Oil vs Acrylic – What’s easier to clean?

Acrylics are much easier to clean than oils (and cheaper).

Brushes

With acrylics, you can get away with using just water to clean your brushes (depending on how thick you laid your paint). Most of the times, this is true even for impasto techniques. For oils, you have to use turpentine (as oil paints don’t dissolve in water). It is, however, not enough to just use turpentine to clean your brushes.

With oils, you have to first, soak your brushes in turpentine, get most of the paint out, then use soap and water to make sure there is no oil reside in the brush. If you just use turpentine to clean the brush (especially your liners) then the brush will get stiff over time and you won’t be able to paint with it anymore. I learned this lesson the hard way.

Stephan Baumann, an artist who videos I watched on Youtube, recommends using turpentine, then soak brushes in “Awesome” cleaning liquid, then use soap and water. Apparently, turpentine will damage your pipes (even I didn’t know that).

Hands

Acrylics dry fast. So fast that it is sometimes annoying while painting. This, however, is very good for cleaning up. You can dry your hands with soap and water, scrape the paint off your hands, etc.

Oil paints take a while to dry out but they are not that much harder to get off your hands. You should be okay with soap and water, just make sure you do a thorough job of cleaning your hands. You don’t want to get cancer or any such diseases.

Pallettes

If you use glass palettes, then both of them are easy to clean. Just use a glass scraper and you are good to go. Although I have found acrylics to take less effort when removing paint off pallettes.

One issue I have had when painting smaller paintings (with less paint) is acrylics drying on the palette before I am done painting. So, I have had to use a make-shift stay-wet palette, which is use-and-throw. This means no cleaning at all. You could use the same sheets for oil painting too. So overall there is little to no difference between them.

I haven’t used wooden palettes so I can’t talk about them but removing acrylic paint from acrylic palettes is a nightmare. I have heard it is much easier to remove oil paints from it. So, in the end the ease of cleaning depends on the type of palette you use.

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