If you paint with watercolors, you’ve likely tried out a butcher tray palette. Butcher tray palettes are usually made with steel or another metal, coated in a water resistant enamel or porcelain. They’re a great option, because they hold pigment well, don’t stain, and allow for easy mixing.
Many watercolorists leave pigments on their palette between sessions. As the colors dry out, they harden, and can be easily reconstituted the next time you sit down to paint.
If you leave your paints on a butcher tray for weeks or months, though, they might begin to harden. Once this happens, the pigments can be very hard to remove.
Here’s how to clean the enamel on a butcher tray palette.
Start by making sure that your pigments and colors aren’t toxic. Some watercolors are toxic, and you want to avoid cleaning these in a sink that you use for food prep, teeth brushing, etc. In general, you should use a utility or art sink for cleaning up pigments. Either way (but especially if your pigments are toxic), you’ll want to wear gloves for this cleaning step, so the pigments don’t stain you hands.
You also want to make sure your sink can handle the pigments without staining. Again, a plastic utility sink works great.
Turn the water on as hot as you can. Thoroughly wet the stuck on paints. You’ll see that a lot of pigment starts to wash away immediately, assuming your water is hot enough.
Make sure not to scald your hands. Work the water across each piece of stuck-on pigment, until they’re all soaked. The colorful runoff water looks pretty trippy, actually!
Next, leave a little water on the tray, and grab a small sponge with a scrubber. Scrub away at each piece of stuck-on pigment to begin to release it. Use bursts of water to wash it away.
If chunks of pigment are still being very stubborn, you can also use a pallet knife or metal scraper to gently lift them off. Make sure not to dig into or scratch the enamel surface of the palette.
Give the butcher tray a final wash in water, dry it off, and you’re good to keep on painting!