Project Green Studio - Part 2: Towels!

This week I’m tackling the process of cleaning up. Before Project Green Studio I used paper towels galore to clean brushes, dispose of excess paint, and wipe down my pallet when I was finished for the day. I probably went through a roll of paper towels every two weeks. Can we talk about how wasteful that is for a minute?

544,000 trees could be saved each year if each US household used just one less roll of paper towels.

That’s a lot of trees and a lot of plastic to wrap around each pack of paper towels! Eliminating paper towels is a major step in the Green Studio direction. But then how am I supposed to clean the studio after each session responsibly? Use rags.


When it comes to solving clean up, breaking down the steps is so important.

I work primarily in oil paint and my clean up in the past has been this:

  • Use vegetable or linseed oil to breakdown the color on the pallet and in brushes

  • Take a paper towel and absorb as much of the oil/paint mix as possible

  • Throw away said paper towel and then wash the brushes in soap and water

Now I get rags from second hand sources. I ask my Buy Nothing group or friends for old towels and trash-destined T-shirts to cut up. Pictured above, a newly acquired pile of rags. :)

The clean up process changes as such:

  • With a pallet knife, scrape up all the extra paint and apply to what will be your extra paint canvas. Mine pictured below. An extra paint canvas reduces the amount of oil (or solvents) you use to break down discard paint and at the end of the year you get a really weird painting. Win/win!

  • Alternatively: you can save the extra paint in airtight containers or put it in a freezer for the next painting session.

  • Squeeze the paint brush in a rag to coax out the bulk of the paint

  • Use vegetable or linseed oil to break down the remaining color in the brushes and on the pallet

  • Use your rag to wipe the pallet clean, using oil to help the process.

  • Wash the brush in soap and water. I’m a fan of The Masters Brush Cleaner and Preserver.

  • Store soiled rags in airtight metal container to dry. No combusting rags in my studio please and thanks!

extra paint canvas.jpeg

My next challenge is: What do I do with the soiled rags after they have been completely saturated in oil? They can’t be washed. Artist colors are considered hazardous waste and needs to be disposed of at an appropriate facility in your city. But is there a better way to deal with it?

A few weeks ago I was out at a cafe with some friends and this man came in with a big sack of rags and a rug. He looked like Practical Santa! It got me thinking: auto shops and restaurants have a rag service- so why couldn’t an artist?

I live in Seattle, so finding a place that would know how to responsibly treat the rags so that they can be reused might be possible. If you live in a rural area this idea might not be viable. I clearly have some more research to do, so until then I’ll be using my own rags and keeping the fully used ones with me.

What do you do with your used up rags? Do you have any ideas for a more responsible clean up process? I want to hear from you. Leave a comment!

Till next time~