I painted my outdoor wood table with teal oil last summer. I'd like to do it again using the same brush, but now the brush is stiff and gummed up. Last time I used it I washed it off with warm water, but apparently that didn't do the trick.

Can it be saved? If so what should I use to clean it now that it's hardened up? Paint thinner? Goof off?

What should I use to clean it right after using it in the future?

  • 6
    Honestly, it's not worth the effort. Buy a new brush. Aug 22, 2012 at 20:36
  • Maybe not. But do you suggest buying a new brush every time? If so I think I'll need to get a cheaper brush next time.
    – paul
    Aug 22, 2012 at 22:24
  • tip from a painter decorator ..... wrap any brushes with cling film then just peel off to use again :-)
    – user14544
    Aug 15, 2013 at 10:50
  • Products called "teak oil" and similar are essentially just transparent oil/alkyd paint. Equipment is cleaned with paint thinner, turpentine or similar. Not with water! Didn't you notice that the water was beading up on the oily brush and not really getting into it???
    – Kaz
    Aug 16, 2013 at 0:48
  • 2
    Buy an expensive brush and maintain it. Cheap brushes produce cheap looking results. Or worse: bristles will come off and the like. Cling wrap will protect a brush overnight, but not over a period of a year. Oxygen will find its way in there and polymerize the oil. It's a trick to use over night between coats.
    – Kaz
    Aug 16, 2013 at 0:49

3 Answers 3


Oils all pretty much set up the same way. They oxidize and form a polymer cross-link. Once this has happened, you have a vegetable plastic coating on everything they came in contact with and were absorbed into. It's non-reversible so after-the-fact cleaning isn't an option.

Removing the oil while it's still liquid usually requires mineral spirits, turpentine or a degreasing agent and needs to be done before the oil starts to get tacky. All the oil must be removed or the bristles will stick together as polymerization sets in.

My basic cleanup is to use turpentine to initially clean out the oil, followed up by a good wash out with dishwashing detergent and a final water rinse. All the oil must be gone.

Or else go with cheap Chinese Boar Bristle brushes and toss them after the job is done.

NOTE: Due to the oxidation and polymerization, treat all rags and any other oil contaminated items with care. The process is exothermic and can generate enough heat to start a fire.

  • I found this step-by-step helpful: emptyeasel.com/2007/01/26/… It describes @Fiasco_Labs' process in more detail. Roughly: get rid of excess, turpentine, soap.
    – Amanda
    Jul 22, 2014 at 14:16

No you don't buy a new brush each time, you properly clean the brush after each use and it will last you for years! Water didn't work because.... remember school... water and oil don't mix? You need to clean your brush with mineral spirits, naptha or something similar. The product will tell you what to clean up with. –


A good little tip you might like is that you can buy a "flea comb" from a pet supply store or veterinarian clinic and comb out a lot of the gunk that collects at the base of the bristles. I even managed to salvage good quality brush after not cleaning it properly the first time and accidentally letting linseed oil dry into it. I first soaked it in linseed again, then in thinners - at least 8 hours in each and finally cleaned it with water and the flea comb. It's not perfect, but good enough to use again.

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