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How to prevent bristles from clumping

Clumped bristles apart from being very annoying, can impact the finish of your paint. It can leave streaks, make painting much more difficult and cause bristles to fall out, ruining your lovely paint job.

But instead of buying a brand new brush, there are some simple steps you can take to care for your brushes and stop the clumping.

Properly clean your brushes

Clumping is generally caused by dry paint. Your paintbrush might look clean but there can be dried paint near the base, hidden among the bristles, which can cause clumping. So to give your brushes the best chance of working how they should do, you need to clean them thoroughly.

How you clean your brushes depends on the type of paint you’ve used. For water-based paint, use kitchen roll or a clean rag to wipe as much paint off the bristles as you can. Then rinse it in a bucket of warm soapy water. Once all the paint is gone, rinse it under cold water so it’s thoroughly clean. This helps to remove the paint plus soap residue which might be left behind and can make the bristles inflexible.

For other kinds of paint, wipe it off with a rag, rinse the paintbrush in warm soapy water and then leave it to stand in white spirit overnight. After they’ve had a good soak, wear protective gloves and massage the bristles to work in the white spirit. Get as high up the bristles as you can, into all the parts you can’t see.

If you’re using a shellac-based paint or primer (these are usually advertised as being able to prime surfaces like laminate), these can be cleaned with acetone. Shellac is used in nail polish so the nail varnish remover you can buy from the high street is really effective at removing the paint. After you’ve put the brushes in the acetone, massage the bristles and remove the excess paint. When you’ve removed as much of it as you can, rinse it in warm water to remove any acetone residue.

You should clean your brushes immediately after you’ve finished using them. If you need to use them again in a few hours or the next day, wrap the brush in cling film or keep it in an airtight sandwich bag. This will prevent the paint from drying out and let you use it again later on. Just don’t leave it wrapped or sealed up for too long, it won’t stay wet forever.

Drying your brushes

Clumped and loose bristles can also happen when your brushes don’t dry correctly.

Place your brushes handle down in a mug or cup to let the bristles stand freely. This stops the weight of the handle from leaning on the bristles and working them loose. It also keeps them in a natural position and prevents them from drying awkwardly and clumping.

Storing your brushes

Your brushes should be separated by project. For example, you should have a brush you use for priming, a brush you use for water-based paints etc. This will help make it easier to keep the brushes completely clean and prevent clumping.

You can store them any way you want, just make sure there’s no pressure on the bristles as this can cause them to work loose.

If you’ve found your bristles have gone hard, you can soften them in several different ways.

One of the easiest ways is with white vinegar.

Pour enough white vinegar in a bowl to allow the brush to be submerged. Heat the vinegar in a microwave for around a minute or so, until the outside of the bowl feels hot. Then, soak your paintbrush in the vinegar for about 20 to 30 minutes and rinse under a tap. If the bristles are still stiff, repeat the process.

Another option is to use baby lotion. Baby lotion is really moisturising and will help your bristles stay soft and flexible. Simply rub a small amount of lotion onto the bristles, massaging it in as you go. Then, gently wipe the brush off on a towel working in circular motions to dislodge the remaining lotion. Repeat until you’re happy with the bristles. 

Of course, some paintbrushes are so old that sometimes it calls for treating yourself to a new bit of kit.