Maintaining Your Brushes


There are as many different techniques for brush care and cleaning as there are different brushes. Here are some tips that we’ve found to be effective and fairly easy to carry out.

Pre-project brush prep:

Remove stray bristles and dust by wrapping masking tape around the fingers of one hand several times (10 to 12) with the tapes sticky side out, making the wrap wider than the brush. Move brush bristles back and forth over the tape, as if you’re painting it, until no bristles come out. Clean the brush with thinner to remove tape adhesive and any remaining dust.

Between coats:

Never leave a natural brush soaking in thinner as it will dry out the bristles natural oils. Instead, soak it in kerosene, but be sure to suspend it so the tip is off the can bottom. Rinse it twice in mineral spirits or thinner before re-using it.

Post-project cleanup:

Rinse the brush three or four times in clean thinner. (You can re-use the thinner if you strain the solids out.) Using a brush spinner and a bucket of thinner can expedite this process. Spread the bristles to be sure all varnish/paint is removed, then comb the bristles clean and into shape using a bristle comb. Once all signs of paint or varnish have been cleaned out, dip the bristles in clean motor oil and let them soak for about 10 minutes; wrap bristles in stiff paper and store the brush suspended.


Some prefer to store brushes suspended in diesel or kerosene. There are several products on the market designed for wet brush storage, including the metal Epifanes Brushkeeper (above), but making one is a fairly simple DIY project. You need a container that is big enough for your brushes and is impervious to solvents. If you plan to store the brushes aboard, be sure it can be sealed. The next step is devising a rack system. Coat hangers work for shoreside keepers, but we prefer thin, wooden dowels affixed to the container sides. Be sure the dowels are skinny enough to go through the holes in the brush handles. Fill the container with diesel or kerosene until the ferrule is halfway covered, and you’re done. Before using the brush again, rinse and spin it a few times with mineral spirits.

Practical Sailor has been independently testing and reporting on marine products for serious sailors for more than 45 years. Supported entirely by subscribers, Practical Sailor accepts no advertising or any form of compensation from manufacturers whose products we test. Testing is carried out by a team of experts from a wide range of fields including marine electronics, marine safety, marine surveying, sailboat rigging, sailmaking, engineering, ocean sailing, sailboat racing, and sailboat construction and design. This diversity of expertise allows us to carry out in-depth, objective evaluation of virtually every product available to serious sailors. Practical Sailor is edited by Darrell Nicholson, a long-time liveaboard sailor and trans-Pacific cruiser with more than three decades of experience as a marine writer, photographer, boat captain, and product tester. Before taking on the editor’s position at Practical Sailor, Darrell was the editor of Offshore magazine, a boating-lifestyle magazine serving the New England area. Darrell has won multiple awards from Boating Writer’s International, including the Monk Farnham award for editorial excellence. He holds a U.S. Coast Guard 100-ton Master license and has worked as a harbor pilot and skippered a variety of commercial charter boats.


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