clean up after oil painting without solvent

How to Clean Up After Oil Painting Without Solvent

It takes a little more effort to clean up after oil painting without solvent, but there are so many benefits to keeping your workspace solvent-free.

Turpentine, odourless mineral spirits and alternative paint thinners are very effective at cleaning paint, however solvent can have adverse effects on your health if you’re breathing the fumes in regularly. Also, it’s not so great to use if you have kids or pets around your studio.

Luckily, it is really easy to clean up without solvent. You will have to scrub a bit harder to remove the paint thoroughly—but that’s the price you pay for having clean air in the studio.

There are a few things you’ll need to clean up, I’ve outlined them in the list below.

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Materials you need to clean oil paint

Essential items

  • Brush cleaner and restorer: This stuff is like magic, it cleans, conditions and restores your brushes. It is your solvent replacement.
  • Brush washer: use this to store water to clean the brushes. It filters the soap and oil keeping the water clean
  • Paper towels
  • Rubber gloves to protect your hands from paint
  • Razor scraper: is essential if you have a glass palette

Not essential, but helpful

  • Safflower oil: Use this to clean throughout your session. It will remove oil from your brush, meaning you can remove colour from bristles. However, it’s not suitable for cleaning at the end of the painting session as it can leave an oily residue on brushes causing them to stiffen.
  • This silicone paint scrubber: it speeds up the cleaning process as it provides you with some much needed friction to completely remove the paint from your brushes. This is great for using with springy brushes like synthetics or hog, but go carefully with delicate brushes like sable.

Step 1: Clean the brushes

Avoid washing oil paint down the sink, as this can contaminate the water system. Instead, remove the majority of paint by dipping in safflower oil and wiping with a paper towel. Do this several times until the bulk of the paint has been removed.

Then wet the brush and swirl around in the Master’s soap. Wipe on a paper towel to remove residue and repeat until most of paint has been removed. This soap is great because it’s gentle yet effective, which means it’s suitable for use with sable brushes.

Then the final step, with a relatively clean brush, is to swirl in the Master’s soap again, and remove any excess paint in your brush washer. There will be a lot of repetition in the process of wetting with water and wiping on paper towels.

If I have hardened oil paint on my brush, or if there’s a lot of stubborn paint in the bristles, I use the Silicone Paint Scrubber to work up a lather with the brush, the grooves of the scrubber pull the paint from the bristles. You can use this to remove paint from the base of the bristles near the ferrule, which if left to dry could cause the brush to become splayed and stiffened. Silicone is gentle and fine to use with hog hair and synthetic brushes, but if you’re using with sable bristles, go carefully as these fibres are delicate.

If your brush needs some extra TLC, leave some of the Master’s soap in the bristles to dry (mould the bristles into their original shape).

Rinse the brush thoroughly.

When the bristles are still wet, shape them with your fingers to a point.

Clean palette knives by wiping them on a paper towel.

Read these tips to learn more about how to restore brushes to their original state.

Step 2: Clean your palette

How to remove oil from a glass palette

If the paint is wet, just wipe the sections you want to clean with a paper towel or rag. To clean the whole palette, first wipe with a paper towel, then you can just wash it with soap and water in the sink.

If the paint is dry, use a razor scraper. Hold the scraper at a 45 degree angle to the palette and scrape the dried paint off. I’ll go over how to dispose of your paint waste, like paint scrapings further on in this post. Glass palettes are easier to clean than wood. If you’re looking to get a glass palette, buy a tempered glass one like this one by New Wave. This palette is sturdy, has a large space for mixing and comes in white, clear and grey colours.

How to remove oil from a wooden palette

Before you start using your wooden palette, you should prepare it properly so that it doesn’t absorb oil colour. Do this by first sanding to ensure it’s smooth, then by dipping a lint-free cloth in linseed oil and wiping it over the palette. Remove any excess oil with another lint-free cloth, and let it dry (this should take a few days).

Make sure you never leave paint to dry on it as it’s tricky to remove.

When the paint is wet, just remove it with the side of your palette knife. Then wipe the palette clean with a paper towel.

It’s natural for a wooden palette to become discoloured over time. You just want to make sure the palette is smooth, flat and clean to make it as workable as possible.

Step 3: Dispose of oil paint waste

You’ll need an airtight container to store the paint waste in, as drying oil is combustible. Fill your airtight container with water before you put the oil paint waste in. Oil paint waste includes oil and soap sediment that has collected at the bottom of your brush washer.

You can dispose of the waste at your local hazardous waste facility, but call up your local council to enquire about where best to dispose of it.


If you’re just beginning on your oil painting journey and you’re not quite sure what supplies to get, start with this beginner’s guide. It’ll teach you about all the tools and materials you need to start oil painting and give you valuable advice on how to use the supplies to get the best results.

Clean oil paintbrushes without solvent: Pin it!

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3 thoughts on “How to Clean Up After Oil Painting Without Solvent”

  1. Wow! I will be trying this tonight. I have never heard of using safflower oil! I will ask my kids art teacher if she knows about this!

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