How To Clean Makeup Brushes (And Why You Need To Do It More Often)

If the last time you cleaned your makeup brushes was never, stop what you’re doing and read this immediately.

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Are you getting zits in crazy places, like nestled along your hairline or in the center of your cheeks? Is your skin oilier or dryer than normal? Are you noticing patchy makeup application? You might be quick to blame your hormones, your genetics, or stress for wreaking havoc on your face, but in reality, your dirty makeup brushes might be the culprit. Your makeup brushes can actually harbor tons of bacteria, according to Ann Turner, a freelance makeup artist based in Jacksonville, Florida: “Natural bristle brushes are especially porous, which can cause bacteria to grow in brush fibers if they’re not cleaned regularly.” Gross. That’s why you should be cleaning your foundation makeup brushes and beauty blenders at least once a week, and your eyeshadow brushes at least twice a month. Plus, not only does regular makeup brush cleaning keep your face safer, it can actually extend the life of your brushes.

How To Clean Makeup Brushes (And Why You Need To Do It More Often)
Can’t remember the last time you cleaned your makeup brushes? Don’t know how to clean makeup brushes in the first place? Lucky for your skin, it’s easy to clean makeup brushes. It’s never too late to start, either. Plus, keeping your makeup brushes clean is one of the easiest ways to keep your skin glowing and healthy.

A Few Things to Know About How to Clean Makeup Brushes

Before cleaning your makeup brushes, you’ll need to determine if your brushes are made of natural or synthetic fibers. It should be easy to tell the difference. Natural bristle makeup brushes are made from animal hair, so they generally feel very soft. Synthetic-bristle brushes, on the other hand, are slicker and less soft. (Luckily, they both do a great job of blending your makeup—but only when they’re clean!) Turner prefers synthetic bristles, which “harbor less bacteria, and are great for blending full-coverage foundation for a flawless finish.” Synthetic brushes can also withstand harsher cleaning, because, well, they’re synthetic. Natural bristle brushes may wear out faster if they’re not cleaned correctly.

How to Clean Makeup Brushes: The Light Cleanse

It’s important to clean makeup brushes as often as you can, but your regular cleanse can be fairly low-effort. And before you say you barely have time for coffee, let alone spending extra time frivolously cleaning brushes, it literally only takes five minutes to lightly clean your makeup brushes, so no excuses! You should clean makeup brushes after every use, but according to Turner “if you are the only one using your brushes on a daily basis, you can get by with lightly cleaning them once or twice a week.” If you’ve never done it before, here’s how to clean makeup brushes to get out everyday residue:

  1. You can use an everyday cleanser to clean makeup brushes. Turner recommends IT Cosmetics Brush Bath Purifying Brush Cleanser or Jane Iredale Botanical Brush Cleaner.
  2. Gently swipe your makeup brush back and forth against a clean cloth until it starts rubbing clean. (Go ahead and splurge on a larger latte, because you don’t need to purchase fancy brush cleaning tools, says Turner. All you need is an inexpensive pack of cotton washcloths. I like these white cotton washcloths from AmazonBasics.)
  3. Leave your brush to dry. Easy as pie!

“Just make sure you gently rub your brushes into the cloth,” Turner explains. “If you are rough with your brushes, especially natural fibers, they’ll wear out faster.”

Our Makeup Brush Cleanser Picks:

How to Clean Makeup Brushes: The Deep Cleanse

Deep cleaning and disinfecting your makeup brushes should be done at least once a week (and more often if you use heavily pigmented foundation, which can gunk up brushes quickly). Here’s how to clean makeup brushes in order to really get the junk out:

  1. All you need to deep clean your brushes is a small bowl filled with warm water (Turner likes to put a few marbles in hers for the brushes to rest on) and a couple of drops of gentle baby shampoo, like Johnson’s Natural Baby Shampoo.
  2. Mix the baby shampoo into the bowl of warm water until it’s a little bubbly, but not overflowing with suds. Think less like your post work-week wine bubble bath, and more like the little dish of water you dip your hands in for a manicure.
  3. Swirl your brushes in the water carefully so that the ferrule doesn’t get wet.

What’s a ferrule? So glad you asked. The ferrule is the metal part of your brush that holds the bristles to the brush handle. If the ferrule gets wet repeatedly, it can not only harbor bacteria, but compromise the integrity of your brush, causing bristles to loosen and fall out.

