How To Remove Dried Paint From A Paint Brush In Five Minutes (A Completely Paint-Filled, Dried-Hard-As-A Rock Paint Brush)

how to remove paint from dried up paint brushes in five minutes

Do y’all know how much money I waste on paint brushes?  I don’t even want to think about it.  I always buy Purdy paint brushes for my projects (specifically my favorite Purdy XL Cub), which run about $12 each.  I buy those because they’re the best, and they make my painted finishes look so nice, but I have such a bad habit of wrapping up those paint-filled brushes in plastic, setting them aside for possible use later, and then completely forgetting about them. (I’m the worst about doing this with brushes that I use with oil-based products.)  I find them a week or two later, and they’re completely filled with paint and dried up as hard as a rock.  At that point, it never dawned on me that I could get that solid-as-a-rock paint or primer out of the brush, so those brushes get thrown away.  Sadly.

Well, the other day I was working on my piano, and I needed a brush to apply the oil-based primer on the polyurethaned walnut parts.  I searched and found a brush that had previously been used for oil-based primer…still in the plastic bag, still filled with oil-based primer, and dried up hard as a rock.

I got online to see if it was possible to clean the brush, and I came across lots of info about cleaning them with vinegar.  The problem?  It’s a long, time-consuming process (soaking in vinegar for an hour, boiling vinegar, soaking for longer, scraping the paint out, repeat as necessary), and I needed wanted a brush NOW.  I wasn’t willing to wait.

And that’s when I glanced outside and saw the container of Klean Strip Premium Stripper that I had used on the piano.  I wasn’t willing to wait around an hour or two to see if vinegar would work.  So I thought the stripper was worth a try since I had nothing to lose.  I figured it might eat right through the bristles, but since I was about to throw the brush away and head to Home Depot for a new one anyway, it was worth a try.  Nothing to lose here.

I wish I had taken a “before” picture, but I honestly didn’t even think about it.  I didn’t think this would work.  I expected the stripper to eat right through the bristles on the brush.  But just know that when I store brushes in plastic bags for use later, I always dip them in the paint or primer to fill them up as much as possible, and then put them into the bag.  That works great to keep them wet and workable for longer.  But of course, if I forget about them and they dry up completely, they seem even more impossible to clean since there’s soooo much paint/primer in them.  So let me show you how I remove dried paint from a paint brush in about five minutes.

I poured some stripper into a glass bowl, and soaked the brush in the stripper for about one minute on each side.  The primer started becoming gooey after about 15 seconds, and I scraped off the majority of it with a small metal putty knife.

how to remove paint from dried up paint brushes in five minutes - 1

With most of the primer scraped away, and the rest of it completely softened, I followed up with my normal routine for cleaning oil-based products — pour mineral spirits onto the brush, work in thoroughly, squeeze as much out into a paper towel as possible, put a generous amount of grease-fighting dishwashing liquid onto the brush, work into the bristles thoroughly, and rinse with water.  Repeat if necessary.

I ended up with this…

how to remove paint from dried up paint brushes in five minutes - 2

Those bristles were just as soft as they would have been had I cleaned the brush immediately after using.  I can’t believe how quickly and easily this worked!  It literally went from solid as a rock (that’s no exaggeration) to soft and clean in under five minutes.  Why the heck didn’t I think of it before?  I mean, paint stripper is specifically for removing layers and layers of old, dried paint, right?

And paint stripper works on both water-based and oil-based paints, primers, polyurethanes, etc.

Just three caveats:  First, I doubt that this will work on all paint brushes.  That stripper is very powerful stuff (wear your chemical resistant gloves!!!), and it very well might eat right through some kinds of bristles.  I have no idea.  I do know it will worked beautifully on my Purdy paint brush.

