How to clean makeup brushes

Makeup brushes with colorful powder eyeshadow

This article may feature affiliate links, and purchases made may earn us a commission at no extra cost to you. Find out more here.

Share on facebook
Share on pinterest
Share on reddit
Share on email
Share on twitter

Makeup brushes don’t only work well to apply eyeshadow, concealer and lipstick. In fact, they often put lots more on your face than you may realize.

The dirty problem

Every time you use them, your cosmetic brushes collect makeup residue, dead skin cells, dirt and skin oils — all of which can become a nice breeding ground for bacteria. If your makeup brushes are not cleaned regularly, that goop and bacteria gets rubbed back on to your face.

What’s the solution? The good news is that you don’t need to constantly replace your brushes. Instead, you can just clean them — carefully. Here’s how.

When should you clean your brushes?

So how often should you clean your dirty makeup brushes and applicators? Recommendations vary.

If someone else has used your brush, wash it immediately afterward — or, at least, before you use it again. (Need convincing? You can read about how one woman believes she caught a major infection from a dirty makeup brush, which led to her becoming paralyzed.)

Brushes used to apply liquid cosmetics (like foundation and lipstick) should be cleaned daily, according to Empire Beauty Schools, while brushes for dry makeup (such as blush and eye shadow) can be cleaned weekly. Top makeup brands like CoverGirl, Benefit Cosmetics and Estee Lauder also recommend cleaning the brushes once a week.

Of course, not everyone keeps this schedule. For example, top Australian makeup artist Napoleon Perdis says to disinfect brushes with a brush cleaning spray after every use, then deep cleans his brushes every two to four weeks. (Of course, a daily regimen makes more sense for someone applying cosmetics to a variety of people.)

Perdis’ suggestions for the deep clean: Go with what you use to wash your hair. “Wet your brush with warm water and massage a small dollop of shampoo into the bristles. Rinse thoroughly, and then work just a bit of conditioner through the brush and rinse again.”

Finally, if your brush has visible makeup residue and isn’t soft, no matter how long it’s been since its last bath, it’s time to give it a good wash.

Makeup brush and powder
Photo by by jirkaejc/Envato
Homemade makeup brush cleaner recipes
The baby shampoo method

Beauty and lifestyle blogger Aly Walansky shared with us her favorite brush cleaning method:

“Put a few squirts of baby shampoo mixed with warm water in a soup bowl in your sink. Rinse off the brushes first with warm water, then simply place them in the bowl and let them soak for a few minutes.”

When they’re clean, she says, rinse them off again, making sure the water runs clear, to be positive you don’t have any excess residue.

Olive oil and dish soap

For another take, here is Michelle Phan’s “Ultimate DIY brush cleaner” how-to:

Pour 2 parts basic dish soap onto a plate along with 1.5 parts extra virgin olive oil.  (She notes that the soap cleans and disinfects, while the olive oil works as a conditioner on the bristles.)

Gently stir your makeup brushes one at a time through the mixture, using a circular motion. Next, rub the brush back and forth on your hand to release the makeup and oils from the brush.

When you’re done, rinse them off under warm (not hot) water until when you squeeze the brush, the water runs clear.

More ways to clean your brushes

After using any of these methods, rinse your brush thoroughly with warm water:

The easy and affordable wash: Clean brushes with a 1:1 combination of warm water and white vinegar.

Swirl your brush bristles in a couple drops of facial wash.

Use a special brush cleaning soap. Two to try: Japonesque and Blendercleanser.

Wet your brush bristles, then put a few drops of dish soap (such as Dawn, which is used to degrease birds caught in oil slicks) in your hand and massage the suds through.

A brush cleaning spray, such as those from Cinema Secrets, Ecotools and Bare Minerals.

Electric brush cleansers include those from Neeyer and Senbowe

Sponge if off! Try an affordable Color Removal Cleaner Sponge, like this one from TailaiMei

Cleaning a dirty makeup brush
Photo by maksymiv_yura/Freepik
Tips to keep your makeup brushes in good shape

No matter what soap or mixture you use, don’t let the base of your brush — where the bristles meet the handle —  get wet. Doing so can loosen the glue holding the brush together, and the bristles may get loose and fall out. (It could also rust any metal.)

Also, take your time and be gentle. When washing your brush, don’t push hard or bend the bristles, so you can maintain the shape of each brush.

After cleaning each brush, gently re-shape the bristles before drying.

Drying your brushes

Gently dry and blot your brushes with a paper towel, according to Michelle Phan, then hang them upside down (bristles facing down) to dry completely.

Estee Lauder suggests you lay brushes flat to dry. “Place at edge of table or counter with bristles pointing out to air-dry completely. Avoid drying upright, which can cause bristles to spread and handles to crack.”

Never let your brushes dry on a towel, warns Bobbi Brown, as the bristles can become mildewed.

Don’t forget your brush handles

No matter which method you use to clean the brush bristles, don’t forget to clean your brush handles, too!

Clean them by putting rubbing alcohol or full-strength white vinegar on to a napkin or paper towel, or use a disinfectant wipe (such as those from Clorox or Lysol) and completely wipe down each brush handle.

By taking just a few moments each week to cleanse your cosmetic brushes, you can not only apply makeup the way it was intended to be seen, but keep your skin healthy and vibrant.

Lilyvolt Editors

Lilyvolt Editors

This site is for you, Gen X. It’s taken us all a long time to get here, so let’s make the most of what we’ve got. That’s why we say Lilyvolt is for Gen Most Xcellent. (We’re betting Keanu would approve.)

don't miss