Good paint brushes will provide excellent service for years, that is, if they’re properly taken care of. Proper cleaning and wrapping of a brush is an essential part of making sure that it will be usable for the next several years; but not everyone cleans their brushes properly.
Granted, having to stop basking in the joy of just having finished an interior decorating project, to clean your brushes isn't exactly something to bring joy to the heart. Many people put off cleaning their brushes but unfortunately, the longer you put it off, the harder those brushes are to clean. Leave them sitting long enough and they hard as a rock.
Modern acrylic/latex paints are much easier to clean out of paint brushes than oil-based paints are. All that's required most of the time is some warm water and a little bit of dish soap. But if the brush has been dipped too far into the paint, allowed to sit with paint in it or used in a hot environment where paint hardens quickly, they can be extremely hard to clean. In those cases, a brush cleaner may be needed.
The problem isn't usually the paint that's on the ends of the bristles or even the paint which hardens on the outside of them. Rather, it's the paint that works its way up into the center of the bristles, close to the ferrule that holds the bristles and handle together. When this paint hardens, it eliminates the bristles' flexibility making it very easy for them to break.
Even brushes with paint hardened up close to the ferrule can be salvaged, if one has the patience to work with them. Brush cleaners will soften that paint, allowing it to be cleaned out. Since the bristles are packed so close together, cleaning out that softened paint takes time, working them with a brush comb. As the brush comb pulls out the softened paint, the bristles will become more pliable. Once all the paint is pulled out (which takes quite a bit of work) the bristles can be cleaned with soap and warm water to remove the chemical cleaner.
Not all chemical cleaners are created equal. Some clearly work better than others and some are limited in the types of paint they will work with. It's important to know what type of paint the brush has in it, before selecting a cleaner. Professional painters use different types of brushes for different types of paint, so this identification is easy for them. Most homeowners attempt to use the same type of brush for everything, so you'll have to look at the paint can labels to find out what type of paint you used.
After cleaning any paint brush, it should be wrapped in the original wrapper, so that it can maintain a good shape. High quality brushes come with wrappers which are designed to be reusable for this very reason. If you don't have the original wrapper, you can wrap them instead in newspapers, being careful to shape the bristles correctly to form a nice wedge.
I've personally used this product for years, with excellent results. It will take a totally hardened brush and clean it out, making it as good as new. Read Full Review
I've used this product for years to salvage paint brushes of all types and it works just as well on natural bristle brushes as it does with synthetics. Likewise, it works just as well with oil-based paints or latex. Just leave any brush soaking in it for a little while and it will soften the paint, making it possible to clean out while the product itself cleans out of the brush with soap and water. This product not only cleans bristles, but conditions them as well. While not the most environmentally safe, it is excellent at what it does; just make sure to use in a well-ventilated area.
This product is similar to Klean-Strip's, but not as harsh smelling. It works with both oil-based and latex-based paints, whether fresh or hardened. Read Full Review
Sunnyside's brush cleaner is just about as good as Klean-Strip's, but doesn't smell as bad. Like the Klean-Strip product, it will soften both oil-based and latex paints, whether fresh or hardened. The fast-acting formula can be cleaned out of the brushes with water. Restores brushes to like-new condition. Brushes can be immediately returned to use, without having to wait for them to dry.
Like the Sunnyside product, this one contains no benzols or acids, making it a more environmentally friendly option than the Kleen-Strip product. It works very well with wet oil-based products as well, although it should not be used with wet water-based products. Read Full Review
Like the Sunnyside product, this brush cleaner contains no benzols or acids, making it a more environmentally friendly option than the Kleen-Strip product. It works very well with wet oil-based products as well, although it shouldn’t be used with wet water-based products. Kwikeeze brush cleaner is designed for cleaning out hardened paint of all types including brushes, rollers and can even remove varnish and lacquer. It contains no caustic substances, benzols or acids, making it more environmentally friendly than the Kleen-Strip product. This product is a great brush cleaner for use with wet oil-based paints as well, although you should not use it for wet latex paints. The paint solids will settle, allowing you to pour off the clear liquid to be reused.
This is the one fully biodegradable brush cleaner I've seen. It's a little slower acting than the others, but makes up for it by being much friendlier for the environment. Read Full Review
This is a fully biodegradable product, specifically formulated for use on synthetic brushes and roller covers. It’s not intended for use with natural bristle brushes but it does work with both oil-based and latex paints, as well as clear wood finishes. The brush needs to be given time to soak in the liquid, agitating it periodically. While slower to use than the other ones we've looked at, it does have the distinct advantage of being environmentally friendly.
OSMO's product is actually intended for use with oil-based paints and not water-based ones. While it can be used for cleaning brushes which contain fresh water-based paints, it should not be used for dried water-based paint. Read Full Review
This cleaner falls between the Kleen-Strip and the Krud Kutter on the environmental friendliness scale. While it’s not biodegradable, it contains no benzene or d-limonene, and has a very low odor. This product is formulated more for use with residue from oil-based products, not water based ones. However, you can still use it as a brush cleaner for fresh water based paints as well. It is great for removing paint from other surfaces, such as cement and tile floors.