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How to Clean Dried Paint Brushes

When you’re a DIYer (like I am) you become accustomed to painting things on a regular basis. If you’re anything like I am, knowing how to clean dried paint brushes is important after you forget to clean them in time!

Whether it be a fresh coat to liven up your living room, bathroom, or kitchen or a new project you’re building from scratch (such as a wooden bird house, tool shed, piece of furniture, etc.) there’s rarely a significant period of time that goes by without something new to paint.

How to Clean Dried Paint Brushes

With that said, painting can become a hassle if your brushes become dried out. When this happens, our first instinct is to go out to the hardware store and purchase new brushes. However, if you’re doing this on a continuous basis, it could end up costing you a lot of money in the long run.

Thankfully, hardened paint brushes can be cleaned and restored in a variety of ways. The best part is, most of these cleaning methods are inexpensive and simple. Let’s dive into a few of them below:

How To Clean Dried Paint Brushes

If you frequently use your brushes and don’t clean and store them properly once your project is complete, this can cause them to dry out. If your paint brushes are dried out, use the methods below to clean and restore them.

1. Using Fabric Softener

Fabric Softener

It’s important to mention that this method will only work if the paint that’s stuck on your brushes is water-based (i.e. paints like latex and acrylic). 

Fabric softener isn’t just for getting your clothes and sheets fluffy, it can also be used to clean many things, including dried out paint brushes. For this method, you’ll only need to use a small amount of fabric softener (about â…› of a cup). 

You’ll need to mix the fabric softener with 4 cups of warm water in a bucket. This ratio might need to be adjusted if your paint brushes or rollers are large. Once you have your fabric softener solution mixed together, the cleaning process is simple:

  1. Swirl your dried out paint brush into the fabric softener mixture until you begin to see paint coming off. The paint should sink to the bottom of the bucket.
  2. Once the paint brush is clean, you should then give the brush a rinse in the sink to remove any remaining fabric softener solution.
  3. Wipe the paint brush thoroughly with a paper towel.
  4. Let the brush (or brushes) dry. This should be done on a flat surface, horizontally. DON’T let the brush dry upright, as this can cause water to seep into the handle and damage the brush.

If you want to increase the longevity of your paint brushes, we recommend using this cleaning method after every paint project. The more frequently you use the fabric softener method, the better your paint brushes will perform. 

Apple Cider Vinegar
apple cider vinegar

2. Using Vinegar

Both apple cider vinegar and standard white vinegar are effective cleaning solutions for cleaning dried paint brushes. They’re also the cheapest option, however, if you aren’t a fan of the smell of vinegar, you probably won’t like using this method. It can also be time consuming.

If you don’t mind the smell and spending more time cleaning your brushes, then you should consider this solution. Just like the fabric softener method, the vinegar method will only work with water-based paints. Before using the vinegar, it will need to be boiled over an open flame. I’ll explain the process for both apple cider and white vinegar below. 

Apple Cider Vinegar:

  1. Once boiled, pour apple cider vinegar into a jar (enough to coat the bristles of the brushes)
  2. Let your paint brush sit overnight in the apple cider vinegar solution
  3. The next day, scrub out any remaining paint
  4. Rinse the brush thoroughly in the sink and let it dry on a flat surface, horizontally.

White Vinegar Method:

  1. Once boiled in a pot, place your dried out paint brush in the white vinegar solution
  2. Let your brushes sit in the solution for around 20 minutes or so
  3. Wash them with soap and warm water, using your hands to remove the hardened paint
  4. Rinse the brushes thoroughly in the sink and let them dry on a flat surface, horizontally

3. Using Solvents

The solvent method is the most commonly used cleaning method for dried paint brushes, mainly because it’s effective and quick. The only thing that might keep you from using it is the fact that you might not have any solvents on hand. 

In this case, you’ll need to visit your nearest grocery or box store to pick some up (you can also purchase some online). Keep in mind, though, solvents can be more expensive than the other cleaning solutions on this list (like fabric softener).

The good part is, you’re not limited to only cleaning brushes that have been dried out with water-based paints; this method will work for cleaning oil-based paints as well! If you do plan on cleaning oil-based paints, you’ll need to use the right solvent, like mineral spirits or turpentine.

Here’s what the process looks like when using solvents to get your dried out brushes clean:

  1. Start by removing any excess paint from the brush, using your fingers.
  2. Pour a small amount of solvent into a container (non-food).
  3. Swirl your brush into the solvent until all of the dried out paint has been removed
  4. Use your fingers (or another tool) to reshape the bristles of your brush and then store it horizontally so it can dry.
Fayetteville, NC USA 12/10/2019 Rubbing Alcohol Displayed At The Local Supermarket

4. Using Rubbing Alcohol

This is my least favorite option on the list, as it requires a follow-up step. Because rubbing alcohol tends to dry out paint brushes, you’ll need to take a bar of moisturizing soap to your brush once you’ve cleaned it.

With that said, if you want a quick and inexpensive way to clean your brushes this might be the method to go with. You’ll simply need to dip your dried out brushes in a small amount of rubbing alcohol and that’s basically it (minus the extra step I mentioned).


If you’re dealing with dried out paint brushes, we recommend using one (or several) of the methods listed above to see which one works the best. Remember, to keep your paint brushes from drying out, all you need to do is wash them with soap and water after every use.

While this can be tedious, it will keep the bristles of your brushes soft and nimble; increasing the longevity and saving you money in the long run!