Tips and Tricks for Cleaning Your Makeup Brushes

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When you go home tonight, take a look at your makeup brushes.  After a week (or weeks) of use, they’ll likely be caked in pigment, powder, and something else, bacteria.  Recently, the staff at Byrdie tested their makeup brushes for bacteria, and the results will make you want to scrub your brushes immediately.

But even some of the most ardent makeup aficionados struggle with the ins and outs of brush cleaning.  So here are the best tips from the experts.

How often must brushes be cleaned? Bobbi Brown recommends cleaning your face brushes (foundation, blush, concealer, etc.) at least once per week.  Eye brushes can be cleaned every two weeks.  Other brushes like highlighter and bronzer brushes can be done one to two times per month.

Personally, I use a Makeup Eraser cloth to remove grime from my face brushes every other day.  Then, I do a more thorough cleaning on the weekends.

What is the best cleanser for your brushes? Most makeup artists recommend using water and a gentle cleanser.  Do not use dish soap; it’s too concentrated to wash away easily.  I think the best brush cleanser is baby shampoo.  To keep the bristles from drying out, add a bit of olive oil to the mix.

Another option is the beautyblender Blender Cleanser.  If you buy the solid version, you can travel with it.

What is the best technique?  This Good Housekeeping photo tutorial shows you the steps to cleaning a brush properly.  But I have two alterations.

I don’t like to waste water, so I use a shallow dish (like a baking ramekin) instead of a running faucet.  Also,  instead of using my hand to clean the brush, I use a Sigma brush cleaning mat.  The grooves and bristles really clean the gunk off.

How should you dry your brushes? First, ring out the excess water, and blot dry on a towel.  Make sure to reshape the brush head as you dry.  Then, comes the air-drying phase.

Never dry your brushes with the bristles laying on a towel (mildew) or with the brushes standing bristles in the air (the water weakens the glue holding the brush together).  Instead, lay your brushes flat with the brush head hanging off the edge of the counter.  Another option is to use hair ties to secure them to a towel rod upside down.  Or purchase a brush tree to hold the brushes upside down.

How do you clean a makeup sponge?  To clean an applicator sponge, like a beautyblender, the microwave is your best friend.  You soak the sponge in soapy water, and then pop it into the microwave for a bit.  This will not only clean the sponge, but kill any bacteria lurking inside.  Just make sure not to touch the sponge right after you remove it; it will be hot!

How should I store my brushes? Unlike most bloggers, I absolutely do not recommend keeping your makeup brushes on your bathroom counter.  That is unless you want them coated in aerosolized perfume, hairspray, fecal bacteria, etc..  I keep mine in a lidded cup made by Sigma.  This keeps the brushes from getting smushed, which can happen in a makeup bag.

When is it time to throw away your brushes? The FabZilla recommends tossing brushes that no longer hold their shape, shed bristles regularly, won’t come clean, or have developed an odor.

Looking for an easy way out? Several companies are now making sonic brush cleaning devices that will clean makeup brushes for you.  The most well-reviewed is the Brush Pearl which acts like a mini-washing machine for your makeup brushes.

*image c/o Beauty Bean.



  1. Jenn S. says:

    Seeing brushes left out on bathroom counters makes me cringe. It’s one thing if you have a vanity that is not in your bathroom; otherwise? No!

    Another note, those of you with pets would also do well to follow Belle’s advice about storing them – cats and dogs frequently find fluffy brushes and bouncy sponges irresistibly fun. If you can’t use a cup, at least a drawer.

    August 5, 2016/Reply
  2. Crystal says:

    I purchased this Beauty Blender-alternative brush cleaner on a recent trip to Sephora and am a total convert: it’s a solid cleanser with a grooved rubber mat built right in to the lid — I just wet my brush, swirl it over the soap, and scrub it on the rubber mat. It cleans *so well* and with so much less muss and fuss than my previous methods.

    August 5, 2016/Reply
    • Crystal says:

      BTW–Belle, is this graphic one of your new Photoshop efforts? If so, it looks great!

      August 5, 2016/Reply
  3. LS says:

    So glad you posted this! I’ve been meaning to up my brush-cleaning game.

    Silly question, Belle – do you use the makeup eraser with water when you clean off the brushes? If so, do the brushes and/or cloth fully dry over the course of the day? (I have a makeup eraser, but find it takes more than 24 hours to dry). Thanks!

    August 5, 2016/Reply
    • Belle says:

      I wet the brush, not the cloth.

      August 5, 2016/Reply