Second, I would imagine if you leave the brush in the stripper too long, it will do irreparable damage to the bristles.  I don’t know that for sure, but I wouldn’t take any chances. Literally about one or two minutes on each side is all it takes.  And I just stood there and flipped mine back and forth — a few seconds on side one, a few seconds on side two, and back to side one, etc.  And I don’t know how many times you could do this to one brush before it starts harming the bristles.  But if you’re like me, and you’re not willing to wait around for an hour or two for vinegar to work, then what have you got to lose?  I always seem to have stripper and mineral spirits on hand.  And I was already about to throw this brush away and head out the door to Home Depot for a new one anyway.

Third, I did end up with a few “curled” bristles.  I don’t know if that’s because I was careless in putting the brush into the plastic bag, and then they dried that way.  Or maybe it’s because I was too rough with the scraping when the brush was in the stripper, and the force on some of the bristles curled them kind of like curling small ribbon by running it between your finger and the edge of scissors.  So I would recommend scraping very gently.  The stripper works so well that there’s really no need to scrap with force anyway.  I just used some scissors and cut away the “curled” bristles, and the rest of the bristles looked great.

I could have saved myself hundreds of dollars over the last couple of years had I figured out this trick earlier!

Just remember, if the stripper eats through your paint brush bristles, please don’t blame me!  🙂  You’ve been adequately warned.  😉

UPDATE:  Someone just left this comment on my A2D Facebook page, “Genius! Just tried it with a brush and goof off stripper. It’s as good as new!!!

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  1. Thank you so much!! I have the same problem – plastic wrap, freezer, and then “forget” to finish project for four months 😛

  2. This is good to know! Funny that I never thought of paint stripper for cleaning brushes. That Purdy Cub is my favorite, too. It fits so nicely in my hand.

  3. That is a great tip! Holy crow! I’m guessing it wouldn’t do much for water based paint, however? I only use wb paint. My friend likes Simple Green and it’s okay for wb but I’d love something equally magical and fast-acting like you found, for my hard-as-rock dried up water based paint brushes.

  4. I cannot imagine how many people would love to hug your neck! Count me among them! I so needed this information. Thanks.

  5. Well I’ll be! As a professional painter, you would think that I would have thought of this. LOL I’ll have to remember this for next time. For the most part, I’m pretty good about washing brushes right away but there is always that time that I get distracted and set a brush down and forget about it.

    Great tip, Kristi!!

    P.S. the Purdy Cub is my favorite brush, too!

    1. I’ve also been using for years and it works incredibly on most brushes. Another good one without the chemical. When they say to wear chemical resistant gloves please do. The smallest drop gets on your skin and it doesn’t take long before your wondering who has there cigarette on your arm.goof off latex paint remover works almost as well.

  6. This is a good tip.. I’ve done this quite often… and you are correct that if you leave the stripper on the bristles too long.. it eats them away and you wind up with a brush that looks like a used piece of brillo pad.. i’ve done that a few times also lol

  7. Oh my gosh, I will have to try this! Think it’ll also work with brushes that I’ve been using to varnish (Helmsman Spar Urethane)? I’ve been having the toughest time keeping those and brushes that I’ve been using for oil based primer clean.

  8. Haha… my husband is always commenting on paint filled brushes in our fridge 🙂 I also have a few quality purdy brushes that are hard as rocks sitting on the basement stairs waiting for a miracle. Going to try this method tonight!

  9. This is an AWESOME trick! I don’t usually let my brushes dry with paint on them, but I do find that after awhile, a good brush will accumulate a good bit of gunk where the handle meets the bristles no matter how well I clean them. I’d like to see if I can rehab some of my old brushes by using this to get some of that gunk out.

  10. I found this out by accident a month ago while stripping my pocket door. I used a paint brush with the stripper and it had been used before and was pretty clean but had some paint hardened right down by the ferule. After stripping the door I did see that the paint on the brush had loosened, so I added more stripper and it cleaned up perfectly. And it even left the bristles really soft!

