The Four Best Eco-Friendly Paint Brushes


There is a myriad of different paint brushes on the market today. However, the environment of planet Earth pays the price for our beautification efforts as every year, millions of traditional paint brushes are known to end up in landfills around the world. This waste causes damage to the environment because synthetic paintbrushes take over 450 years to degrade with plastic handles taking approximately 1,000 years.

What are the four best eco-friendly paint brushes? The best planet-friendly options are those made from naturally occurring fibers such as: 

  • Bamboo
  • Corn
  • Hala
  • Animal Hair 

This is article shall endeavor to enlighten readers on the four paint brushes that are the eco-friendliest choices available on the market today.

Bristles Made From Renewable Resources that are Eco-Friendly

As mentioned in the introduction, there are at least four types of materials used to create eco-friendly paint brushes, bamboo, corn, Hala, and animal hair. Probing each material by examining their uses and the downfalls should make it easier to decide to change over to paint brushes made of renewable materials.

The following is a listing of each of the four best eco-friendly paint brush materials from the most easily found to the rarest.

Bamboo

Bamboo is a woody perennial that grows up to four feet in a single day with little maintenance and is lightweight and durable. Bamboo is also one of the friendliest material for the environment on the planet as it is a quick-growing plant.

Some species of bamboo can grow one millimeter every ninety seconds, or one inch every forty minutes. So, it is easy to see how bamboo makes a wonderful choice to create and use paint brushes manufactured from its fronds.

One of the largest benefits of using bamboo for the manufacture of paint brushes is that it absorbs substantial amounts of carbon as it grows and produces 35% more oxygen than trees.

Other benefits to bamboo include:

  • The plant grows and is replaced in a short amount of time
  • Bamboo causes no soil erosion as the roots are left intact
  • Bamboo produces 20 times more usable materials than trees
  • Bamboo requires extraordinarily little water thus conserving this vital resource

Clearly, bamboo paint brushes like the ones found on Amazon are a brilliant choice for eco-friendly paint brushes. (Amazon Link)

Corn

Corn is a natural material that biodegrades quickly back into the earth. This plant is also highly renewable making its footprint on the planet’s ecosystem much smaller than traditional materials. Corn makes strong, durable, and long-lasting paint brushes lasting longer than conventional paint brushes while helping the planet.

Although corn brushes still go to a landfill, corn paint brushes are made from 65% cornstarch and other environmentally friendly materials. The bristles of some of these devices are sometimes a mixture of manmade filaments but still offer a much smaller environmental impact. Corn paint brushes offer a soft feel to the artist/house painter in their work.

Animal Hair

An article about eco-friendly paint brushes would not be complete without discussing the use of animal bristles and hair. This type of bristle on a paint brush is preferred by many artists who swear by them and house painters who find them easy to use.

The three most common shapes of animal-hair brushes, flat, filbert, and round are all three available in sable hair. Animal activists report that sable hair is taken from a species of marten found in Asia that are now commercially farmed. Not only are the conditions under which these animals live questionable as cruel, but the animals are also experimented with to discover better ways to manufacture paint brushes that will be more appealing to artists.

Sables are only one animal used in the manufacture of animal hair paint brushes as rabbits, horses, and other easy to raise animals are also utilized.

Using animals to research and manufacture paint brushes mean animals are killed, something that is highly unnecessary given there are plant-based substitutes.

The Hala Tree

The Hala tree (also known as a Pandanus or Screw Pine) is native to the Pacific islands, including Hawaii, where it can grow up to twenty feet tall. The fronds of these trees have long bent leaves, and the female trees produce large eight-inch pineapple looking fruit at its center.

Below the tree, supporting the trunk, are “prop roots” that already look like small paint brushes. When gathered, these pods are beaten to reveal the fibers are shaped and cleaned for use as a brush.

These brushes are ideal for meticulous artists looking for an eco-friendly alternative to synthetic fiber brushes.

The Handles of Eco-Friendly Paint Brushes

It isn’t just the bristles of a paint brush that can be harmful to the environment as the handles can be as well. Using fast-growing bamboo instead of slower-growing trees to make the handles is an example of using a renewable resource over one that is harmful to planet earth.

