How to Clean Makeup Brushes

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For some people, makeup brushes are an everyday staple.

If that’s the case for you, your brushes may do a lot of jobs. They can help you create the perfect cut crease, highlight your cheekbones, and even cover up blemishes and undereye circles.

But without a regular cleaning routine, these handy tools can wreak havoc on your skin.

“Over time your makeup brushes will not only collect old makeup in them, but they will also collect dust, dirt, and multiple other substances from your desk, makeup bag, or even your floor,” says Ashleigh Scriven, a makeup artist and dermatology expert.

That means when you use your makeup brushes, you’re transferring all that dirt and grime into your pores, which can cause breakouts and irritate sensitive skin.

Think of it like this: If you don’t clean your brushes, it’s not just a pop of highlight or a rosy blush you’re adding to your face, but a whole host of bacteria, too.

If you’re seeing your favorite beauty tools in a whole new light, read on.

Whether you choose to clean your brushes every 2 weeks or are committing to a more regular routine, the following steps should ensure they’re squeaky clean:

  1. Collect all of your brushes.
  2. Fill your sink with warm water.
  3. Massage brush hairs with baby shampoo or a gentle facial cleanser.
  4. Use a brush cleaning pad to dislodge debris.
  5. Rinse your brushes thoroughly.
  6. Massage real-hair brushes with conditioner for one minute. Rinse again.
  7. Let your brushes air-dry.

Gather your brushes

“When collecting your brushes, make sure to include the ones that haven’t been used,” says Scriven. “They can still collect dirt from your makeup bag and other surfaces.”

Fill your sink with warm water

You can use a sink, basin, or even a brush-cleaning machine with water that’s warm but not too hot.

If you opt for a machine, try the STYLPRO Electric Makeup Brush Cleaner Gift Set.

Wash with baby shampoo or gentle cleanser

It can be tempting to reach for hand soap or even dish soap, but Patel says you should avoid them.

“Using soap can dry out your skin and damage natural hair bristles,” he explains.

He recommends opting for a gentle facial cleanser instead.

“I researched what cleans brushes most effectively, and baby shampoo works brilliantly for me,” says Scriven.

To use, squeeze out a pea-size amount and gently massage the shampoo/cleanser onto the bristles with your fingertips until it makes a lather.

Use a brush cleaning pad

Brush cleaning pads typically have raised ridges that help loosen trapped dirt.

“Rubbing your brushes on the textured areas will help remove dirt inside the brushes,” Scriven explains.

Scriven suggests going DIY.

“You can make one from a sheet of hard plastic and a glue gun. Use the glue gun to make different shapes and patterns to rub your brushes against,” she says.

You can also shop for brush cleaning pads online.


Once you’ve given your brushes a good scrub, run them under warm water.

“Ensure you rinse the bristles out thoroughly before wiping them on a clean, dry towel,” advises Amish Patel, aesthetics practitioner and skin care expert at Intrigue Cosmetic Clinic.

If the water doesn’t run clear at first, rinse the brushes and repeat the previous steps until all the dirt, grime, and leftover makeup residue is gone.

Air-dry your brushes

Scriven advises leaving your brushes to air-dry overnight and warns against using a hairdryer.

“If I use a hairdryer, I find it affects the shape of the bristles,” she explains.

Patel says you can “gently remold the brush head into the shape it was before washing and leave it to dry naturally with the makeup brush bristle airing over the edge of a counter.”

What products should you use?

Scriven suggests reading the ingredients and avoiding harsh additives like:

  • fragrances
  • alcohol
  • preservatives

This is especially true for people with skin sensitivities or conditions, like psoriasis or eczema.

It can be tempting to reach for hand soap or even dish soap, but Patel says you should avoid them.

Instead, try a gentle cleanser like The Ordinary Squalane Cleanser.

Scriven’s top pick is baby shampoo, like Johnson’s Baby Shampoo.

“It’s safe for sensitive skin and there are no harsh chemicals that will affect your brushes,” she explains.

As for washing real-hair brushes, Scriven says you can follow the same steps as you did with your synthetic brushes but should add conditioner afterward.

“Condition your real-hair brushes with a conditioner of your choice for 1 minute. Doing this ensures the bristles say soft and delicate,” she adds.

Whatever products you’re using, Scriven recommends doing a small patch test beforehand to check for irritation.

Washing your makeup brushes may seem like a bit of a chore. Still, according to Patel, it’s a nonnegotiable when it comes to good skin health.

“Brushes and foundation sponges are a breeding ground for bacteria, so washing them regularly is essential,” he explains. “In fact, anything that comes into contact with your face should be cleaned regularly.”

That includes:

  • masks
  • hands
  • towels
  • scarves or headbands
  • makeup brushes and sponges

There’s no hard-and-fast rule on how often you should clean your brushes.

Patel’s advice is to wash your makeup brushes and applicators at least twice a month. More frequently is best if you have sensitive skin or are prone to spot outbreaks.

If you’re a regular makeup wearer like Scriven, you might like to give your brushes a bath on a select day every week.

“I always try to clean my makeup brushes at the end of each week (every Sunday). This is to ensure I’m starting each week with fresh brushes,” she says.

Just like all your cosmetics products, brushes and sponges should be regularly replaced.

Scriven recommends changing them every 3 months.

Of course, that may not be realistic for your budget.

“If that’s not financially possible, my advice would be to have a strong cleaning routine and try and regularly switch up your brushes so you’re not always using the same ones every day,” she says.

You may regularly use makeup brushes to help you look your best, but unwashed tools may do more harm than good.

To keep your pores free from the gunk and grime that builds up on your brushes, clean them regularly.

Using baby shampoo or gentle cleanser, some warm water, and a ridged cleaning pad at least twice per month should do the trick.

Victoria Stokes is a writer from the United Kingdom. When she’s not writing about her favorite topics, personal development, and well-being, she usually has her nose stuck in a good book. Victoria lists coffee, cocktails, and the color pink among some of her favorite things. Find her on Instagram.

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