  11. I was taught to wash out my latex laced brush with water and then swish it in diluted fabric softener. Do not use dish detergent at all. This really works on my Purdy brushes. Last week after cleaning an oil based laced brush with denatured alcohol I again swished it in fabric softener that has been diluted with water and it is soft and beautiful with no wild hairs hanging. You only need a small amt. of the fabric softener in the water and it really works great. Again no dish liquid as it really dries out the brush and makes it look like a bad hair day

  12. I attended a seminar by Brian Santos, aka The Wall Wizard and author of Painting Secrets, and learned many great painting tips. He is a fourth generation paint contractor. The best tip to me was to pre-treat all painting brushes, pads and rollers with a water and fabric softener solution: 1 gal water to 1/2 c of any fabric softener and let dry or squeeze out the excess moisture. Makes the water based paint very easy to wash out of your tools. Keep a 5 gallon bucket of this solution to rinse your tools about every 2 hours by just swishing through the water for a count of ten. do the same when you’re finished and don’t rinse in plain water, (page129) Works fantastically well! There’s a different system and formula for oil based paints. I recommend his book because he tells you every thing you need to know to repair and paint with professional results, save your tools (he really disapproves of the freezer trick) and make your leftover paint stay fresh for a very long time. That alone saves the twenty dollars the book costs!

  13. Wow…. thanks for the tip and the hundreds in dollars of savings. My husband will thank you as well when gets the Home Depot bill. Lol.

  14. I have a question for Julie Morris…..does the pre-treatment to the brushes and roller pads, effect the way the paint goes on the wall or wood trim?

    1. Sorry to miss your question. No, it doesn’t affect the paint because you aren’t starting with a dripping wet tool, either let it dry or wrap it in old toweling and squeeze til it’s only damp. The condition it leaves your brushes or rollers in makes your painting actually go better. Brian’s book doesn’t mention the pre-treat part that I can find but once you follow this to clean your tools they get better and better! Keep the fabric softener/water solution and reuse it until your paint project is finished because the paint settles to the bottom pretty much. I can’t overstate the painting wisdom he has in his book! My Pinterest board on painting is labeled “I hate to paint but have to” but the stuff I learned from him makes it a whole lot less obnoxious!

  15. Ha, I figured this one out after using an old messed up brush to apply paint stripper to a project and lo and behold, the brush came out looking like new. I must say I have since soaked brushes in paint stripper to clean them (once for several hours due to forgetfulness) and haven’t had any end up looking chewed. These brushes all have some kind of “easy cleaning” synthetic bristle, so your mileage may vary with other bristle types.

  16. Thanks Kristi. Stating the bleeding obvious, I know, but who knew? Certainly not me. The bristles should be OK as they are usually the applicator for the stripper anyway.

    For oil based paints, I usually have two jars of mineral turpentine, one which is recycled/carried over for future use. I call that jar ‘first rinse turps’ (or ‘first rinse metho’ if it’s methylated spirits). So you brush out as much paint as possible, onto paper/rags/whatever, then immerse and squish the brush, back and forward, into the first rinse turps jar. Manoeuvre it about squishing most of the paint out. Then remove from turps, and squish excess turps out of brush. Place brush in the second jar and do the same. Then work ordinary detergent through the bristles, rinse and do that again. Bingo, very clean brush. Save the second jar of turps, lidded, for future ‘first rinse’. I have that written on the lid. I actually find cleaning oil-based is easier than water-based.

    Cheers, Liz.

    A painter friend told me to not clean them at all, just wrap in Glad Wrap, and put into freezer. Defrost prior to use. It works, but I prefer the cleaner brush.

  17. Thanks so much for this information, my husband is the one really bad about leaving paint-filled brushes to harden! Problem solved!

  18. Purdy is my favorite brush brand, also. Three of them ruined over the years, the guilt, the guilt!
    I’ll do better now.Thanks.

  19. I do that with my brushes as well so this is so good to know! But if I know it will be while before I will get back to project I put paintbrush and bag into the freezer. Works wonders! Just pull it out when ready it softens up and off you go. I’ve only used this freezer method with water based paint.

  20. Wow!! Wish I had known this before!! I have thrown away a LOT of brushes for this reason! Now I know what to do! Thank you so much for this valuable information!!

