Should you clean your watercolor palette?

Artists know that they need to clean their brushes every time they paint, or at least I hope so. Does the same apply to your watercolor palette?

It is not necessary to clean watercolor palettes after each painting session, especially if you plan on saving the colors for later use. You should, however, clean your palette every couple of weeks to prevent bacteria from growing.

Is it really necessary to clean your watercolor palette?

Unlike brushes and sponges, watercolor palettes do not need to be cleaned after each use.

These are more prone to growing bacteria and even mold over time, while palettes do not have this problem as much.

However, even though palettes don’t need to be cleaned every time you paint, they should definitely be cleaned from time to time.

It is a good idea to do it every time you finish a painting or every 2-3 weeks, whichever comes first.

In addition to the very important fact that it prevents bacteria from growing long term, it will also improve your painting experience in general.

Palettes often accumulate a lot of dust and little crumbs over time, as they are exposed to air a lot. Now, if you don’t clean off the stains properly, you’ll have a problem.

Paintings can suffer greatly if there is dust on your brushes, paint and eventually your paintings.

Additionally, I recommend that you not only clean the areas where you mix your paint, but also the paint itself. 

Particularly if you haven’t used that color in a while, there will be a lot of dust on top, which you might not even be able to see, so it’s a good idea to clean them as well.

Now let me get into the whole cleaning process.

Before we get into that, I’d also advise checking out this article, about whether watercolors can go down the drain.

watercolor painting equipment on a table

What is the proper way to clean a watercolor palette?

Palette cleaning is a fairly straightforward process. Basically, you just need hot water and a brush or cloth. A sprayer would also be helpful, but it isn’t necessary.

You should begin by rinsing the paint-mixing areas with hot water. You can go over it all 2-3 times, as it doesn’t take very long.

In terms of cleaning the palette after painting, watercolors are not as persistent as other mediums such as oils and acrylics.

It is easy to remove dried watercolors as they can simply be reactivated by water, meaning the pigments will simply flow away.

It can be pretty harmful to a painting, but it is very useful for cleaning up dried watercolor paints, since they can be easily removed.

As soon as you’ve cleaned up the areas where you mix paint, we’ll get to the watercolor pans.

It would be smart to use a water sprayer for this process, since it will speed up the application of water to the pans.

If you don’t have something like this at home, you can also apply small amounts of water manually with a brush, which you will need anyway.

Cleaning the pans one by one with the brush while thoroughly cleaning the brush in between each color will ensure they do not mix.

Try swirling the brush around a bit, like you would when taking up color to paint with. This will soak up all the dust and crumbles that have accumulated on the paints over time.

It’s really a good idea to do this simple, yet tedious step every once in a while, as dust can really affect the way your paints come out once you start painting again.

If you’re wondering, whether you can laminate a watercolor painting, I’d suggest reading this article I wrote about it.

watercolor brushes next to watercolor paint

How often should a watercolor palette be cleaned?

A routine of cleaning your palette every month or every two months won’t take a ton of time, but it will greatly improve the longevity of your paints and your enjoyment of painting. 

Even if you paint frequently, your watercolors will accumulate dust, etc. over time, and that’s sadly unavoidable, but you can easily take care of them. 

It will only take a few minutes every few weeks to keep your precious paints in top condition.

Is dried watercolor on a palette re-usable?

It is common to mix too much or too little paint when watercoloring. These can both be quite annoying, but let’s focus on the first one now.

We all have small amounts of watercolor paint on our palettes that are just dusty pigments at this point. However, I see a lot of artists not using this dried up paint.

Despite the fact that this dry paint can get pretty dusty over time and therefore lose much of its vibrancy, it can still be used in the majority of cases.

Mixing a larger amount of paint ensures I have enough of the exact same mix, so I won’t have to match the colors. 

You can simply re-use watercolors the next day or even later if you decide to stop for the day.

With just a little water, they’ll be as good as new. 

To learn more about cleaning watercolor supplies, I’d recommend reading How Do You Clean A Watercolor Sponge Properly? and How Proper Cleaning Can Make Watercolor Brushes Last A Lifetime!


To prevent dust and bacteria from accumulating on watercolor palettes, they should be regularly cleaned. You can also use dried up watercolor paint on your palette. Since they can be reactivated with water, they can be reused in the future.

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