How to clean a watercolor brush pen in a jiffy: Two quick tricks

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If you’ve been searching for tips on “how to clean a watercolor brush pen”, you’ve come to the right place.

You may suspect this is an elaborate process, but all it takes are a few minutes (literally) and a couple of basic household materials to bring your art pens back to life.

Looking for quality watercolor marker sets? Peruse our favorites in this guide to the best art pens.

How to clean a watercolor brush pen

I can tell you right off the bat that cleaning watercolor brush pens is as easy as can be, thanks to their water-based ink.

Unlike alcohol-based art pens, watercolor markers don’t leave permanent stains on tips and can be washed off effortlessly.

They’re similar to Tombow dual brush pens in the sense that they essentially “self-clean” very easily.

If you want to learn more about watercolor pigment and how it compares to other paints, check out our watercolor vs gouache and watercolor vs acrylic guides.

To clean your watercolor brush pens, you’ll need paper towels and a recipient with water.

Then, all you have to do is follow the steps below to get your pens in tip-top shape within just a few minutes — or, dare I say, seconds?

How to clean a watercolor brush pen with paper towels

How to clean watercolor brush pens_layout
Photo via Stephanie Bento (Tiny Workshops)

Gather your materials: You only need one paper towel for this method.

Make sure it’s dry; cleaning will be messier if you wipe off your nib with a wet paper towel.

Cleaning watercolor brush pen with paper towel
Photo via Stephanie Bento (Tiny Workshops)

Take your watercolor pen and gently press it against the paper towel.

Twist the paper towel around the nib a few times in the same direction (imagine unscrewing a bottle cap).

Note: There’s no need to pinch the nib tightly; you don’t want to damage its original shape or bristles. Don’t pull or tug the pen’s tip, either.

Cleaning watercolor brush pen with paper towel_2
Photo via Stephanie Bento (Tiny Workshops)

After twisting your pen a few times, draw some lines on the paper towel to see if the ink comes out in its original color.

You can also test this out on a piece of smooth paper. There’s no need to use good watercolor paper just to test this out!

How to clean a watercolor brush pen with a paper towel_outcome
Photo via Stephanie Bento (Tiny Workshops)

Repeat this process until your watercolor pen ink is no longer tinted or stained!

How to clean a watercolor brush pen with water

How to clean watercolor brush pens with water_layout
Photo via Stephanie Bento (Tiny Workshops)

Prepare a recipient with clean water and a paper towel for dabbing.

I find using a glass recipient is most useful since it provides an unblocked view of your pen’s nib.

Soaking dirty watercolor brush pen in water
Photo via Stephanie Bento (Tiny Workshops)

Dip your pen tip directly into the water and gently twirl it around.

Imagine mixing a cup of coffee!

How to clean a watercolor brush pen with water_process
Photo via Stephanie Bento (Tiny Workshops)

Keep doing this until you start seeing pigment being released into the water and the pen’s tip becoming completely white.

This should be very quick but may vary depending on the brand and quality of your watercolor brush pens.

Testing ink_how to clean a watercolor brush pen
Photo via Stephanie Bento (Tiny Workshops)

Once your nib is clean, you’ll need to prime it again.

To do this, lightly dab and/or draw some lines onto a paper towel (or smooth paper) until the ink flows back to the nib.

The white tip should change back to the pen’s original color.

How to clean a watercolor brush pen_shaping tip
Photo via Stephanie Bento (Tiny Workshops)

Lastly, gently shape and “sculpt” brush tips with your fingers to ensure they remain intact.

Since this method involves soaking your watercolor brush pens, remember that bristles will retain water.

Therefore, lightly squeeze excess water with a paper towel before painting again.

How to clean a watercolor brush pen using water
Photo via Stephanie Bento (Tiny Workshops)

Note that you can pretty much do the same process by rinsing your pens under a running faucet instead.

Nevertheless, since watercolor is a very delicate pigment, the amount of water and pressure released from a faucet isn’t really necessary — and, in all honesty, a waste of water.

How often should I clean my watercolor brush pens?

How to clean a watercolor brush pen_dirty brushes
Photo via Stephanie Bento (Tiny Workshops)

How often you should clean your watercolor brush pens ultimately depends on how often you use your watercolor brush pens, but primarily, how much blending you do.

That said, if you’re using your pens often and getting your nibs stained every time (which is normal!), you’ll want to clean them after every use. This will prevent any residue from drying and clogging the bristles.

It will also make your watercolor brush pens last longer and look better, too! Who doesn’t like owning some good-looking art supplies?

Either of the methods above is easy and quick to do and won’t cost you a penny (unless you’re buying an entire roll of paper towels for your art creative hobbies!).

Can I use alcohol or other solvents to clean my watercolor brush pens?

Three watercolor markers_how to clean a watercolor brush pen
Photo via Stephanie Bento (Tiny Workshops)

You can use alcohol or other solvents to clean your watercolor brush pens, but I wouldn’t recommend it. 

Firstly, it isn’t really necessary. 

Secondly, these solvents can damage or weaken bristles and end up ruining your pens entirely. 

If anything, add a little soft soap or dish detergent to some lukewarm water and gently wipe them off with a smooth cloth or paper towel. 

Kind reminder: Remember to let bristles dry completely before using your pens again. 

How should I store my watercolor pens after cleaning?

Watercolor brush pens_storage
Photos via Stephanie Bento (Tiny Workshops)

Like many art pens, watercolor brush pens should be stored horizontally after cleaning.

Much like Posca pens, it’s important to position your watercolor brush pens horizontally to prevent any dried pigment or ink from settling at the tip and /or clogging it.

And don’t forget to always keep the caps on tightly! This will keep the ink from drying out or leaking.

Keep your watercolor markers stored in a cool, dry place away from direct sunlight to preserve them over a longer time.

How do I prevent my watercolor pens from getting dirty in the first place?

Watercolor brush pens with caps on
Photo via Stephanie Bento (Tiny Workshops)

Well, if you’re all about experimenting and enjoying your art supplies, you’ll know that getting them dirty is part of the fun.

And like any watercoloring project, whether you’re using traditional watercolor brushes with a watercolor set or watercolor pencils, you’re likely to stain your pen nibs or tips frequently — so embrace the mess!

The good news is that you can get them cleaned in just a few minutes with a couple of household items, whether paper towels or a small amount of water.

Keeping your watercolor pens in pristine shape will be challenging, but cleaning and preserving them properly after use is simple to do and will pay off in keeping them intact and functional.


That’s it for this short tutorial on how to clean watercolor brush pens! Feel free to drop questions or suggestions in the comments below.

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