How To Clean A Paint Palette | Oil, Acrylic, and Watercolor

The artist’s palette is an invaluable tool that often becomes quite messy. Cleaning the paint palette can be a daunting task, and the methods vary depending on what medium you are using.

Below are some solutions for making your paint palette clean again.

This can help you start fresh with bold new colors or simply make your art space a little less messy. This post will deal with how to clean an acrylic, oil and watercolor palette.

How to clean an acrylic paint palette

By far the best advice when it comes to cleaning an acrylic palette is to do it straight away before too much acrylic paint dries on your palette. Acrylic paint is known for its ability to stick and hold to nearly anything, including your acrylic palette. And acrylic paint becomes nearly waterproof when fully dried.

Because of how easily it sticks to most surfaces, it’s best to avoid wood palettes or other porous materials when selecting an acrylic palette. Acrylic paint sticks to the tiny holes in porous surfaces very easily, making them especially difficult to clean. Instead, try using a glass or plastic palette, as these will be much easier to clean when it comes to dealing with acrylic paint.

In order to clean the paint off of your palette, first, use a paper towel to wipe off any of the remaining wet paint. There might not be much left, as acrylic paint dries very quickly. Be sure to not let large amounts of paint fall down the drain of your sink – instead, dispose of your paint in the trash can, and your pipes will thank you.

Then, take some warm soapy water and wash the palette thoroughly. You may need to use some force to get some of the drier areas of the palette clean. If there are large swathes of paint left on your palette, you can even use your fingernails to peel them away.

There are palettes made especially for peeling off paint. Peel-off plastic palettes are flat palettes designed to allow you to peel off your dried paint once you’re ready to clean up.

How to remove dried acrylic paint from a palette

So, let’s say you got particularly tired after a painting session. Or two. Or three. And your acrylic palette is a crusty abstract painting all on its own. Never fear – there are a few to clean dry acrylic paint from your palette.

First, let your palette soak in soapy water overnight. This is another good reason to invest in a plastic or glass palette, as wood is not able to do this. By soaking the palette, you allow water to make its way between the paint and the palette, making it easier to remove.

If this does not work, try using an acrylic medium to get the paint off of your palette. To perform this method, first spread a thin layer of the acrylic medium all over your palette, being sure to cover every bit of paint. Next, wait for this thin layer to dry.

Once it dries, you should be able to peel the entire sheet of the acrylic medium from your palette. Start on one side and gently work your way to the other. If you covered all the paint in the medium, then it should all stick to it rather than your acrylic palette.

As a last-ditch effort, you can use acetone to remove the dried acrylic paint. It works just as it does on nail polish and will dissolve your paint. Be careful with this method, as it can dissolve your palette too if you are using a plastic one, and be sure to sit in a well-ventilated area as acetone can smell quite badly and give off fumes when you use a large amount of it.

Do you want to keep your acrylic paints from drying out completely? To avoid cleaning a dry palette, or to preserve wet colors for later, try investing in a palette with a lid or a stay-wet palette to keep your paints moist for future use.

How to clean an oil paint palette

Oil paint can be another tricky substance to remove from a palette. As usual, be sure you are wiping your palette clean after each time you use it. This will make giving it a more thorough clean easier in the future.

The first thing you need to do is scrape off all the paint you can with a palette knife. A palette knife or scraper is an invaluable tool for most oil painters and is particularly useful on glass palettes.

For maximum effectiveness, hold the blade at about a 45-degree angle. Don’t press extremely hard, as doing so will damage the tool or scratch the glass or plastic. The goal is to wedge the blade cleanly between the paint and the palette.

Next, use oil paint solvent or turpentine. These substances work much like acetone does for acrylic paints, and it will help dissolve your dried oil paints so that you can more easily remove them from the surface of the palette. Let the solvent sit for about 5 minutes, and then use a towel to wipe it away.

You may need to repeat these steps a few times in order to get all the paint off of the oil paint palette. If needed, let the solvent or turpentine sit on the palette for up to half an hour to really dissolve the oil paint. Be sure to properly dispose of the paper towels or cloths that are covered in oil paint and solvent in order to avoid fumes or possible fire.

As is the case when working with oil paints, be sure you are in an well-ventilated area. Open up your windows and turn on a fan. Breathing in solvent or turpentine fumes is detrimental to your health, especially after multiple repeated exposures.

If cleaning your palette becomes a chore you just can’t stand anymore, consider switching to disposable palette sheets. This is a pad of especially thick paper, and each sheet is meant to act as a palette and be disposed of once you are done painting.

They work well for both oil and acrylic paints, and you can also purchase a low-cost plastic variety if you want something slightly sturdier.

How to clean a watercolor palette

Compared to acrylic and oil paints, cleaning a watercolor palette is fairly straightforward. Watercolors are just that – colors that dissolve in water – so cleaning your watercolor palette is as easy as wiping the paints away with a damp cloth.

Watercolors are known for being easily re-wet, so cleaning them from the palette is a breeze. Just be sure your palette is made of plastic or glass, as wooden palettes are not suitable for watercolor paint.

Because of how delicate and translucent watercolor paint is, cleaning your palette more frequently between sessions is especially vital. It’s very easy to muddy your pigment and create a color you don’t want if you have residual paint left on your palette.

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