Reasons why your oil painting brushes look dull – Explained & Solved

Only artists know the importance of high-quality tools that can help to create masterpieces. One of the most essential tools is the brush but when it comes to oil painting, most artists prefer only high-quality brushes. After a few weeks, even these brushes start becoming dull over time. Have you ever wondered? why your oil painting brushes are becoming dull? It can be a frustrating situation, especially if you are in the middle of the project and you have to make precise strokes.

Table of Contents

This blog aims to provide complete detail & solution for why your oil paint brushes look dull and what can be the possible solution to restore them. Let’s get started!


  • Build up of debris over the Bristles

    Because you are not frequently cleaning your brushes

  • Use of Low quality Brushes

    Low-quality brushes also contribute to dullness

  • Improper Cleaning

    You are not cleaning them properly

Your oil painting brushes look dull due to improper cleaning and using low-quality synthetic bristles, mixing colors, and even cleaning them again and again also makes them look dirty and dull.

1. Debris over the bristles

The most common cause why oil paint brushes become dull is due to the build-up of paint and debris on the bristles. To get rid, always keep mineral turpentine in a clean jar so you can clean them during the painting process. But if you don’t clean that debris and left the brushes for days in a storage box, oil paint will go to dry completely and you may face difficulties in washing it off.

Only paint does not form debris but some other wastes such as dust, dirt, soil, glue, or any other sticky material can cause the oil paints to look dirty over time.

2. Use of Low-Quality Brushes

Low-quality brushes are those that are made of low-quality synthetic materials such as nylon. These brushes are not as durable and they are also less expensive. Moreover, we cannot get professional results with cheap brushes because they don’t pick up the paint evenly.

3. Improper Cleaning

I have seen that most beginners regularly wash their oil paint brushes with water, but you should know that oil paints are not soluble in water. I don’t recommend washing your brushes with water even when the paint is wet. You have to add some budget to purchase a paint brush cleaner that can guarantee complete cleaning.

Low-quality brushes may be an attractive option to save some money, but they tend to be less durable and less effective than artistic-level brushes. Here are some recommended bristle hairs that are best for oil painting:

Recommended bristles:

  • Hog Hair
  • Traditional Hair

Not Recommended:

  • Nylon
  • Synthetic

How do you restore oil paintbrushes?

This method is also applicable to cleaning dried oil paintbrushes and reshaping their bristles again. You can restore your oil paint brushes with distilled turpentine, brush cleaners, paint thinners, or vinegar. However, the strategy to use all the materials is the same so, here I am going to give a brief description of the procedure.

Procedure for restoring paintbrushes

Suitable for: Dried oil paint over bristles, wet oil paint over bristles, and dried debris over bristles.

Required Things:

  • Distilled Turpentine/Paint Thinner/Vinegar/Brush Cleaner
  • Rag
  • Jar


Take Distilled Turpentine, Paint Thinner, Vinegar, or Brush Cleaner in a clean jar. Put the bristle inside the jar. In the case of vinegar, leave the bristle for 24 hours in it. Use a rag to pull out the oil paint from the bristle and repeat the procedure till all the paint is removed.

Using distilled turpentine is the most recommended option to restore oil paint brushes.

More About Oil Painting:

How to wash an oil painting brush?

Washing or cleaning an oil paintbrush is consist of 4 steps: removing excess paint, rinsing with solvent, reshaping bristle, and drying. The best thing about washing is that you can do it during the painting process without wasting time because every artist would have paint thinner in the studio. Let’s discuss the steps to wash an oil painting brush.

  1. Removing excess paint: If the oil paint is wet, use a rag to wipe it off. But if it dries, use distilled turpentine or paint thinner to soften it.
  2. Rinsing with Solvent: Any solvent could be used, most often, distilled turpentine is best. Rinse with solvent and use a rag to pull out the paint.
  3. Reshaping the Bristle: Use your hand to straighten the tip of the brush, you can use linseed oil or milk to help brush straightening.
  4. Drying: Leave for a few minutes and you can reuse it or store it again.

What is the best solvent or chemical for cleaning oil paint brushes?

Everyone has their own preferences and the way they want to get results and mind satisfaction; these things can be different from every artist’s point of view. According to me, distilled turpentine is the best solvent or chemical for cleaning oil paint brushes because it just melts down the dried oil paint within a few minutes and then you can rinse it in paint thinner again to get the best results. However, turpentine is toxic, so wear a face mask before you use it.

Does alcohol clean oil paint brushes?

Alcohol can be used to clean the oil paint from brushes, but it is important to use rubbing alcohol for this purpose only. While other strong alcohols have the ability to cause the bristles to become stiff. In addition, alcohol is a very powerful substance that can also dissolve the glue of the bristle.

Rubbing alcohol works as a cleaning agent and disinfectant. It can be used to clean the paint brushes without any damage to the bristle. Leave the bristle inside the rubbing alcohol for about 30 minutes and then use a rag to pull the paint out.

How do professional painters clean their brushes?

Professional painters have one thing in common: They have consistency with their routines. Their routine also includes cleaning and painting brushes after every use. Have you ever watched Bob Ross in his TV series, how many times does he clean the bristle after every use, I think every time.

Don’t be messy, have some discipline in your routine and the next time, you will be more conscious, wash your oil paint brushes after every use. In addition, professional painters have some additional supplies such as brush cleaners (Cost between 10$ and 20$) that also work perfectly. You can also get some brush cleaners for yourself also to save time, not money!

Can you use acetone for oil paintbrushes?

Using acetone for oil paint brushes is not recommended because it is a strong solvent that can damage the bristles and shorten the life span of brushes. Instead of acetone, it is best to use distilled turpentine which can give some quick results with little cost.

Have you ever asked yourself, why we don’t use Acetone for oil painting? Acetone is a strong, volatile solvent that is really dangerous for the environment, oil paints, and painters alike. You can definitely think of removing dried oil paint from brushes with the use of acetone but its strong power can also damage the glue which is holding bristles with the structure of the brushes.

Can you use kerosene to clean oil paintbrushes?

No, it is not recommended to use Kerosene to clean oil paint brushes as Kerosene is a flammable solvent, also harmful to yourself and the environment. Bristle cannot stay long if you’ll keep using Kerosene to clean it.

Final Words

At last, your oil paintbrushes are getting worse just because of lack of care and cleaning. Give some time to these precious tools because they help to bring the image into the sight of the world. If you are using student-grade oil painting brushes to create some beautiful artwork, just left them because they cannot give you desired results. Switch to some high-quality artistic brushes by spending some extra dollars because this is an investment that will be returned in the form of good profit.

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