Thursday, July 18, 2013

Murphy to the Rescue! Cleaning Old Brushes

When I first began painting, I was pretty careless with my brushes.  For the most part I used bristle filberts which held up reasonably well to my vigorous painting style, but not to my neglect.  I rarely cleaned my brushes thoroughly: if I did any cleaning at all it was a quick dunking in the OMS and a wipe off.  Over time I collected jar after jar of stiff, unresponsive and virtually useless brushes.  Most of them should have been thrown away long ago.

Some time ago, I was told about Murphy Oil Soap as a brush cleaner, and I've even tried it a few times with success, but I never paid a lot of attention, frankly.  Recently I noticed the jars full of useless brushes littering my studio, and Murphy Soap came back to mind.  It's available at any grocery or hardware store, so the next time I was shopping I picked up a bottle.  I can't remember what I paid, but it's inexpensive.  I partially filled a glass jar and tossed in a few of my worst brushes.  I checked back a few days later and found a minor miracle had occurred.  My brushes were almost like new...the bristles clean, soft and pliable again.  I'm now going through the whole collection of ruined brushes a few at a time.  I don't know what the heck I'm going to do with all these "new" brushes.

Here's a picture of Murphy Oil Soap for your information.  Next to it you'll see my brushes 'soaking'.   One thing you'll notice is that the Murphy in the jar has coagulated to the consistancy of vaseline.  I imagine that is due to evaporation of some part of the soap.  However, I haven't noticed any lessening of the cleaning power as a result.  I just dunk the brushes in the gunk!  It works.  After a few days, I wipe the brush down and then wash with either a conventional brush cleaner or plain ol' dishwashing soap.  I have found a couple of brushes that were beyond repair.  If the old paint is too built up at the base (or belly) of the brush, just above the farrell, it may not be possible to clean it out to a new condition.  It could be that eventually Murphy would even get that problem, but I figure if it won't do it in a couple of days of soaking, it's not worth the effort.

Nowadays, I'm very careful with my brushes and I clean them properly after every session, but it's been fun to see my old neglected brushes ready to go again.  I have more than I know what to do with!

By the way, Murphy works fantastically on dried acrylic brushes also.  In fact, it seems to clean them more quickly than the oil brushes.




My Art Site: Bruce Hancock Fine Art

14 comments :

  1. Neat! Will this work with brushes that no longer have any bristles?

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  2. For your painting style, would it matter?? (Ignore him folks....he claims to be a relative, but I'm not admitting it.)

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  3. I have had a jar of this stuff for months now, but never touched the oil paints because I didn't know what to do with the brushes. Sounds silly, I know.

    Would dipping the brushes in the Murphy's Oil between strokes be a waste of time or resources? I'm brand new to oils!

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  4. Don't let all the "technical" stuff keep you from painting. The worst that can happen is you ruin a couple of brushes. Decent bristle brushes are available for $3 - 4 so it isn't anything to be that concerned about. Murphys is a good "restorer" of abused brushes that have dried paint in them, but it is NOT a medium to be mixed with the oils as you paint.

    All you need for cleaning your brush 'between strokes' is some "Gamsol", which is highly refined oderless mineral spirits (OMS). Every art store has it. Some will have cheaper brands of OMS. Those are ok too, but I do recommend Gamsol. Stay away from the classic turpentine. It is very toxic and almost overwhelming in a closed room. Not to mention dangerous. Some painters discourage the practice of washing the bush in OMS between colors, preferring instead to wipe the brush with a paper towel or rag. But that's just a personal choice you can make later. For now, go ahead an use the Gamsol while you are painting. In very small amounts, it can also be your medium, which is just a term for an additive to your oil paints to make them easier to manipulate. (There are also dozens of mediums available...but that can wait too.)

    Thoroughly clean your brushes after every painting session in Gamsol. Then use dishwashing soap and lukewarm water to give them a final cleaning....really more of a conditioning. They will last a long time if you do that after every painting session. Many artists use other conditioners...there are some available at the art store...and some folks just use various oils, like safflower or vegetable oil right from the grocery store. But simply put, wash your brushes clean in Gamsol, condition with a liquid dishwashing soap or brush conditioner and set them aside for the next painting session. That's it...it's easy and only takes a couple of minutes. If you do that, you won't need Murphys! Your brushes will stay soft and shaped for a long time. No reason not to dive in and paint!

    Good luck!

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  5. So interesting article! I had no idea that there are so easy ways to clean make up brushes! Thanks a lot for sharing these tips! Regards! Burroughs Carpet Cleaners Ltd.

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  6. Why not use Murphy's in between painting sessions (rather than dish washing soap)?

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    1. Hi Sherry....in my case, the dishwashing soap is always right at hand. It's really a matter of convenience, and although I haven't tried it, I see no reason you couldn't use Murphy's for both purposes.

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    2. Oh, thanks. I thought maybe it was too harsh for everyday use.

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  8. Bruce thanks for the tip. This morning I made another go at oils after not doing it for almost a year because of technical matters. My brushes are in bad shape because I don't really know how to clean them aside from throwing them into a jar of Murphy's.

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    1. I'm glad to hear you gave it a try again. Starting out can be intimidating, but the best cure for that is to push ahead. And with the internet, you can find solutions and suggestions for tackling every painting challenge, including cleaning brushes. And take those really beat up brushes full of dried paint, toss them in a jar of Murphy's and let them soak for a couple of days. You might be surprised at how well they recover! Have fun!

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  9. I have thrown in the garbage so many brushes just because I couldn't find a good cleaner. I spend so much money on different types of cleaners but nothing helps. Thank you for sharing your experience! I will definitely try this!

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  10. Hi Celia. I have found some brushes that are beyond recovering, but they are rare exceptions. For the most part Murphys will bring almost any brush back to useability. Give it a try on some that you are about to throw out...I think you will be surprised.

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  11. Do you find that the Murphy's damages the finish on the brush handles? I've used the Winsor Newton brush cleaner (which works well, but is pricey) and if the liquid touches or wicks up beyond the ferrule, it totally destroys any coating on the handles. Not that I mind "wood" handled brushes (grin) but I definitely do NOT like the handle coatings constantly flaking into my paint until it's done falling off.

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