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Toolkit How Do I Clean, Treat, and Store My Watercolor Paint Brushes?

Ardak Kassenova

From tips on how to clean them to how to treat and store them properly

Once you start investing in good quality watercolor paint brushes, it can get pretty expensive when you start adding them all up. Don’t worry, if you take care of them properly, they can last you a lifetime and beyond. Some have even inherited really great ones from their parents and grandparents!

Knowing the right way to use and how to clean watercolor brushes is important so you can spend your hard-earned money on the right art materials, and not on repeatedly replacing brushes that could have lasted decades.

Round brush from ZenART’s Turner Collection being rinsed in a big jar of water.

TABLE OF CONTENTS: Looking for something in particular? Jump ahead using the links below:

Cleaning Your Watercolor Paint Brushes
Storing and Travelling with Your Paint Brushes

ZenART’s Watercolor Brush Sets


Tips to properly treat, clean and store your watercolor paint brushes:

  • Only use your brushes for watercolor and gouache. Don’t use them for any other medium you might think of, no matter how tempted you might be.
  • Remove the protective gum layer of your new brushes before using them for painting. You can easily rinse it out under running water while gently softening it with your fingers until no gum residue is left.
  • Protect the ferrule. As much as possible, avoid submerging it in water for an extended period of time. This will cause the glue inside the ferrule to weaken and can cause the lacquer to chip off from the wooden handle.
  • Don’t leave your brushes standing head down in your glass or jar of rinse water. It will deform the shape of your bristles.
  • Don’t push the brush head down hard when picking up paint and also when rinsing it in your glass or jar of water while painting. You can damage the hairs of your brush and cause pigment to enter the ferrule.
  • The best way to clean watercolor paint brushes is by holding them under running water until all the pigment has been rinsed out. Remember to do this thoroughly but gently.
  • After washing your brushes clean, use a clean rag to help remove excess water. Make sure to wipe dry not just the brush head but the parts of the ferrule that may have gotten wet as well. The integrity of the ferrule is just as important as the bristles. 
  • Lay brushes flat to dry. After drying them with a clean rag, shape the brush head back to its proper form using your fingers, and then lay them flat to dry. This is to avoid the leftover water to seep down to the ferrule and weaken it, and then to the handle, causing it to swell and crack.
  • Have the same level of care for both your best watercolor paint brushes and your beginner watercolor paint brushes.
  • Clean your brushes well, but not too well. Use only gentle soaps or vegetable oil-based soap to help remove excess paint from your brushes.
  • Keep your brushes in an upright position for storing. Don’t crowd them together, give them breathing room so they don’t grow mold and get bent out of shape.
A few brushes from the Turner Collection that are allowed to properly dry with enough space between them for air to pass through. Laying them flat to dry after washing them is best, preferably with a clean absorbent material under to absorb the leftover dripping water.

Travelling with and How to Store Watercolor Brushes

The great thing about painting is you can do it almost anywhere. The only trade-off is you’ll have to trim down on the number of materials you bring along when doing it en plein-air or for a quick art trip. So the question is, which watercolor brushes should you bring with you when travelling?

Try to keep your brush travel kit as simple and minimal as possible. With just three brushes, you can explore the full potential of each one. Starting with one flat brush and one round brush for painting the big areas, and one small brush for the detail work. Play around with the tips and flat ends of your brushes, you’ll be amazed at what techniques and effects you can discover and create with just these three brushes.

If you plan on painting smaller paintings, having 3 brushes like these of good varying sizes will be a great choice to bring along. Above are three brushes from the Black Tulip set: the #10 Round brush, #8 Flat brush, and #2 Rigger brush.

Keep the protective tubes that your brushes came with when you bought them, they’ll come in handy when it’s time for your brushes to take that trip with you. They will protect your bristles from getting damaged en route. For extra protection, store your watercolor brushes in a travel-friendly case that’s designed for them, like the packaging of ZenART’s Turner Collection, Black Tulip, and Fine Line Miniature Brushes.

Top left: ZenART’s Turner Collection of 13 watercolor paint brushes, a palette knife, and a protective case. Top right: Black Tulip brushes safe inside the reusable PVC pouch that they come with, our best-selling 6 pc vegan brush set. Bottom: Fine Line detail and miniature brushes of 12 that comes with a canvas roll-up case with just the perfect red bow.

