Acrylic Paint: What’s the Best Way To Clean Up After Painting?

You get all of your supplies out, ready to start a new painting, only to find that you have the last project’s acrylic paint everywhere. Acrylic paint can be stubborn to remove, especially when it dries on your clothing, paintbrushes, or your palettes. This article will discuss how to clean up acrylic paint no matter where it ends up within your art station.

Avoid Trouble to Begin: Don’t Let Acrylic Paint Dry

Acrylic paint is one of the most commonly used mediums for painting. Unlike oil paints, acrylic is famous for is its ability to dry quickly. However, this same quality is one of the reasons many artists let their paint dry onto surfaces.

The Sooner You Can Clean, the Better

Because acrylic paint dries so fast, it is crucial to get it cleaned up as soon as you can. The last thing you want to do is let it dry completely; otherwise, the paint may be forever stuck to your brushes.

If you do need to step away before you clean the area, keep the areas with paint wet. Acrylic paint is water-soluble, so keeping water on it can delay the drying process.

Paintbrushes are the most important items to keep dried acrylic paint off of in your artist toolbox. Acrylic paint can seep in between the small, porous bristles and essentially glue them together.

Cleaning Tips for Various Situations

Paintbrushes, palettes, and clothing are the most common areas for acrylic paint to be let to dry accidentally. Here is how to clean up acrylic paint off of them. 

How to Clean Acrylic From Brushes

Paintbrushes with acrylic paint on them can be the most challenging to clean, especially if the paint hardens to the bristles. The last thing you want to do is ruin expensive paintbrushes by making the paint get crusty and damage the bristles.

Synthetic Brushes

If paint hardens onto a synthetic paintbrush’s bristles, it can do a lot of damage. Synthetic brushes are made with nylon or polyester, so it is best to avoid any harsh chemicals or paint thinners as they can damage the bristles. The best way to clean a synthetic paintbrush is to use natural cleaners. 

Here is how to clean synthetic brushes if the paint is still wet:

  1. Gently wipe any excess paint off of the brush. Be careful not to pull too hard; otherwise, you may pull out the bristles. 
  2. Rinse the paintbrushes in lukewarm water to remove the excess paint. Avoid using hot water because the heat will cause the hairs to fall out. 
  3. Wipe the paintbrush on a cloth to remove any leftover paint.
  4. Pour a little bit of a gentle dishwashing liquid into a container with water. Lather up the paintbrush within the container to thoroughly clean all of the paint from the bristles. 
  5. Rinse the brushes in water to remove soap and gently shake to remove the water.
  6. Shape the strands back to their original shape.
  7. Let the brush dry on a flat surface at room temperature. If you wash multiple brushes at once, make sure not to dry them too closely. It is important not to let paintbrushes dry with the bristles down; otherwise, the brush will dry misshapen.

Natural Brushes

Brushes made with natural brushes are much easier to clean. They can withstand chemical washes, so you will have an easier time removing any dried paint in the bristles. Though natural brushes can be a bit more pricey, they are well worth it. If the paint on your brushes is still wet, repeat the same steps as synthetic brushes above. 

Paint thinner is one option to get dried-out paint from natural brushes. Dip your paintbrush in a container with paint thinner, and swirl it around. Repeat the process as necessary until all of the excess paint is off of the bristles. 

You may also use cleaners specialized in removing acrylic paint. Winsor & Newton Brush Cleaner & Restorer is an excellent option to remove any pesky crusted-on acrylic paint.

cleaning up acrylic paint can be challenging
Artist painting at easel in studio

How To Clean Acrylic Paint From Clothes

As soon as you notice the paint, clean up as much as you can while it’s still wet. After removing the paint, you can put the clothing into your washing machine. Add a gentle detergent and place your temperature settings on “cool.” Warm water can cause the stain to heat-set.

If you cannot use your washing machine right away, place the clothing in water until you can. The best thing you can do is keep the paint wet and keep it from drying.

Do not worry if the paint has already dried; you have a few options to get it removed from your clothing.

Try Hairspray

Surprisingly, hairspray is an excellent method to get stains out of clothing – even acrylic paint. Hairspray contains alcohol which can assist you in removing pesky stains. Typically, cheaper hairspray brands will have the highest alcohol percentages.

Soak the area with paint with the hairspray completely until the spot softens. Allow it to soak into the site for several minutes. Then, wipe off as much paint as you can get. Run lukewarm water over the area, and place it into the washing machine.

Use Fingernail Polish Remover or Acetone

Fingernail polish works great not only to remove polish but also to remove acrylic paint. If you are worried that the acetone may harm your clothing, test a small spot that’s hidden first.

Soak a cotton ball or cloth with the acetone and press it over the paint. Gently hold it onto the stain to allow the acetone to soak in. After the paint loosens, scrape the small pieces off and wipe them away. Rinse off the acetone and place it in the water.

If All Else Fails, Try a Stain Remover

There are multiple commercial stain removers on the market that can assist in removing acrylic paint stains. With some stain removers, you will only need to use them as pretreatment, while others can go directly onto the stain. Read the directions on your chosen stain remover carefully.

Grandma’s Secret Spot Remover is one of the best nontoxic stain removers. This stain remover is chlorine, bleach, and toxic-free but works great to remove tough stains.

How To Clean Your Palette

Many artists keep their brushes taken care of and let their palettes amass lots of paint spots. Luckily, there are methods to clean just about any palette material.

