Brush Cleaner Particulates

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.


Have you done a comparison to the softer brush cleaners such as Jack’s Linseed studio soap or the mona lisa pink soap?

No—but we definitely can. I’ll have Leah (@LWaichulis) order some for us. :slight_smile:

I have used Jack’s Linseed soap. It worked fine for me, but I went through it rather fast for the money. Ivory soap works just as well.

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I’ve ordered more brush soaps for us to compare. We will be testing Lavender & Olive Oil All Natural Brush Soap - Chelsea Classical Studio, Chelsea Classical Studio Citrus Essence Brush Cleaner, Jacks Linseed Studio Soap, and Mona Lisa Pink Soap.


Hi Leah,

I also use Jack’s and Robert Doak’s Linseed Soap. My backup has been a plain ol’ bar of Ivory. I stopped using Masters Brush Cleaner when I realized that I was, in essence, sanding the paint off of my brushes. I look forward to seeing the results of your tests. Thanks!!!


4-12-2017 Edit: Added a closer look at several more soaps. (see original post)

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Thanks for the research. I’m glad to know that I’m not destroying my brushes trying to clean them.


I switched over to the blue type of Dawn dishwashing soap and am having good results. I saw a commercial on TV about how it cleans oil and then did a google and found out the blue kind is the best to cut oil. (it did a good job getting old oil paint off the carpet too.)

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Interesting! Thanks Diane!

Thanks for doing the extra testing, Leah. I will have to check out some of the other soaps. Are these additional soap non-toxic?

I have had a frustrating time cleaning my larger brushes over the years, caked in oil paint. The small brushes are easy, but the 1-3" brushes seem to be impossible to get fully clean. I have a non-toxic studio, so no turpentine. I use Eco-Solve from Natural Earth Paint, which works quite well… I can soak brushes in that if they are not fully cleaned… but I’d like to figure out the best kind of soap. I know Anthony paints with tiny brushes, but I wondered if you or he had experience with cleaning large brushes? Thanks in advance.

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I think that the largest brushes we have cleaned thus far have been in the ballpark of the da Vinci Watercolor Series 5080 Cosmo-Top Spin Paint Brush (Size 60.) I think that it has a width of about 2.5 inches (60mm). We still just use ivory soap and water—no solvents and nothing toxic—and we are able to get it clean without any issue. Granted it takes a little bit longer then the tiny brushes—but it works just the same. :smiley:

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Okay, that’s good to know. I may just need to clean them for longer. Often they seem clean, but then a few days later when they’re drying they still have a sticky/oily feel. I have found that a large bucket with a metal grate on the bottom really helps get the paint out closer to the ferule.

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