How NOT to clean your paintbrushes

Photo of dirty paint brushes in a dirty pot of water

Don’t do what I did! Follow these simple steps to keep your paintbrushes intip-top condition.

If I’m honest, I’ve ruined a small fortune in brushes years, all because I didn’t take proper care of them. But here’s the thing: a few simple steps could have saved me a ton of money and helped improve my paintwork along the way.

Hopefully, by sharing these tips, I can help you avoid making the same mistakes and damaging your brushes.

So read on and discover my hard-earned tips and keep your paintbrushes in pristine condition.

Leaving them in water for too long

Bent bristles on a paintbrush

What happens when a brush is mistreated

We’ve all been there. You’re in the middle of a painting session, and you need to step away for a few minutes or use a different brush so, you stick your brush in a cup of water as in the above photo. But leaving your brushes in water for too long can actually damage the bristles. Over time, the water can weaken the glue that holds the bristles together, causing them to fall out or become misshapen.

Instead, I now have a neat little container that I dip the brushes into and can then suspend them over the water rather than leaving them drowning in it. When I come back or want to use that brush again, it’s ready and waiting for me and the bristles haven’t been bent out of shape.

Not cleaning them properly

After you’re done painting, it can be tempting to just rinse your brush quickly and call it a day. But if you don’t clean your brushes properly, you’ll end up with dried paint stuck in the bristles, which can be almost impossible to remove.

Ideally, also use a brush cleaner or soap specifically designed for cleaning paintbrushes – see my review of  Masters Brush Cleaner. And be sure to get all the paint out, even from the base of the bristles. Read my article on brush cleaning how to clean them correctly.

Letting them dry out

This might seem obvious, but it’s worth mentioning: if you let your paint brushes dry out completely before they’re cleaned, you’ll have a heck of a time trying to get them clean again. And if you’re using expensive, high-quality brushes, you could end up ruining them altogether.

Now I make a point to always thoroughly clean them as soon as I’m done painting. It’s the first thing I do after a painting session.

So, as soon as you’re done painting, rinse your brushes thoroughly and reshape the bristles before putting them away.

Using the wrong brush for the job

Different paints require different types of brushes, so it’s important to use the right one for the job. For example, if you’re using watercolour paint, you’ll want a brush with softer, more flexible bristles. On the other hand, if you’re using oil-based paint, you’ll want a brush with stiffer bristles that can hold up to the thickness of the paint.

Storing them improperly

Finally, the way you store your paintbrushes can make a big difference in how long they last.

If you leave them lying around haphazardly, the bristles can become bent or misshapen. (I’ve never done this of course, let’s just keep m  Mr Hyde moments between us 😋 )

Instead, try to store your brushes in a container or holder that keeps them upright – brushes upwards – and separated from each other. If they have a plastic sleeve to protect the bristles put that back on.

So, there you have it: some of my and others’ most common mistakes when it comes to looking after our paintbrushes. By avoiding these pitfalls, you can extend the life of your brushes and get better results from your model-making.

Now if only I had a Tardis to send this back to my younger self and save some of my previous brushes…


Founder of ModelRailwayEngineer, Andy Leaning

Andy is a lifelong modeler, writer, and founder of He has been building model railways, dioramas, and miniatures for over 20 years. His passion for model making and railways began when he was a child, building his first layout at the age of seven.
Andy’s particular passion is making scenery and structures in 4mm scale, which he sells commercially. He is particularly interested in modelling the railways of South West England during the late Victorian/early Edwardian era, although he also enjoys making sci-fi and fantasy figures and dioramas. His website has won several awards, and he is a member of MERG (Model Railway Electronics Group) and the 009 Society.
When not making models, Andy lives in Surrey with his wife and teenage son. Other interests include history, science fiction, photography, and programming. Read more about Andy.

Afflliate disclosure:The links on this page may take you to carefully selected businesses, such as Hornby, Amazon, eBay and Scale Model Scenery, where you can purchase the product under affiliate programmes. This means I receive a small commission on any orders placed although the price you pay does not change. You can read my full affiliate policy here. I also sell my my own ready to use, pre-made and painted buildings and terrain features. browse the range.

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