More and more these days oil painters are finding they have developed sensitivities, allergies and reactions to the solvents used in oil painting. Skin contact with solvents of the strong varieties, turpentine and mineral spirits, can cause defatting of the skin, dermatitis and skin allergies while inhalation can lead to dizziness, headaches, drowsiness, nausea, fatigue, loss of concentration and respiratory irritation. While there are odorless and low odor varieties of mineral spirits and turpentine, many find that prolonged exposure to even these weaker varieties can cause bouts of sneezing, headaches and general discomfort to the eyes, nose and throat. Many of these irritations have lead oil painters in many directions, some move to water based paints and some find that using lighter, thin bodied oils for thinning to be an acceptable alternative. Clean up, especially of brushes, is an important matter and figuring out my own method of cleaning without the use of solvents turned out to be easier than I had initially thought and really a welcome alternative. First, just for a moment think about your brushes. Many oil painting brushes are natural bristles and while they can be hardy and robust, the natural hair of the brush cannot take the constant washing with solvent over the years without drying, splitting and breaking until you are left with something reminiscent of a doormat and completely worthless as a painting tool.
My personal method to cleaning my brushes is one that I have used for years. First, brush out any excess paint. Do this onto a piece of scrap canvas or an old terrycloth towel. Take the canvas or cloth and wrap the brush and squeeze any excess starting at the ferrule and through to the tip. This will help get out large bits of paint hiding near the base of the brush hairs. Once the excess paint has been brushed out and squeezed out then get some safflower oil from the grocery store (this is cheaper than the variety you want to use for painting). Dip the brush in the oil and allow it to coat the bristles. Using your scrap canvas or towel, brush the oil soaked brush out to remove even more paint. Do this a few times until all traces of paint are gone. At this point your brush should be able to handle a soap and water washing without too much effort. I have found that dipping the brush in dishwashing soap and scrubbing the bristles on a surface to really get the soap to penetrate the brush prior to introducing water helps the washing process as the water will naturally be repelled without the addition of soap. Wash the brush several times in soap and water until it is clean. One other little suggestion I would like to offer is that every now and again you may find that your natural bristles are dry and lifeless and an occasional application of hair conditioner can help revive the brush. Doing this repeatedly can cause the brushes to splay and the bristles to separate so it is really recommended only when necessary and be sure to rinse will.
How do you clean your brushes without solvents? Please share.
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