It’s a Hard Knock Life, For Brush: Picking and Caring for Nail Brushes

by Tim Crowley | May 8, 2013
SPONSORED CONTENT: Alpha Brush offers a wide variety of brushes for everything from gels to fine nail art.

As a nail technician and nail artist you understand the importance of a good brush as much as having the right brush for the right job. You most likely have an arsenal of brushes ranging in size, shape, and hair — specifically for acrylics, gels, nail art, etc.

Whether you are a painter of canvas, fingernails, or a sculptor of acrylic enhancements, it’s important to take the best care you can of your brushes so they can have a long shelf life. Here are some tips to help keep your brushes in the best possible condition.

Sable and Kolinsky Acrylic Brushes

Sable and kolinsky are small forest animals related to badgers, weasels, ferrets, wolverines, and minks — and they are valued for their fur.
> They have been favored amongst artists for hundreds of years, most notably for their superior strength and resilience. But to ensure a prolonged life and optimal performance, proper care and maintenance must be observed.
> Avoid skin contact with the bristles whenever possible. Oils from the body can deteriorate the bristles over time.
> Use monomer for cleaning sable and kolinsky acrylic brushes whenever possible.
> Do not use acetone. Even just one washing in acetone can dehydrate the bristles enough to affect their performance. Acetone strips the brush of its natural moisture. Once the bristles become dehydrated, they will be unable to hold liquids, rendering the brush useless. Acetone will also dissolve the glue that holds the bristles into the ferrule (the metal band that holds the bristles and attaches them to the handle).
> Keep a separate bottle of monomer that’s used only for cleaning brushes — not for nail services.

Gel Brushes

Synthetic bristles are a favored choice for working with gel. They are durable and hold up well to commercial cleaners. They also don’t have to be cleaned as thoroughly as a sable acrylic brush. Alcohol can actually be used to remove most of the gel from the bristles, and the brushes can always be stored upright as alcohol evaporates much more quickly than monomer. To clean a gel brush, simply swish it back and forth in cleaner or alcohol and press dry between two pieces of paper towel.

Nail Art Brushes

Nail art brushes are usually thinner for more detailed work. Some are as tiny as four or five hairs thick. Extreme care must be given to these types of brushes. Some cannot afford to even have one or two bristles mangled. How you clean these brushes depends on what they’re used for. For example if you’re using detail brushes with nail polish, it’s recommended that you purchase a set of inexpensive ones, as the only way to remove nail polish is with polish remover or acetone. This will of course deteriorate the bristles. If you’re using the brush with a water-based medium, swish it slightly in soapy lukewarm water, rinse in cool water, and reshape with a dry paper towel.      

How To Remove Hardened Acrylic From Sable/Kolinsky Bristles

1. Swish the bristles back and forth in brush cleaner for one to two minutes to soften the acrylic. Then lightly press the brush onto a flat surface and allow the bristles to fan out naturally. You want a flat surface to keep the brush cleaner pooled around the bristles.

2. Use a wooden tool (orangewood or popsicle sticks work best) to very gently scrape off the softened acrylic. Repeat this until all traces of acrylic have been removed from the bristles. Scraping too hard or using a metal tool can cause the flags (tips of the bristles) to become flared.

3. Once you have removed all traces of acrylic, press the bristles in their natural direction between two paper towels to remove the cleaner. Dip the brush in monomer and use a paper towel to reshape the bristles. Store the brush flat until the monomer has evaporated, then store upright. Storing brushes upright before the monomer has evaporated will cause the ferrule to fill with monomer, which won’t let it evaporate and can contaminate your brush and dappen dish. 

Cleaning Nail Art Brushes

Never clean or submerge brushes in scalding or boiling water — the ferrule can expand and cause the bristles to fall out. Never leave any brush resting on its bristles in cleaner or not.

1. Clean your brush in a small dish with cold water after each stroke while you’re working.

2. Pat or wipe the brush on a clean paper towel and pull the bristles together between your thumb and index finger to take out excess water and reform the original shape of the brush.

3. After a couple of weeks your brushes should be cleaned in isopropyl alcohol, which removes dry paint that may remain either on the bristles or paint that seeped into the ferrule. After cleaning with alcohol, you must rinse out your brushes with cold water to make sure all the alcohol is removed. After removing all the water from your brushes you may place them in a brush roll-up, leaving the cover open, so your brushes can dry. Never put your brushes away wet. 

Thank you to Patrice “Tracie” McNeal of WildSide Nailz in Los Angeles and Tina Panariello of Brooklyn, N.Y. ( for contributing to this story.

For more information about brushes, go to


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