How proper cleaning can make watercolor brushes last a lifetime

Painting with watercolor requires brushes pretty much all the time. So how do you ensure they last a lifetime?

You should always wash your brushes thoroughly in the sink after painting. The brushes should be laid flat for drying, in order to prevent damaging the heads. Do not leave them in your water jar for too long.

Here’s how to clean watercolor brushes

The brushes you use to paint with watercolors should always be thoroughly cleaned after each painting session. It won’t make much difference if you forget it once, since watercolors are pretty forgiving in this regard. However, if you don’t clean them well, they will disappear much more quickly.

Particularly the hairs of the brush will lose their sturdiness and might fall out. There’s nothing worse than having hair fall out of your brush while painting!

How should the brushes be cleaned properly? It’s a relatively simple process for watercolor painting. All you need is water. You should let a little water run on the brush under the sink for 20-30 seconds while cleaning it with your fingers.

Each brush should be laid out to dry after it has been cleaned. Ideally, it should be done in the sun on a piece of paper. It doesn’t have to be paper, but just make sure the surface is clean.

You should never put your brushes in a jar to dry, especially not with the head facing down. It might change the way the brushes angle their hair for a couple of weeks or even for a lifetime. Hair stays the way it dries- more or less.

Additionally it might break the hair if you do it repeatedly. That could turn a 30$ brush into a 0.5$ brush very quickly.

Speaking of expensive brushes: Is watercolor expensive?

You can only use this method of cleaning when you are painting with watercolors. Oils, acrylics, and gouache require far more after-painting-maintenance.

What you need to know about storing watercolor brushes

Have you ever seen a picture of brushes in a jar? Yes, me too. Every time someone takes “artist stock footage”. However, this is true. Most artists store their brushes in a jar or something similar. Aesthetically pleasing and easy to access, it is a good choice.

There’s nothing wrong with that- as long as you watch out for one thing. It all boils down to which end of the brush faces up. It is a deadly sin in the art world to put a brush head first in a jar. This will severely damage your brush, so make sure to never ever do it.

I would recommend getting yourself a case if you prefer to store your brushes in another way. You will have safe, clean brushes that can be taken anywhere, stored neatly and protected.

Make sure they are completely dry before putting them in there, though. Otherwise, it will smell bad and might even mold.

A lot of artists already have their own signature they always use. But not everybody knows how to properly sign a watercolor painting. Read this article to gain this advantage.

Watch out for these things when painting

While painting, brushes can also be damaged if they are not used correctly. Although there is not much to be concerned about, it is important nonetheless.

When painting, don’t apply too much pressure to the brush! Beginner artists tend to press their brush into the paint and onto the paper to get as much paint on them as possible. 

However, this really isn’t necessary. Simply tap it in the paint and water a little to get enough paint to paint the way you want (how often did I just say paint?).

Over time, when applying pressure to the brush and pressing it against the paper, sudden rough movements can really wear it down.

In order to ensure your brushes’ longevity and avoid cramps in your hand from all the pressing, make sure that the brush flows over the paper in soft, smooth motions.

If you’re unsure about whether you can seal a watercolor painting with hairspray, read this article I wrote.

Are watercolor and acrylic brushes interchangeable?

Watercolor and acrylic can be painted with the same brushes. However, you need to ensure that they are properly cleaned before transferring them to another medium. Keep your brush full of acrylic paint out of your watercolor palette- or you’ll need to replace it soon.

As a general rule though, you should be fine using your brushes for both mediums.

Also read: Can watercolor and acrylic be used together?
If you want to know why watercolor paper is so expensive, feel free to click here.


Always clean your brushes after using them, and never put them in jars head first. Over time, the brush would be destroyed. Brushes should also be used gently when painting. Painting properly doesn’t require a lot of pressure.

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