base by pinching near the ferrule.
  5. Once the bristles are tightly secured, brush out the paint.
  6. Wash the brush with warm water and soap, rinse, and dry.

Like this, you now have several alternative approaches that can be helpful when you need to somehow free your paint brushes from old and dry acrylic paint crust.

Each of these methods is very delicate on bristles so you can easily use them even on brushes with natural bristles.
But even though you are now aware of how to clean dry acrylic paint from brushes correctly, it is still better to know what steps to take in order to skip this cleaning at all.

So we suggest you learn what you could do in order to prevent that dry acrylic buildup from accumulating.

How to Remove Dry Paint from Brushes - Art Hacks! How to clean Painting Brushes ❤️How to Remove Dry Paint from Brushes – Art Hacks! How to clean Painting Brushes ❤️

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How to Prevent Dried Acrylic Paint From Accumulating On Your Brushes?

Acrylic paint is a water-based type of paint that belongs to the fastest drying paints, as you probably know. But once the water molecules have escaped, and only the polymerized pigment is left, it can feel rock-solid in a matter of minutes! Luckily, since it is water-based, it doesn’t take much time and effort to clean out the bristles.

Nevertheless, it is always better to prevent rather than treat and fix. So here are a few steps to keep acrylic paint from drying on your brushes:

  • Always have a container with water, or better two at hand when painting. You can dip and swirl a brush in as soon as you are done with it to prevent drying.
  • Leave brushes in the water for a couple of minutes. The wet acrylic paint on the bristles will dissolve in the water easily, leaving little to no trace of paint.
  • When you remove the brushes from water, use a dry cloth or paper towel to wipe down any paint debris.
  • Remember to remove visible clamps with your fingers.
  • Hold the tip of the brush between your fingers and rub the bristles using back and forth finger motions as though you are sprinkling salt.
  • Pay close attention to the base of the brush where the bristles enter the ferrule. This spot is known for secretly accumulating paint!
  • After washing your brushes with warm soapy water, rinse them and dry. You can also invest in a 2 in 1 shampoo and conditioner for your bristles.
  • Remember not to make the brushes in the initial water bath stay there for far too long, like forgetting them overnight. You’ll end up damaging them instead.

With these easy and handy tips and life hacks, you will be able to avoid that dry and hard to remove paint buildup in between the brush bristles that often leads to the brush turning into a stone with the bristles being glued together.

How to Prevent Dried Acrylic Paint From Accumulating On Your Brushes
via crello:SashaKhalabuzar

What Types Of Brushes Are Used For Acrylic Paints?

If you are a frequent painter and you are using acrylic paints, you should understand the difference between natural and synthetic brush bristles since these are the two most common types of brushes used for painting with this type of paint.

  • A natural bristle brush uses natural hair. It is praised by many artists because it is able to hold up well to the heavy texture of paint and it also keeps its shape longer.
  • Synthetic brushes use synthetic bristles. They come in a range of options, from soft to stiff. Synthetic brushes are more suitable for acrylic painting because they hold up better in water.

Acrylic paints require water to clean them because they contain water themselves being a water-based type of paint. And since working with acrylics means using quite a lot of water, synthetic bristles are much better than natural hair.

See, natural bristles absorb moisture and it causes them to swell and get damaged. Artificial bristles don’t have this issue at all.

Also, natural-bristle paint brushes cleaned with something other than water usually repel the paint.

As a result, the paint won’t stick well to the bristles of the brush if they are not thoroughly cleaned.

What Types Of Brushes Are Used For Acrylic Paints
via crello: AntonMatyukha

So in general, natural hair brushes are not among the top and go-to options for acrylic painters.

However, they can hold up to harsh chemicals used to clean them, whilst synthetic brushes might dissolve or break down over time!

Whichever brush you choose, make sure that you know how to wash and care for them correctly.

Well, now you know how to get rid of the dry acrylic paint buildup that is stuck between your brush bristles, and what solutions and products you should use in order to do it successfully and yet carefully without damaging the tool.

Frequently Asked Questions

⭐If my paint brushes stay with dry paint on them for a couple of days, will I be able to clean them?

You can try but it’s going to be tough. Also, it depends on the type of paint. If your brushes have oil paint on, it’ll be harder to remove than acrylics.

⭐Will acetone remove dry oil paint from brushes?

No, acetone won’t cope with this type of paint. You will need to use a paint thinner.

Written by Melinda Sherween
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Melinda worked as an art consultant and Home Designer for eight years in total. As an art consultant, she was first employed in a local art gallery in San Francisco where she was responsible for picking the most suitable artwork for her clients depending on their goals and budget. At this job, Melinda showed herself as a confident specialist and a true art lover with exceptional taste and artistic sense. Melinda is a passionate author of Housekeeping Bay and we are really happy that she is our Expert.
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