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How to Clean Stain Brushes Without Paint Thinner?

how to clean stain brushes without paint thinner

Brushes used for applying stains are among the hardest to clean. Stains and varnishes are somewhat tougher than regular paints, so it can be quite a chore to clean. Typically, you will need to use a paint thinner to dissolve the stain, but the fumes it creates can be quite nauseating.

Thank goodness you can learn how to clean stain brushes without paint thinner. However, these methods are a bit harder since the solvents used are much weaker compared to paint thinner. On the other hand, learning how to clean oil-based stain brushes without paint thinner will be less harsh on your brushes.

This means your brushes can last much longer, so you do not have to buy new ones every month or so.

Step-by-Step Guide

Using Linseed Oil

using linseed oil to clean

You cannot wash stain brushes using water because stains are oil-based and oil does not mix with water. Linseed oil also sometimes serves as a paint thinner, so it is useful in cleaning your brushes, too.

What to prepare:

  • Linseed oil – You will need enough linseed oil to soak the bristles of your brushes
  • Plastic container – The container should be big enough to fit your brush
  • Rubber gloves
  • Paper towels

Detailed steps:

Step 1 – Soak the brushes in the oil

Take your plastic container and fill it with enough linseed oil to soak the brushes. If the stain has dried onto the bristles of the brush, you have to soak it in the linseed oil for around 30 minutes to an hour. To help the linseed oil penetrate the bristles better, swirl the brush inside the container every five minutes or so.

This will make the linseed oil get a bit cloudy. Don’t worry, though, as the stain will settle at the bottom. You can then reuse the remaining oil as many times as needed.

Step 2 – Remove the stain from the bristles

After the brush has soaked long enough in the linseed oil, take it out and let the oil drip out of the bristles. You can also squeeze the brush against the inner sides of the container. Once there is no more oil dripping out, place the brush on top of a couple of layers of paper towels.

Fold the paper towels over the bristles and then proceed to remove the loosened-up stain from the bristles. You will have to make quite a lot of passes through the bristles to ensure that most of the stain or varnish is gone.

Using Baby Oil

using baby oil to clean

If you do not have linseed oil and you just need to clean a small brush, you can use baby oil.

What to prepare:

  • Baby oil
  • Nitrile rubber gloves
  • Paper towels

Detailed steps:

Step 1 – Soak the brush in baby oil

You do not need to put the baby oil in a container for this one, especially if you just have to clean one brush. Place the brush in the middle of a couple of layers of paper towels.

Douse the bristles of the brush in baby oil. Make sure that you give all the bristles a liberal coating. Fold the paper towel over the bristles and let the baby oil further soak into the bristles. This should take around 10 to 15 minutes depending on how dirty the brush is.

Step 2 – Wipe off the stain in the bristles

Once the stain softens and loosens enough, you can proceed to wipe the stain off the brush using the paper towel. If the paper towels are too saturated with baby oil, you can use new paper towels to finish the task. If you think that there is still a significant amount of stain left, repeat the steps as many times as necessary.

Using Mineral Spirits

using mineral spirits to clean

Mineral spirits act similarly to paint thinner but are significantly weaker and do not have the nauseating fumes.

What to prepare:

  • Mineral spirits – You will need enough mineral spirits to soak the bristles of the brush
  • Plastic container – The container should be big enough to fit the brush. It is also preferable to use disposable containers
  • Nitrile rubber gloves
  • Paper towels

Detailed steps:

Step 1 – Pour the mineral spirits into the plastic container

I typically use plastic cups when cleaning brushes with mineral spirits. They are the perfect sizes and you can pour just a little bit of mineral spirit and it will be enough to soak the bristles. Pour just enough mineral spirits to soak just the bristles. You do not need to go deeper than the ferrule.

Step 2 – Soak the brush in mineral spirits

Place the brush bristles down into the plastic container. If the height of the mineral spirits is not enough to cover the bristles, add more to the container.

Allow the brush to soak in the spirits for 10 to 15 minutes. You can help the process by bending the bristles while submerged in the mineral spirits. This will loosen the stain/varnish and shake it off the brush.

Step 3 – Scrub the bristles

After soaking the brushes, wear your nitrile gloves and proceed to loosen the bristles and scrub out the dried-on stain. The stain should have been softened enough by the mineral spirits that you can remove it by hand. If the stain is still hard to remove, allow the brush to soak again for another 5 minutes.

Step 4 – Rinse the brushes and let them dry

Once you have removed the varnish from the brush, proceed to rinse the brushes under running water. While rinsing, continue to scrub the bristles gently using your gloved hands.

After rinsing, dry the brushes by wiping them down with paper towels. Let the brushes dry completely by placing their bristles in a way that they are pointing upward in a jar or any container. Wait for an hour or two to let the bristles air dry completely.


Yes, you can learn how to clean stain brushes without paint thinner. This means you do not need to hold your breath when you are cleaning your brushes. Even though the methods above take a bit longer and will need a bit more elbow grease, they do the job.

If you do not want to deal with the noxious fumes and the possible accidental chemical burns on your hands, the methods above are the best.