Plastic handles are incredibly unhealthy for the planet and should be avoided to lessen an artist’s carbon footprint. Plastic is a major source of pollution, even found in the deepest portion of earth in the Marianas Trench. Many environmentally friendly artists consider using plastic in any form to create a work of art equivalent to a crime.

Non-Renewable Materials and the Environment of Planet Earth 

Most have heard how the earth is struggling as it is being negatively influenced by pressure from mankind’s consumption of its natural resources. When people think of unrenewable resources, they think of petroleum, natural gas, and coal, but these important materials are only part of the problem. The biggest problem is the products that are made from them.

The bristles on conventional paint brushes are created using polyester, which is manufactured from a chemical reaction involving both coal and petroleum. The handles of most brands of paint brushes are also made from nonrenewable natural gas.

It may seem that using a paint brush manufactured from petroleum, natural gas, or coal would be the least of the worries for the environment, and they could be forgiven for believing so. But 300 million paint brushes are thrown away every year in Canada and the U.S. alone making them a huge contributor to pollution.

The Pros of Using Eco-Friendly Paint Brushes

There are many pros to using paint brushes manufactured using renewable resources such as plant fiber.

  1. They reduce the need for solvents for cleaning
  2. Using plant fiber paint brushes saves money
  3. Plant fiber brushes allow for a quick change in paint color

Manufactured using plant fiber, these paint brushes are softer and more resilient bristles that are easily cleaned with water-based solvents.

Using plant fiber paint brushes saves money because they do not need replacing as often as a traditional brush that is thrown away after only a few uses. This is due to the gluing process used in the manufacture of plant-based bristles that avoids annoying bristle loss.

Plant fiber brushes allow for a quicker change in paint color because they dry quickly and clean up easily.

It is clear why many people choose plant-based paint brushes to save both money and the environment.

The Cons of Using Renewable Eco-Friendly Paint Brushes

There are very few cons to using paint brushes made from renewable resources. Plant-based brushes are easy to clean and brilliant for watercolor painting. However, paint brushes made from the hair of animals are quite the opposite as they have any cons.

Animal hair paint brushes, because they are made of animal fur brushes are much more difficult to wash than either plant-based or synthetic types. Also, animal hair is a huge problem because of animal allergies causing bad reactions in artists who have them.

It is vital to check with the manufacturer or reading the package before purchasing to make certain of the materials the brush is made from.

The Two Different Solvents to Clean Eco-Friendly Paint Brushes

Cleaning eco-friendly paint brushes are much simpler than cleaning those made from synthetic materials. Yet, cleansing brushes requires using either chemical solvents or water.

Using chemical solvents to clean paint brushes brings hazards to the health of the artist because solvents such as turpentine and mineral spirits cause dermatitis, dizziness, headaches, nausea, fatigue, drowsiness, and respiratory irritation when not used properly. Even weaker versions of mineral spirits and turpentine can cause sneezing and headaches.

So, while solvents work well, they cause a myriad of different issues for the artist. Water, on the other hand, makes a great solvent that works well on plant-based paint brushes.

Cleansing Eco-Friendly Paint Brushes with Water

The procedure for cleaning brushes using water isn’t difficult to learn or perform.

First, brush out any excess paint using a scrap piece of canvas or an old terrycloth.

Next, squeeze out any remaining paint from the tips, wrap the brush in cloth or canvas and squeeze it out. This will help make sure your paint brush is clean throughout.

Then, use safflower oil, made from a thistle-like plant, and dip the brush allowing it to coat the bristles. After you have dipped the bristles, use that scrap canvas or towel from earlier to brush the oil-soaked brush to remove the as much of the remaining paint as possible. Repeat this procedure several times until the paint brush appears clean.

Next, wash the paint brush in dishwashing soap and scrub the bristles on a surface to deep clean the brush. Finally, after using the dish soap, rinse well with water.

Tip: Make sure to wash the brush with the dishwashing soap first before rinsing in water because water is repelled by the paint in your brush, but the soap will make the brush ready for rinsing in water.

To learn more about how to properly clean your paint brush, look at our article here.

Three Things to Consider When Using an Eco-Friendly Brush

Watercolor and oil paint require different cleaning mediums. While watercolor paint comes clean from a paint brush with only water, oil paint requires a solvent. However, this does not mean that one needs to use a solvent that is toxic to the environment. Check for solvents that are made from natural ingredients instead.

