Environmentally Responsible Cleanup of Paint Brushes

When I switched from oil paints to acrylics, I thought cleanup would be easy.  Most people simply wash their brushes with soap and water and they’re done.

But that didn’t seem right to me.   Why should we wash paint down the drain?  Wouldn’t those chemicals end up back in our water supply?

Municipal sewage treatment facilities are primarily designed to handle biological waste and have limited capability to process synthetic chemical wastes.  You've no doubt read that antibiotics have been measured in drinking water, and this is partly because those things are washed down the drain (even in our urine) and not processed out.  So the fewer chemicals we put down the drain the better.  Furthermore, many municipal sewage systems are handling both sewage and storm drain water.  When they get overwhelmed by a big storm, they dump the excess, and this can actually put raw sewage mixed with storm drain water into the ocean or wherever it goes.  (That’s why beaches are sometimes closed after big storms because raw sewage ends up there.)  

After further research, I discovered Golden Paint’s recommended ways of dealing with waste water.   Oddly, this is not the process that is followed in any of the art classes I have taken.  (I’ve tweaked the system a little so that it’s convenient for me.)

1.    I rub excess paint off my brushes either onto another paper or paper towels.  These can be later incorporated into collage work.  (I loved the effect when I used the used paper towels in a recent collage.)

2.    I wash the brushes in as little water as possible and pour the dirty water in empty one-quart yogurt containers.  (Sometimes these containers look muddy but if I separate the colors they are very pretty to look at!)  I leave these containers in a safe place to evaporate (my studio bathroom for example or outside in my yard.  So far, no animals have knocked them over but that is always a worry for me.).  As long as it is not too cold outside, the waste water evaporates faster outside because the air flow and heat accelerate the evaporation.    

3.    When the water has completely evaporated, there might be a small film at the bottom of the cup, which could be used in another art project or thrown away in the trash.  Sometimes, the cup just has a stain on the bottom and I start the process all over again.

It’s easy to do and I feel better about protecting our water supply.