I suffer from very severe asthma and solvents really affect my breathing. It took me a while to figure out why I was so ill at university where the studios were always full of fumes.
I spent a lot of time in the printmaking studios and they too used solvents for cleaning up. Once I began to figure out that inhaling vast amount of solvents every day was affecting my health I did a little research and discovered that some printmaking studios in Australia were pioneering a green method of using no solvents at all. They just cleaned up with vegetable oil and soap and water!
It didn't take me long to realise that the same could be applied to oil painting as well.
So now I paint almost entirely without solvents. I do miss them slightly, in fact I love the smell of proper turps and used to love using a turpsy wash to establish the first layers, but it is well worth not using solvents to be able to paint in oils again after thinking I couldn't.
Having said all that, I do take solvents out with me when I do plein air painting because I hardly breathe any in out in the open.
But how do I clean my brushes, you may ask?
First of all, I wipe most of the paint off my brushes onto old phone book pages.
Then I wash the brush in one of those cleaning tanks filled with cheap linseed oil.
I use proper artists linseed for moistening the paints if absolutely necessary. Mostly, it isn't necessary and I use the paints straight from the tube.
After washing in the tank and wiping the excess oil off on paper towels or rags, the brushes are ready to be used again.
During the painting process I use a set of brushes for dark and another for light and most of the washing gets done at the end of the painting session.
To clean the brushes properly at the end, I put them through the tank, wipe off the excess oil onto a rag or paper towel, then plonk the brushes in a jar of Daler Rowney Water Washable Brush Cleaner or just simple liquid soap which I keep in a jar with a metal sink filter at the bottom to work the bristles.
I think the DW Cleaner is liquid soap and some kind of oil and that is what I will replace it with when it is all gone.
The brushes are perfectly clean after this process and once dried they are ready for use the next day.
My lungs are happy, my brushes are happy and I am happy.