Art can be both wonderful and messy. While you can capture fleeting feelings in your artwork, most of your creative output requires a little bit of cleanup after it’s done. Cleaning your art tools will keep them in good working order and prevent the spread of germs and other contaminants. Here, full-time artist Charlie Steg shares some helpful hints on how to keep your art tools clean and smelling fresh.

Keep your brushes clean

Brushes are an essential part of artist’s tools, but they can also be a breeding ground for bacteria. Bacteria like to grow in moist environments, and dirty brushes are a moist environment full of bacteria. When you paint with a dirty brush, bacteria get onto the bristles and get inside your skin. Over time, this may cause red itchy bumps or rashes, called impetigo. You can reduce bacteria on brushes by washing them with warm soap and water. However, don’t use dishwashing soap or harsh chemicals to clean them, as these can damage the bristles. If you don’t have the time to clean your brushes, you can buy specialty brushes cleaning kits to keep them bacteria-free between uses.


Use lukewarm water and soap every time you brush

When you brush wet paint on a clean brush, the bristles have a chance to pick up bacteria. If you accidentally brush a brush with moist paint again, the bacteria on the brush could be transferred to your fingers and transferred to your mouth. If you consume the bacteria, it may cause food poisoning or a rash on your lips. Brush moist paint only on a clean brush. Use lukewarm water and a mild soap to clean your brushes, then rinse them thoroughly. Dry them with a clean cloth or paper towel and put them away in a clean, dry place.


Dry your brushes thoroughly between uses

Dry any brush bristles thoroughly before you put them away. This will reduce the chances of transferring bacteria from one brush to another. Blotting a brush with a paper towel or cloth will remove most of the water from the bristles. Blotting with a paper towel will remove excess water that may cause paint to smear on the canvas, explains Hoboken-based painter Charlie Steg.


Put away all wet paint immediately after using it

A sponge soaked in clean water is a great tool to clean brushes, palettes, and other art supplies. Don’t pour the water you’re using to clean your brushes back into your water container, though. Wet paint has the potential to create bacterial infections, so don’t let it sit around for too long.

Always work clean when using a pencil or pen

If you’re drawing with a pencil or pen, clean your tool thoroughly between uses. You don’t want to accidentally transfer bacteria from one brush to another. You also don’t want to accidentally create graphite smudges or scribbles on your canvas. This will make your artwork look messy and distract from the message you’re trying to convey.


Mop up any drips and splatters immediately

After you’re done with a painting session, mop up any drips on your table or canvas. This will prevent future splatters and smudges. A white cloth, paper towel, or mop will remove most of the water from your table or canvas, leaving only the paint pigment behind. Keep in mind that you should never use a cloth or paper towel to mop up the paint pigment itself. Doing so may leave a residue on your tool that will leave a sticky, tacky feeling on your canvas. Instead, Charlie Steg advises using a mop to remove the majority of the water.


At the end of the day, wrap up your work and store it safely

If you paint every day, it’s important to clean your tools and put them away properly. If you leave your brushes, pencils, and other art supplies lying around, you risk contaminating other tools and surfaces with bacteria. If you paint at home, you can leave a clean canvas or panel in the studio so your workspace doesn’t get contaminated. If you paint at a school or public art space, you can clean your work space and leave a clean canvas at the end of the day. Be careful when storing your art tools, though. If you shove them in a dark corner with all your other tools, you risk mixing unrelated tools together. You want to store your tools in an orderly way so you can find what you need easily when you need it.



Whether you’re an experienced artist or a beginner, you’ll find that cleaning your tools will keep them in good working order and prevent the spread of germs and other contaminants. With a little bit of effort, cleaning your art tools will allow you to work longer hours with less fatigue. You can paint whenever the mood strikes you, instead of waiting for the perfect weather or time of day.

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