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How to Clean Makeup Brushes and Remove Stains

Updated
Keep your brushes clean and your skin clear.

If you can’t remember the last time you cleaned your makeup brushes, then it’s been too long.

Neglecting this important task can lead to some pretty gruesome facts that will make you run to the sink right now. For instance, unclean makeup brushes harbor oil, dead skin, and a variety of bacteria.

We know what you’re thinking — it’s time. And we’ll walk you through everything you need to know about how to clean your makeup brushes. By the end, they’ll look beautiful and so will you.

How to Clean Makeup Brushes in 10 Minutes

  1. Rinse the bristles under water.
  2. Apply dish soap or a makeup brush cleanser to your hand. Massage the brush into the cleanser.
  3. Rinse and repeat until the water runs clear.
  4. Squeeze out excess water and dry the brush on a towel. Ensure that the bristles hang over the counter so they don’t dry flat.


The Best Ways to Clean Makeup Brushes

There are a few easy ways to wash your foundation and eyeshadow brushes. We’ve got eight different products you can use to spruce them up and rid them of dirt. We’ll explain why it works and when it’s best to use each method.

With Dish Soap

You can use dish soap — including Dawn dish soap — to clean your brushes. This DIY option is handy because you probably already have dish soap in the house.

Dish soap is fantastic for cleaning makeup brushes because it can tackle oil-based foundations, concealers, and other products.

You can use this on makeup sponges and beauty blenders, too.

Last but not least, dish soap can kill germs. So if you’re scared of all the bacteria that’s probably living in your brushes, try this method.

With Hand Soap

Hand soap works quite similarly to dish soap, but it’s more gentle. Hand soap — including ivory soap — is great at removing liquid makeup from your brushes. If you use heavier formula, try hand soap when washing your makeup brushes.

Expert Tip

Use moisturizing soap. This will hydrate your brush’s bristles and even prolong its lifespan. If your makeup brush is made from natural hair bristles, then be sure to use a very gentle soap so as not to dry them out.

With Makeup Brush Cleanser

You can find specific cleansers made for washing makeup brushes. This takes out some of the guess work since you know the product is specially designed to clean makeup off your brushes. This often includes wax, oil, and liquid-based products.

If you use various makeup products and want the best clean for your brushes, try using a cleanser.

Here are a few recommendations from us:

  • EcoTools Makeup Cleaner: This shampoo is ideal for a weekly cleaning of your brushes and sponges. The formula is hypoallergenic and made with clean ingredients.
  • Cinema Secrets Pro Cosmetics Cleaner: This quick-drying, rinse-free formula will let you clean your makeup brushes super fast. Customers love it for deep cleaning their brushes and sponges. If you wear a long-wearing, heavy-duty foundation, this is amazing at removing it from your makeup brushes.
  • RICRIS Premium Makeup Brush Electric Cleaner and Dryer:If you want something even more extraordinary, check out this cleaning machine. You insert your makeup brush into the bowl for five seconds, and it deep cleans the brush. Then you can also dry it quickly with the spin of the machine, so that it’s ready to use again in no time. Your makeup brushes will look as good as new, and your skin will thank you.

With Baby Shampoo

Baby shampoo is a cheap and cheerful product that you can use when cleaning makeup brushes. Baby shampoo is gentle, so it’s great for natural brushes or sensitive skin.

This is a good option if you want to clean your makeup brushes regularly — around once a week — since it won’t dry out the bristles. We recommend a sulfate-free shampoo as an extra precaution.

With Dry Shampoo

Okay, we’re not talking about the dry shampoo you use for your hair. Instead, there are specific dry shampoos for your makeup brushes. One of the top products is the Dry Clean Instant Dry Brush Cleaner Spray from Sephora.

This product quickly cleans your makeup brushes without getting them wet. This means you don’t need to wait hours for the brushes to dry. Plus, it might motivate you to clean your brushes more regularly.