  21. My favorite paintbrush cleaning tip is to soak it in warm water and 2 drops of Lemon Essential Oil. It makes the bristles SUPER soft again and like new.

    PS The purdy XL you pictured is my favorite brush of all time.

  22. Another trick I learned for latex paint is to soak the brush in some liquid laundry detergent. Comes out like new!

  23. I will probably only do a fraction of the projects I watch you complete, but throwing away a dried up paint brush is something I do a lot ! Thank you for remembering that sometimes the simplest of things make a great impact!

  24. Brilliant, I worked as a painter years ago and have always considered myself to have great common sense, You got me on that one. The most obvious is usually always overlooked. I’m 81 and this just proves that an old dog can learn new tricks if he pays attention, old age doesn’t mean you know it all.

  25. We had a paint dried brush soaking in vinegar since Friday & it hasn’t done a thing!!
    DON’T waste your time!!

  26. Kristi,
    Thank you so much for this tip. You saved 3 of my Purdy brushes from the gel stain circular file. They were soaked and hard and I used a product for paint removal called Kutzit, and followed your instructions and it worked great. I pressed a little too hard and some of the bristles curled, but after trimming I still have 3 solid clean brushes to stain with. Yeah!!!!! Thank you!!!!!

  27. Wow! I have been saving all those “ruined” paint brushes for years and years waiting for someone just like you to show me how to resurrect them.

  28. I build model cars. we use purple stuff cleaner to remove errant paint jobs. Lacquer, enamel, acrylic, etc. We call it the “purple pond”- paint peels off in sheets. I loaned my good Wooster brush (Lil Brush – yes it has a name) to step son and it came back all sad and crusty (wb paints). I thought well why not give a dip in the purple pond. My purple pond is an old gallon ice cream bucket with purple stuff in it. I left it in there laying down. Came back a few weeks later and it was good as new. Washed it out good and it’s like a new Lil Brush. Just a suggestion. And yes it’s not a quickie and YMMV with oils. Use the purple stuff over and over till it weakens. Dispose and start again. Worth a try on those old brushes that are stiff and crusty.

  29. I came across this post today. I only had an old container of CITRUS STRIPPER on hand. It works amazingly well!!! 4 brushes caked and dried, with both latex and oil base, are ready to go for another run. Thank you for sharing your experience!

  30. Thank you so much for posting this. I also thought paint stripper should work great, but when i googled it, everyone said not to use it, but then i saw your post! I had tried all the other EXTREMELY time consuming suggestions online and my brushes were slightly adequate at best. I figured i could use them for primers. Havent tried yours yet, but it seems the most intelligent thing i have read, though i had to wait until the vinegar fumes stopped stinging my eyes beforei googled and found your post. 😂

    1. Vinager!!! I just did it !! It’s a
      Miracle, 10 minutes and it’s working,
      Not even a residue,
      Not cleaning

    1. You’re supposed to use a natural bristle brush with paint stripper, not a brush with synthetic bristles. Synthetic bristles are generally made with plastic. And what do you think latex paint contains? If it’ll eat through latex paint, it’ll eat through synthetic bristles if you leave it too long.

  31. I love that disclaimer at the end, lol. I found the same can out in my side room and saved myself the money for a new brush! Thanks love!

  32. I wonder if the expense of the paint stripper is worth the cost of a brush. I have some wrapped solid latex pretty new purdy brushes but I don’t usually have toxic stripper around my house. So do I go out and buy paint stripper (and then save the used stripper to recycle during the one day per year my city provides to recycle toxic crap – you shouldn’t flush this stuff!) or do I just go out and buy some new brushes. I expect the cost difference won’t be more than $10 for a couple of brushes so doesn’t seem worth the time and effort. Any non-toxic ideas?

  33. I’ve used this trick off an on since the 1970s when I was working with furniture stripper. I have no clue as to why it’s not known more widely. I do see damage to bristles fairly often but I’m not certain if this is due to the chemical, age of the brush or general brush abuse.

    Great tip in any case.