Another tip is to remove as much paint as much as possible before cleaning using a dry cloth by swiping the brush back and forth across it multiple times. This reduces the amount of solvent that may be needed later. Using a toothbrush made from bamboo to comb any stubborn paint from the eco-friendly paint brush also helps in washing the brush later.

Lastly, one might remember that it is not necessary to clean a paint brush after every time you have paused in your painting. If the plan is to use the brush later with the same paint, then wrap the brush in a piece of recyclable plastic, and it will stay wet and ready for twenty-four hours. If the need arises for a longer pause in painting, wrap the brush in recyclable plastic and place it in the freezer. It will remain usable without cleansing for up to two weeks.

Tips for Choosing an Eco-Friendly Paint Brush

Choosing an eco-friendly paint brush from the considerable number of brands available today is a daunting task. Knowing these simple tips can reduce the struggle of finding the brush that an environmentally conscious artist can use without worry.

One tip is to think creatively. Making sure to research the product and read the labels before purchasing a paint brush is vital to not buying something that is not environmentally friendly. For instance, some paint brush manufacturers may list their goods as eco-friendly (they are more so than conventional brushes), except they may use a mixture of polyester and plant-based fibers in their bristles.

Another tip is to consider the lifetime of the product, not just the material from which it is made. Animal fur brushes have a longer life expectancy than those made from plant-fiber. However, if one is concerned about animal cruelty, then the obvious choice would be to choose the brushes that, although they last a shorter amount of time, are animal-friendly.

Repurposing Eco-Friendly Paint Brushes

Although eco-friendly paint brushes decompose much quicker and are much less harmful to the environment than conventional ones, they still will end up in landfills. Repurposing paint brushes of any kind allows for them to avoid that fate while beautifying the home.

Here are three different repurposing ideas for paint brushes.

Making Handles for Cabinets or Drawers

Paint brushes of all kinds, shapes, and sizes are ideal for handles on cabinet doors or drawers in the kitchen or workshop. Simply paint or decorate the handles and attach the brush with screws.

Painting the Handles to Make Advertisements

Every painter desires others to enjoy their work, and some paint to earn extra cash. So, painting the handles of the paint brushes with a logo or business name and hanging them in the home or workshop is a wonderful way to make a statement.

Making Folk Art

There are dozens, if not hundreds of ideas for using a paint brush to form a piece of folk art. Paint brushes make fantastic mobiles to hang in the workshop, and by adding pearls and lace make wonderful additions to any home décor.

Another clever use of used paintbrushes is making Santa Claus Christmas ornaments using the bristles of the brush as the beard and the handle as Santa’s hat.

Other Considerations When Choosing an Eco-Friendly Paint Brush

There are two other considerations when choosing and purchasing an eco-friendly paintbrush. One of them is the wrapping the brush arrives in at the store. Most paintbrushes are wrapped in a plastic wrapping for the convenience of the manufacturer and consumer alike.

The best way to avoid consuming plastic wrapping is to buy local without any packaging at all. If there are no local shops in the area, purchasing paint brushes wrapped in recycled plastic that can be recycled again is the next best idea.

Buying local also aids the environment by reducing the carbon footprint of the use of large shipping equipment such as semi-trucks or in the case of an overseas order, planes.

The solvents used to clean oil-based paint should be a huge concern for environmentally conscious artists as once used, they are normally disposed of in a way that harms the planet. The best alternatives to harmful solvent are those made with citrus. Citrus solvent is orange peel oil that is a clear liquid made from the rind of oranges and is a marvelous choice to remove oil-based paint like that sold on Amazon (Amazon Link).

Some Closing Remarks

Scientists all agree that our planet is in trouble. Humanity has, in its striving for convenience and pleasure, invented materials using non-renewable resources that are harming the earth and have now begun to come back to haunt us.

Being environmentally friendly creates a scenario where artists are part of the solution to global warming instead of part of the problem. Utilizing eco-friendly paint brushes certainly helps to reduce the danger in landfills from materials that will not biodegrade for one thousand or more years and eases the stress on the natural resources of the earth.

By using renewable corn, bamboo, Hala, or animal fur artists make a choice that not only helps to save the planet but also create beautiful works of art.

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