Don’t clean your Shellac Brush to save time and money!

Have you started working with Shellac but are unsure what to do with your Shellac brush afterwards?  Many furniture refinishers start working initially with water-based products.  These products are easy to clean with the paint coming off with a little soap and water. 

With shellac that is not the case.  Water and soap will not clean the brush and left to dry; the bristles will become rock hard.

So, should you toss the brush?  Not at all!  Read the trick I use to extend the life of my shellac brush and to save money.

Table of Contents

Why does your shellac brush turn rock-hard?

A quick background lesson.

Shellac is made from a resin secreted from a female Lac Bug found in India and Thailand.  It is processed and sold in waxed and de-waxed versions and comes in a variety of toned colours.  When these flakes are added to Denatured Alcohol, it creates shellac which can be applied to wood. 

Shellac will not only make the wood grain pop, but it works as an odor blocker, it stops tannin bleeding, it primes and is a natural sanding sealant. It’s a multifunctional product to have in your furniture refinishing arsenal.

As shellac is a resin product, when it dries, it will harden.  This also applies to the shellac on your paint brush. 

Shellac Flakes used to make Shellac for wood working

Don’t clean your shellac brush!

I can hear you already, “so we are not throwing away or cleaning our used shellac brushes?  What are we doing?”.

I know as professional furniture refinishers; we know and understand the importance of clean paint brushes.  This is probably the only time I will advocate for not cleaning.

When I finish using my shellac brush, I let the brush sit and start to dry out.   It doesn’t need much time and I take that moment to tidy up my space for the night.   (Ok we both know I am lying.  I’m not great at tidying up my workspace in the evening). 

Once the bristles start to dry, I take a piece of aluminum foil and lightly wrap it around the brush.  Just covering the bristles.  I leave it loose to allow air flow and I put the brush away.  That’s all I do.

It’s that simple!

How to wrap your shellac brush in aluminium to protect it from dust - step1
Place brush in middle of aluminum
How to wrap your shellac brush in aluminium to protect it from dust - step2
Fold Foil over Bristles Lightly
How to wrap your shellac brush in aluminium to protect it from dust - step3
Fold sides of aluminum foil over

Rehydrate your Shellac brush.

When it is time to use the brush again, I take it and remove the aluminum foil. Then I place the brush in the shellac which I plan on using and let the bristles soak.  Usually within 10 to 15 minutes the bristles are soft again and ready to use.  That’s all that’s to it!

Another option is to have a separate container of denatured alcohol available to soak your shellac brushes in.  This does require having separate alcohol available strictly for this purpose.  You could use this alcohol later to make a new batch of shellac but keep in mind that the brush which soaked in it, will have left shellac residue behind.  If it was a coloured shellac, it may affect your next batch.

Shellac brush in shellac for rehydration purposes

Tips to keep your shellac brush in good condition

  1. If you work with multiple different colours of shellac; label your shellac brushes.  You should use a separate brush for each colour of shellac that you use.  This avoids you contaminating the colour of the shellac that you plan to use.
  2. Let the bristles dry laying flat.  You want the brush to maintain its shape as much as possible.  This will help to avoid bristle breakage.

What to consider when picking a good quality shellac brush

Since this no clean method means you will be using a single brush for your shellac moving forward, the type of brush you choose is important. 

There is so much information and personal preferences when it comes to paintbrushes, that it is hard to weed through the noise.  I can only share what I know and use.

I personally use a quality, synthetic bristle brush which doesn’t lose bristles easily. 

That’s it!

It does not need to be the most expense brush on the market.  It does not need to be natural fibers.  I find my synthetic brush from a local hardware store works well.  It was not the cheapest on the shelf.  It was a brush which I had previous experience with and knew that it doesn’t lose bristles. You do not want to be picking lost hairs out of your shellac.

Synthetic Bristle brushes for applying shellac

Money and time Saving Tactic

This trick remains my favourite money and time saving tactic. It’s a simple way to store and reuse your shellac paintbrushes.  I prefer it over cleaning your shellac brush, as it saves money and time.  I have brushes that I have stored in this fashion for over a year and still make regularly use of. 

This method avoids using extra alcohol strictly for cleaning purposes.  It also saves money in the way that you are reducing the need for replacement brushes.

Should you indeed wish to clean your brushes in between, you will need to soak them in denatured alcohol.  A fine-tooth comb is handy in the process to brush out the shellac from the bristles.  You will need to repeat this process until the shellac is removed.  At which point you could proceed to wash your brush with soap and water.

Denatured Alcohol for the purpose of making Shellac for wood working

More information on Shellac

Final Thoughts

Good maintenance of your paint brushes is a vital part of professional furniture refinishing.  But in the case of working with shellac, you get a free pass to toss cleaning your brushes out of the window.

The best method to maintain your shellac brushes is by doing very little.  Just keep the dust off the bristles in between uses. Your projects will thank you for taking this small step. And your wallet and timeclock will thank you for not bothering with the massive clean up process for shellac.

So, keep it simple and ditch those frustrating cleaning sessions.   


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Hey, I'm Sarah, the owner of Bold Wallflowers.

I'm on a self-taught journey through furniture refinishing and restoration, loving every experiment in my workshop.

Join me as I share my discoveries and gained knowledge with our vibrant community of fellow refinishers!

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