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I was using a nice paintbrush with polyurethane and it seems that I set it down then forgot to clean it. I have since run into it and I have a shiny, relativity tough, paintbrush now. Needless to say I do not value these qualities of my paintbrush.

I stuck it in a small container of mineral spirits, as it was the only solvent I have available, and left it for a couple of days and for the most part there was no change. Still a tough brush.

Again I forgot about it and it has since been months.. So there is no doubt the polyurethane has fully cured by now.

Did I doom my paint brush to the garbage or is there something I can still do to save it?

  • I know we're a DIY type of community here, but I'd take a long look at the time & effort required to salvage the brush vs the cost of simply purchasing a new one. – FreeMan Feb 24 '16 at 21:04
  • @FreeMan I really don't like throwing things (ask my wife) or spending money that I don't need to but I do get your point. Keshlam's answer does cover the just buy a new one. Really I am just trying and ask as many good questions as I can to try and keep the site alive. – Matt Feb 24 '16 at 21:08
  • Yes, the keep the site alive angle is a valid one! I've been away for quite some time. Shame on me. – FreeMan Feb 24 '16 at 21:11
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I use a solvent called Brush Cleaner. It works well on both oil and acrylic based paints. It is stout stuff so wear gloves and use it in an open area.

You will have to soak it for 24 hours or so but that does the trick for me. Be careful to keep the bristles straight as they soak as they will tend to assume the shape they have been held at. If your brush has dried in an awkward shape even cleaning it may leave you with a brush that isn't fit for use.

This product is effective for general clean up of brushes too and will keep them soft and pliable. It is worth keeping a can around for regular use. It comes in a quart, gallon, and even five-gallon container. Lowe's in my area sells Crown brand but there are others.

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Did I doom my paint brush to the garbage or is there something I can still do to save it?

Salvaging a brush with hardened varnish (or paint) in it is actually quite doable.

It will require a long soak in strong solvent or a solvent mixture, as in many commercial brush restorers/cleaners and paint strippers. I don't think it matters that much which you use to be honest, so I would get the one that you think you'll get the most future use from.

Here's an old tip that will allow the bristles to be suspended in liquid for an extended period of time without distorting:

Soaking hardened brush

[Source: Paint Brush Care: How To Rescue a Petrified Brush]

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  • Petrified.... another good P word. – Matt Feb 6 '16 at 12:54
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You could try using a chemical stripper to dissolve the varnish, as you would when removing this varnish from a table for refinishing. Be careful; many (but not all) of these formulations are quite toxic.

However,it may be less expensive to replace the brush, especially when the value of your time is considered.

Unless the brush is something of a family heirloom (my grandfather was a housepainter), I'd recommend replacing... and taking this as a lesson in why you want to clean equipment as quickly as possible after you're done with it.

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Along with the other recommended chemicals I use a wire brush. Once you have soaked it and it is somewhat supple use the wire brush to clean it. Start at the handle and stroke down with the bristles. This works sometimes.

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I have had good luck suspending brushes in solvent as well. I typically hang them from a nail so the bristles will not get deformed and lower the brush 3/4 of the way into the solvent to prevent mucking up the roots of the bristles.

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