Cleaning a Wooden Palette

When using a wooden palette for acrylic paint, try only to use the amount of color you intend to use. Though this can be a little challenging for artists to do sometimes, it’ll help maintain the quality of your wooden palette. 

Here is the best way to clean your wooden palette:

  1. Scrape off the paint using a palette knife.
  2. Apply a light layer of a solvent to remove any leftover paint. Let it soak for a few minutes. 
  3. Use a paper towel to wipe off the palette.
  4. Repeat steps 2 and 3 as necessary.
  5. Use a paper towel with linseed oil, gently rub it into your wooden palette and let it dry completely.

Cleaning a Plastic, Glass, or Ceramic Palette

Cleaning acrylic paint off the plastic, glass, or ceramic palettes is typically easier than wooden. 

Here is the best way to clean your plastic, glass, or ceramic palette:

  1. Use a paper towel to remove any paint.
  2. Lather a sponge with soap and water to scrub away any excess paint or residue.
  3. If the acrylic paint has dried, you may be able to peel it off. After peeling off any leftover paint, use soapy water to remove any residue.
  4. Rinse with clean water and allow to dry.

Safety Tips When Using Acrylic Paint

Depending on the brand of acrylic paint, it may or may not have toxic chemicals. Even if you use nontoxic acrylic paint, it is still best to work with it carefully.

Even if you have been painting for years, it is never too late to sharpen your safety knowledge, especially if you have kids or dogs running around.

Is Acrylic Paint Toxic?

Many acrylic paints are nontoxic and primarily safe for artists and professional painters. However, acrylic paint may still contain chemicals harmful to pets and humans.

Paint in a Ventilated Area

Although acrylic paint is known to be a paint that doesn’t produce a lot of fumes, it is vital to use them in a well-ventilated space. To further your safety from potentially harmful fumes, choose paint brands that are naturally derived.

Avoid as Much Paint From Touching Skin Directly

You may notice that the label on your acrylic paint states that it is “nontoxic.” In some cases, this label doesn’t refer to humans but the intended surfaces for acrylic paint. Even paints with nontoxic labels can be harmful and irritate your skin.

Avoid Eating or Drinking While Painting

If you are an avid painter, you may have had a scare or two accidentally picking up your water paint cup, thinking it was your drinking glass. Keeping your food and drinks away from your painting area can help prevent you from subconsciously grabbing the wrong cup. This is an easy mix-up to make when you are lost in your work. 

When snacking, you may transfer some paint from your hands or station onto your food. Ingesting small amounts of acrylic paint isn’t usually too serious. However, if you ingest a large amount of paint, it is possible to get poisoning, and you will need to call poison control immediately.

Wear a Mask if Airbrushing

Even though you should always work with paints in a ventilated area, it is imperative when airbrushing. When airbrushing with acrylic paint, tiny paint particles will blow all around you and can be easy to inhale. If you are an airbrush artist, wear a respirator or a high-quality face mask to keep particles out of your eyes, nose, and mouth.

Questions & Answers

Here are the most commonly asked questions regarding cleaning up after acrylic paint.

Does acrylic paint clean up with water?

No, acrylic paint does not clean up with just water on it’s own. If you get to acrylic paint while it is still wet, water can help with the process but won’t be enough all by itself.

Is Acrylic Paint Easy to Clean Up?

Acrylic paints are water-based; therefore, they are typically easy to clean up. Use a plastic, glass, or ceramic palette for the easiest clean-up after painting. Unlike wooden palettes, nonporous palettes allow you to remove hardened paint easily. However, it is important to keep paint from drying onto paintbrushes or clothing as it can be challenging to remove.

Can You Wash Acrylic Paint Down the Drain?

No, it would be best not to wash acrylic paint down the drain. Throw away as much of the acrylic paint as you can. When removing excess paint, use a paper towel. Clumping cat litter is one method you may use to dispose of paint water. Allow the paint water to clump up and dispose of it in the garbage.

What is the Best Method to Remove Paint From the Carpet?

Use a paper towel in lukewarm water to scoop up as much paint as you can get out of the carpet and dispose of it in the trash. Mix one teaspoon of mild dishwashing detergent for every cup of lukewarm water. Soak a rag in the mixture and gently blot the stain from the outside in. Once you have removed all paint, allow the carpet to dry, and follow up with the vacuum.

How Can I Remove Acrylic Paint from Surfaces?

Denatured alcohol can work to remove most acrylic paint stains. Use a cloth or cotton ball to absorb the denatured alcohol, and gently press over the stain for about a minute. Use small circular motions on the stain until it softens. Use soapy water to clean the area and remove any leftover alcohol. 

Will Vinegar Remove Acrylic Paint?

If you get acrylic paint on a table or another hard, nonporous surface, vinegar can help remove it. However, vinegar can be hit or miss when removing acrylic paint from other surfaces. 


Acrylic paint can dry quickly, making it challenging to clean up afterward. Cleaning up acrylic paint before it dries is the best way to speed up the cleaning process. Paintbrushes can be the most challenging art materials to remove dried paint from, but Winsor & Newton Brush Cleaner & Restorer can help clean natural brushes. In conclusion, using denatured alcohol or commercial cleaners is the best way to clean up after painting with acrylics. If you have any questions, leave a comment below, and we will be happy to answer them

    FMG Admin