Cleaning my brushes after a painting session has always been a very simple process. Ivory soap and lukewarm water have been my brush cleaning supplies since since day one. In fact, there is a video resource in the materials section which walks you through my brush washing and tying process.
However, a good number of my colleagues find success with commercial brush cleaners. One of the most common is the “The Masters Brush Cleaner and Preserver”. This commercially available brush-cleaning cake claims to remove even the most stubborn of dried paint from the brush—and many colleagues have stated that it does just that—and does it quite well.
Advertisements for the product state, “Just wet the brush and work up a lather on the hard cake. Even old, hardened oil paint brushes can be restored to their original snap and luster.”
The issue though is that some colleagues have reported a noticeable rigidity or “scratchiness” to a brush after it has been cleaned with the Master’s Cleaner (or a similar brush cake). This noticeable scratchiness may be due to HOW such cleaners get stubborn, dried paint out of a brush—an aggregate of rigid particulates.
Let’s take a look at both Ivory soap and The Master’s Brush Cleaner under a microscope at 40x.
As you can see, the Master’s Brush Cleaner on the right, in stark contrast to the Ivory soap on the left, has a good number of sharp particulates which seem able to embed themselves in the brush fibers.
Here we took a clean synthetic brush and washed it with the Master’s Brush Cleaner. Even after thorough rinsing, there does appear to be some residual particulates (10x). While this may not make much of a difference for brushes that are used for thicker, more cavalier paint applications—softer brushes that are used for delicate surface refinements may not fare well.
Keep this in mind when choosing a cleaner. In some cases, cleaners with such aggregates may prove VERY useful—in others it can be highly problematic.
UPDATE: Here is a closer look at some of the soaps that were recommended to us. It does not seem that any held the same kind of particulates that make the Master’s Brush Cleaner so abrasive.