ZenART’s mission is to create the ultimate watercolor paint brush sets that will work beautifully, last a lifetime, and be a constant part of your journey to creating the best works of art. I carefully designed and hand-picked each brush before placing them in sets, with my own personal knowledge, shaped and weaved in the form of art material. The brush sets also come with free protective cases for storing your brushes easily.

Here you see me painting using watercolor brushes from the Turner Collection.

ZenART’s Watercolor Paint Brush Sets

Black Tulip Collection

Specially designed for watercolor, inks, gouache, and fluid acrylics. It contains six of the most essential watercolor brushes, it’s compact and ideal for travelling. All brushes in this set have pointy tips, making them all usable for detail work. They are made of synthetic Japanese faux squirrel (similar to a mixture of natural squirrel and Kolinsky sable hair), making them bouncy and springy while easily returning to their original shape. They are very absorbent, holding much pigment and water, and have consistent flow control. The synthetic hair makes it easier to clean as well.

Featuring Black Tulip’s brushwork samples. A compact yet very versatile collection of brushes that’s a fantastic starter set to invest in.
ZenART’s Black Tulip Collection of watercolor brushes. 6 pc set of short-handled brushes that’s great for budding artists.

Turner Collection

The Turner Collection is composed of 14 professional watercolor brushes designed for those who want to have the full collection of rounds, flats, and detailing brushes. It is a mixture of five Japanese synthetic brushes, and eight faux and real squirrel blends, it comes with a handy palette knife as well. It is similarly designed for watercolor, inks, gouache, and fluid acrylics. The natural and synthetic hairs give a refined flow and holds just the right amount of water and pigment. The handles are made of lacquered birch wood that are perfectly balanced. This set comes with a roll-up case making it convenient to bring along just about everywhere.

ZenART’s Turner Collection of 13 brushes, one palette knife, and a protective case. They have a very comfortable length and handle girth as seen in the photograph on the left.
ZenART’s Turner Collection all laid out. All the watercolor brushes you will possibly need in this carefully curated collection.

Fine Line Miniature Brushes

The Fine Line Miniature Brush set is ZenART’s newest collection, composed of 12 mini brushes specifically made for fine detailing and precision work. It can be used for oil, acrylic, or gouache, but is not recommended for interchangeable usage as different chemicals from different paints might react adversely and damage the delicate brushes.

This set’s brushes have more body compared to other brands, giving it better absorbency. The handles are fashioned into a triangular ergonomic shape that gives the hand a better grip that’s very useful for detailed work. This brush set

Delicate brush strokes painted using the Fine Line Miniature Brushes. The handles wonderfully give you accurate control that is very essential to fine and intricate detailing.
See how small and pointy the tip is, they’re perfect for all those intricate and delicate brush strokes.
ZenART’s Fine Line Miniature Brushes collection with its protective canvas case that just invites you to paint on it and personalize it.

ZenART Supplies closely works and negotiates with our suppliers to bring you the best watercolor brushes at prices you can trust. Professionals and amateurs both love it, and we’re sure you’ll love it, too! 

I hope this article will help you remember how to properly treat, clean, and store your watercolor brushes to make them last a lifetime. Have a great time painting! Don’t hesitate to leave a comment, we’ll gladly answer any queries you have.


— MEET THE AUTHOR—

Ardak Kassenova is a London based contemporary artist, co-founder and creative director of ZenART Supplies. Her visual style—contemporary impressionism—share similar aesthetic qualities with those by the French Impressionists. After 20 years of a successful corporate career, becoming a mother to two wonderful girls, and with the continuous development of her practice by taking private lessons from the best artists she could find; Ardak decided it’s time to align her life with her true passion, Art. Driven by this passion and her corporate leadership background, she co-founded ZenART.

My heart and soul were always with Art, and since my childhood as long as I remember myself, I was dreaming to be an artist. I was painting after work, when I had time, and teaching myself through the books, videos, visiting art galleries and museums. I’ve been very curious about different techniques and styles, and therefore accumulated knowledge and experience on a variety of mediums.” 

Read more about Ardak Kassenova in this feature. Say hello to @ardak_zenart on Instagram!


Further Readings:

Turner, Jacques, Brushes: A Handbook for Artists and Artisans, Design Press, 1992

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