  1. After you swirl your brush in its little bubble bath, tap the excess water off before swirling the bristles on a cloth until the brush rubs clean, just like you do throughout the week.
  2. After washing brushes, it’s important to lay them flat to dry with the fibers laying over the edge of the counter or table so air can circulate around them easily. This also helps brushes reform their natural shape after cleaning and keeps moisture out of the base of the brush (remember ferrule, the word of the day?)

“After washing and drying my brushes, I place them in a large vase filled with marbles,” says Turner. “That way they stay upright, not touching one another until they are dry. Plus, its a great way to store your brushes. You could also get creative and use river rocks or sand in different containers to store your brushes between use.”

How to Clean Makeup Brushes: Beauty Blender Edition

So it’s not really a brush, but the beauty blender is the true workhorse of any makeup routine. But when was the last time you showed your beauty blender the attention it deserves? If you’re not regularly cleaning your beauty blender, go ahead and apologize to your blender (and your skin). Dirty beauty blenders are extremely porous, so they can hide tons of mold and bacteria, which, like dirty makeup brushes, can cause your face to break out. Your beauty blender needs to be cleaned every day because it can soak up a LOT of product. To clean your blender, saturate it with warm water and a couple drops of shampoo. Gently wash until the water runs clear, squeeze the excess water out of the blender, and allow it to fully air dry before the next use. Alas, that pretty pink egg isn’t meant to last a lifetime. You should plan on replacing your beauty blender every three to four months. Time for a replacement?

Shop Beauty Blenders:

FAQ on How to Clean Makeup Brushes

You asked; we answer. Q: Can I clean my makeup brushes with plain old dish soap? A: Yes! And no. You can clean synthetic makeup brushes and beauty blenders with regular dish soap because it’s harder to cut through makeup residue on these materials. But you want to use a more gentle cleaning agent on natural bristle brushes. Since they come from animals, think of cleaning your natural bristle makeup brushes the same way you clean your hair. A cleanser that’s too harsh will leave your makeup brush fibers dry and brittle. Q: If I can use tea tree oil to clean my makeup brushes, can I use different oils, like coconut or olive oil, too? A: You can add just a smidge (a very, very small amount) of olive oil as a moisturizing agent when deep-cleaning your brushes, but it may not be a good idea to substitute olive oil with coconut oil. Coconut oil is pretty high on the comedogenic scale, which measures an oil’s pore-clogging tendencies. If you have break-out prone skin, it’s probably best to leave the coconut oil in the kitchen. Q: Do I need to throw out makeup brushes after I pink eye, or can I just disinfect them? A: Sorry to tell you, but yes. You can certainly try to completely disinfect your brushes, but why would you risk getting pink eye again? If you used any of your brushes near your eye, you’re taking a big risk by using them again. Q: Is sharing makeup brushes with friends really that bad? A: Not necessarily. When you were sharing eyeshadow brushes and mascara with your sixth grade besties, you probably weren’t regularly washing your makeup brushes (probably because you didn’t own any makeup brushes other than disposable applicators, which do not count). Fast forward a few years and now you’re doing each other’s makeup before a night out. Sharing makeup brushes is almost always okay—as long as you clean your makeup brushes after each individual use. Q: Is it okay to leave my makeup brushes in the bathroom? That’s where I do my makeup anyway. A: Riddle me this: Do you know how many poo particles are floating around your bathroom at any given time? Well, it’s sort of a lot. A 2015 study found that 60 percent of toothbrushes left in bathrooms had traces of fecal matter on them. Samesies for your expensive makeup brushes. If you don’t have the space for a full-on makeup room (hey, we’re not all Kylie Jenner), try creating a small makeup station on top of your dresser or in other non-bathroom space. Because nobody wants poo on their face.

Create Your Makeup Station:

Katie Martin
Katie Raye Martin is a freelance writer, navy wife, new mom, and chocoholic. In addition to HealthyWay, she has contributed to NextGenMilSpouse, a blog for the millennial military spouse, and Pregnant Chicken, a pregnancy blog. Since welcoming her first son a few months ago, Katie has become a pregnancy expert and cloth diapering connoisseur. When she’s not writing (or changing diapers) Katie is training for her first half-marathon.