7 Tips for Looking After your Watercolour Brushes

Have you ever invested in a beautiful, high quality (possibly expensive) brush and a month or so later found that it is just not working well for you anymore? I hear this happening all the time from students!

I would always recommend investing in a small amount of good quality supplies for your art, but once you have invested in them, it’s important that you know how to take care of them so that they can last and continue to perform well for you. Otherwise you will be wasting your money!

Brush hairs can be quite delicate and easily damaged. Caring for them properly will help you to:

a) maintain consistency in your brush strokes and marks⁠

b) keep their shape and that oh-so-important fine pointy tip for those delicate details

c) get the best results with your work

So, here are my top 7 tips for caring for your brushes so that they will last as long as possible ☺


Do not use them for acrylics, masking fluid, or anything else which can easily damage them. For masking fluid, have a dedicated brush or, better yet, use a silicone shaper tool.


Always be gentle with them whether you are painting, cleaning or storing! Never pinch, pull or cut the hairs (some people do, believe me!). When painting, picking up paints, or even dabbing the brush on a paper towel or cloth – use the same motion that you use to lay down paint, using the side of the brush rather than jabbing at the paper or paint.


Illustration - Jar of PaintbrushesThis one makes me cringe when I see or hear people doing this. NEVER leave the brush sitting downwards in a jar, whether it be in a glass of water or when storing. This is probably one of the quickest ways to damage the hairs and ruin the shape of the brush. Instead, when painting always rest your brush flat on the table or on a brush rest, and when storing always store the brush either horizontally or in a jar with the brush hairs pointing upwards.


Protect the what now? The ferrule is the metal part of the brush that connects the hairs with the handle. If this gets too much water or paint in it, it will be very hard to clean and may start to loosen, crack or drop hairs. To protect it, make sure you a) don’t dip your brush too far in the water – it’s only the hairs that need it! and b) don’t store the brush upright when wet, as the moisture and paint will drip downwards into the ferrule. Instead, make sure you wait until your brush is dry to store it!


When you have finished painting, make sure to wash the leftover paint out of the brush with water. An effective way to do this is to pick up some clean water and then gently rub the brush in the palm of your hand. This will usually take out more paint than you expect. Keep going until the water is clear. Once clean, lay the brush flat to dry before storing (as I mentioned earlier!). Every so often, you can use a mild soap or gentle brush cleaner to deep clean the brushes to get any stubborn paint out but this is not necessary after every wash. Excessive cleaning or using strong cleaners made for other paints like acrylics will again damage your brush! I keep a bar of soap handy and use a little every so often for a deep clean.


After washing the brush, gently use your fingers to reshape the hairs to maintain that fine tip. If the hairs dry out of shape, they may be hard to fix later on. But again, do this gently! Do not pull at the hairs.


Brushes usually come with a case that you can slide over the brush tip. I always keep these for when I’m taking my brushes out and about with me so they don’t get damaged in my bag.  You can also buy brush cases that are made for travelling to help protect the brushes. Plus if you wanted to go to the extreme, you could buy a tin of brush shaper, which is the coating that brushes usually arrive in when they are new. You may wish to coat your brushes with this if you are travelling or if you are not planning to use them for a long time. You just need to coat the hairs a little and this will dry hard and keep the brush in its shape. When you come to use it again, you just need to wash it off with a bit of water before use.

I hope these tips have been helpful and will help make your brushes last longer! Let me know your thoughts in the comments below or if you have any other tips that everyone may find useful.

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