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Is It Bad To Leave Your Paint Brushes in Water?

Whether you’re painting a piece of furniture for a DIY project or you’re expressing yourself on the canvas through art, you’re probably going to need to take a break. But when you walk away from your paint, you need to find a secure place to put down your brush. You might be tempted to leave your brush in a cup of water, but that’s not always the best choice. 

It’s bad to leave your paint brushes in water. Leaving your paintbrush in water for long periods can damage the bristles or the brush handle. A damaged brush may not hold paint, or it could paint in uneven strokes.

There are better ways to store your paintbrush than to leave it in water. This guide will walk you through different ways to store your brush properly without causing any damage. 

Is it okay to leave a paintbrush in water?

How Long Can You Keep Your Paint Brushes In Water?

Exactly how long you can safely keep your paintbrushes in water is up for debate. Different sources have different recommendations. But one fact remains the same no matter who you ask: leaving a brush soaking in any liquid for too long will have consequences.

You can leave your paint brushes in water for up to an hour if necessary. However, if possible, you shouldn’t soak them or leave them in water at all – leaving your brushes in water for any length of time can cause damage to the brushes.

Home Depot, the home improvement corporation, has a helpful guide on how to clean paintbrushes. In this guide, they suggest soaking particularly dry or crusty brushes in water or vinegar, but never for longer than an hour at a time. 

If you leave your paint brushes in water for longer than an hour, you run the risk of causing permanent damage to the bristles and handle. Damage may occur after less than an hour in the water, so it’s safest not to leave your brushes soaking for any length of time if you can avoid it.

What Happens If I Leave My Paint Brushes in Water for Too Long?

Paintbrushes consist of several bristles that are held together by adhesives or by physics. Water can get into these connective spaces and cause your brush to fall apart. The extent of the damage depends on how much of your brush is soaked in water and for how long you’ve left it in there.

Leaving your paint brushes in water for too long can result in the tip of the brush bending permanently. Additionally, the bristles may degrade, and the ferrule can expand and loosen.

The bristles of your paintbrushes aren’t meant to withstand the weight of the handle. When you soak your brushes in water, you typically leave them bristle-down. Doing this for too long will make the delicate bristles bend out of shape. 

Paint brushes consist of a handle, bristles, and a piece of metal that connects the two. This metal segment is called the ferrule. If water gets underneath the ferrule, it can loosen the ferrule’s grip on the handle and cause it to fall off. 

Prolonged soaking can also damage your paint brush’s handle by causing it to flake. The last thing you want when you’re painting is flakes of varnish and bristles falling into your paint.

Leaving Your Brushes for Short Periods

If you’re leaving your paint brush in water for less than an hour, you’ll probably not cause lasting damage. However, there are some steps you can take to protect your brush, even if you’re only leaving it to the side for short breaks.

  1. Consider leaving your brush in a shallow layer of paint. Let the bottom third of the bristles sit in paint. This will help keep your brush from drying out without damaging the bristles or handle. 
  2. Don’t leave your brush in any liquid deeper than the ferrule. If the ferrule doesn’t get soaked, your brush is less likely to suffer permanent structural damage.
  3. Avoid leaving your brush standing on its bristles. Do your best never to leave a paint brush on its tip. Brushes that aren’t bent will last longer. Purdy recommends hanging your brushes whenever possible. 

If you think you’ll be away from your paintbrushes for longer than an hour, follow the instructions below. It’s best not to risk ruining your brushes by soaking them for too long.

Leaving Your Brushes for an Hour or More

When leaving your paint brushes for long periods, you may want to consider cleaning them and putting them away. Cleaning your brushes under running water and hanging them by the handle is the safest way to preserve them.

But if you aren’t ready to clean your brushes, you can leave them to the side without drying them out or soaking them in water. All you need is some plastic wrap and masking tape. 

Dulux Paints suggests using the following method for storing your brushes:

  1. Cover the head of your brush with plastic wrap.
  2. Seal the plastic to the handle of your brush with masking tape.
  3. Store for up to two days.

Covering your brushes with plastic will help keep them from drying out. Just make sure the masking tape is secure around the handle to prevent any spills. Lay your brushes flat when storing them so that you don’t bend the bristles. 

If you need to step away from your painting project for longer than two days, you should go ahead and clean your brushes. 

Final Thoughts

Leaving your paint brushes in water is a bad habit that can cause lasting damage to your brushes. A damaged brush can cause problems in your art projects, so it’s best to care for your brushes.

Try not to leave your brushes standing on the bristles, and don’t submerge them in water deeper than the ferrule. If you follow these tips, your brushes should stay in good condition, and your art projects will look better.

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