Studio Craft: The Risks of Soaking Brushes

Ask the Expert: "I sometimes tend toleave my brushes soaking all day. Howbad is this habit? What's the risk?"

A: Soaking brushes is sometimes necessaryas a last resort when paint has dried in thetuft, but normally we strongly recommendagainst leaving brushes to soak for longperiods. Leaving brushes immersed insolvents or water can completely ruin youressential tools. In addition to the bent tipsthat inevitably result from leaving brushes tostand point-down, solvents and even plainwater can damage or destroy brushes,given enough time.

Most natural hair and some syntheticbrushes can resist the destructive effects ofsolvents and thinners, at least for theduration of a normal painting session. Whenleft immersed too long, however, brushfilaments may begin to absorb solvent.When this happens, the tuft can swell andlose shape. Bristles can also become brittleand dry after repeated soaking, and maybreak off easily. Glue at the base of the tuftcan soften from long contact with solvents,and bristles may fall out. Lacquer on the brush handle is usually resistant to solvents,but some citrus-based brush cleaners canstrip paint from the handle.

Soaking brushes in water can be particularlydestructive. Natural hairs can becomesaturated with water and may becomedistorted. Water also causes wooden brushhandles to swell. When this happens, theferrule (the metal collar that holds the tuft tothe handle) is forced open. When thehandle dries out and shrinks, the expandedferrule will be loose, and may wiggle in thehand or even detach completely.

In order to get the longest useful life frombrushes, instead of leaving them immersedwhile painting, rinse frequently and blot dryas you work. When it's absolutely necessaryto keep brushes wet, use a solvent tank witha coiled handle that can hold brusheswithout allowing the tips to rest on thebottom of the container.

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