How To Clean a Dry and Crusted Paintbrush Easily with Vinegar

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Did you know you can easily clean a paintbrush that has hard, crusted, dried up paint on it?

Paintbrushes can be expensive and I always try to clean them as soon as I’m done using them but if I know I’ll be using them again the same day I usually wrap them in foil and place them in a zip lock bag in the freezer…strange, I know, but that works to keep the brush from drying out.  A few months ago I had to get a new refrigerator so when I emptied the old refrigerator and freezer I came across a paintbrush from when I was touching up my kitchen cabinets.  I intended to put it in the new freezer but somehow it ended up in my bill sorter….and sat there for months.

I came across it yesterday and almost threw it away but thought I would see if I could ‘save’ it.  I found this great tip on Apartment Therapy and it really worked!

First, I soaked the brush in Heinz Cleaning Vinegar in a glass jar.

Next, I boiled some vinegar in a cast iron skillet {you can use a pot} with the brush in it and then reduced the heat and let it simmer for a few minutes.  I turned off the heat and allowed the vinegar {and brush} to cool down.

Once cooled I removed the brush from the skillet and started to work out the dried paint.  I used my fingers and a toothbrush.  At first, I wasn’t sure it was going to work but after a few minutes, it started to flex and bend.  I rinsed the brush thoroughly with water and I kept working the paint out of the bristles.  I did have to repeat the process one more time before I was happy with the results.  I’m so glad I didn’t toss that brush and the best part is I was able to clean it up without harsh chemicals.

The article on Apartment Therapy noted this disclaimer:  Additional Notes:
This method can involve an open flame so only use this for water based paints.

Linking to these wonderful parties: Memories by the Mile, Live Laugh Rowe, Yesterday on Tuesday, I Gotta Create, Tidy Mom, One Project Closer, All our Days, A Little Claireification, Glitter Glue and Paint

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    • 8


      Thanks so much, Elena! I honestly could not believe that this worked and worked so well. I have thrown away so many paintbrushes over the years ~ I wish I had them all back now. :)

  1. 15

    elaine says

    Good to know, but can you tell me the difference between cleaning vinegar and regular vinegar?

    • 16


      The cleaning vinegar is stronger than regular vinegar but you can use regular vinegar. I tried it with both. The cleaning vinegar seemed to cut through the crusted on paint quicker and the paint came off with less effort than the regular vinegar but both did work.

    • 17

      elaine says

      By stronger, you must mean there is a difference in the acidity values? I have never seen vinegar that says specifically “cleaning vinegar” but then I have never actively looked for it either. I will check Walmart.

  2. 18

    Shelly says

    Mary Beth, I have seen several things cleaned on Hometalk using the cleaning vinegar, so I have been looking everywhere for it and can’t find it. Where do you find it?

    • 19


      Hi Shelly! I found it at Walmart but I have also seen it at Giant Eagle {a local grocery store chain}. You can also use regular vinegar but it may take a little extra time to get the paint to loosen up and come off. I tried it with both and found the cleaning vinegar took less time and less effort. I hope that answered your question. :)

      Have a great week,

      Mary Beth

  3. 21

    Lori says

    Wouldn’t the cast iron skillet absorb some of the paint chemicals? Seems like you shouldn’t use it with food after this…

  4. 22

    Debbie @ says

    Great idea and always good to know! Pinning it. Thanks for sharing at Finished Friday!

  5. 23

    Winnie says

    Have you dropped paint on a or rug and it dried you fetted for not getting it cleaned up right away? Well here is where vinegar works again, Mix half vinegar and water, spray the painted spilled part let set a few minutes put a few drops of Dawn dishwashing liquid on the spot and use a tooth brush scrub a little and wipe it up with a dry cloth. Paint comes right out. No hard work.
    Vinegar works wonders on everything. I use it in my carpet shampooer, cleans up new and old animal stains and takes away the smell. LOVE IT!!!!

  6. 24


    I so wish I had found this last week, I just tossed a paint crusted brush. The good news is, I’m always doing this so this tip will come in VERY HANDY! I put my brushes and paint in the fridge too to keep it from drying out (the paint is usually in a paint tray and rather than pouring it back in the can, I just put it in the fridge overnight if I’ll be using it agian). Thanks for sharing this and saving my paint brushes too! :)
    Meg Sluyter┬┤s last blog post ..Happily Before and After Wednesday, the Late Edition

    • 29


      Thanks, KariAnne ~ I’m sure you’ll be doing a lot of painting with your new acquisition. :)

      I did have a wonderful Mother’s Day ~ I hope you did as well, sweetie.

      Mary Beth