With Vinegar

Apple cider vinegar can clean your makeup brushes, but you may want to opt for this if you have nothing else to use. Your skin may not appreciate the vinegar, and your nose may not love the smell. However, it’s an easy way to disinfect the brushes and clean them quickly.

With Baby Oil

Baby oil is good for breaking down makeup and removing it, so no wonder baby oil made it onto our list. It’s also great for removing gunk and build-up. If you’ve not cleaned your brushes for a while, you may want to start with this before deep cleaning with a cleanser or dish soap.

With Cleansing Mat

You can also use textured cleansing mats for washing your makeup brushes. They’re small and easy to use, and most come with an accompanying soap. We love that you can keep them in your makeup bag so that you can clean them on the go!

Many have various textures for cleaning all sorts of brushes and sponges. Plus, they’re budget-friendly!

Overall, we recommend this if you have a variety of makeup brushes and sponges — or you’re looking for a thorough clean.

How to Clean Makeup Brushes

Now that you know what the top products are for cleaning your makeup brushes, let’s get into the step-by-step instructions.

This method applies to sponges, too — or Beauty Blenders — but remember to replace them 2-3 times a year.

  • Time: 10 minutes
  • Difficulty: Easy

What You’ll Need:

  • Cleaning product of your choice
  • Water
  • Towel

1. Rinse the Brush

Wet the brush bristles under water. Avoid getting the handle wet; otherwise, you can damage the handle or the glue which attaches the brush together.

2. Apply Soap and Massage

Apply your chosen cleaning product to your hand, a plate, or a cleansing mat. Swirl your brush over the cleaning product and massage in circular motions. Saturate the whole brush and work the product into the bristles really well.

3. Rinse and Repeat

Rinse the brush under water until the water runs clear. If it’s still dirty, repeat the above steps until the bristles are clean.

4. Squeeze Out Water

Once the brush (or sponge) is clean, squeeze out all the excess water and reform the bristles to how they naturally sit.

5. Dry the Brush

Lay the brush on a towel or cloth. Make sure the head of the brush is hanging over the counter; otherwise, the bristles will dry flat. It will be hard to apply your makeup if the bristles are wonky.

Leave the brush to dry overnight. Don’t use it again until the bristles are 100 percent dry.

How to Deep Clean Makeup Brushes

If your foundation, blush, or eyeshadow brushes are subject to stubborn stains, it’s time for deep cleaning. You can DIY at home. No need to toss out the brushes. Follow this method:

  1. Apply brush shampoo to the cleansing mat: For deep cleaning, we do recommend that you use brush cleaning products. Invest in a good cleansing mat and a brush shampoo to remove the most stains. Apply the brush shampoo and a little water to your cleansing mat.
  2. Rub the brush into the mat: In small circular motions, rub your makeup brushes from the most sparse part of the mat to the most refined section. This ensures you start with removing excess dirt before tackling those pesky stains.
  3. Rinse brush: Make sure to rinse the brush between sections to remove excess cleanser and loosened dirt.
  4. Clean mat regularly: If you’re washing a few makeup brushes, keep the cleansing mat clean. Otherwise, you’ll be scrubbing dirty brushes directly into dirt.
  5. Dry overnight: Let the brushes air-dry overnight. Lay them on a towel, with the bristles hanging over a counter to ensure the bristles don’t dry flat.

If that doesn’t work, or you can’t invest in those products, you can clean the brushes with rubbing alcohol.

  1. Lay the brushes flat: On a towel, lay down your brushes.
  2. Spritz: Saturate the brushes by spritzing them with rubbing alcohol.
  3. Rub: Rub the brushes on a paper towel back and forth until the makeup is completely gone from the bristles. Repeat step two and three until you’re done.
  4. Squeeze: Squeeze out the excess alcohol from the bristles using a clean towel.
  5. Reshape and dry: Reshape the bristles and dry the brushes overnight.

Tips For Cleaning Makeup Brushes Properly

When it comes to the best way to clean makeup brushes, there are some more hacks you might want to consider. This ensures that your brushes are spotless, hygienic, and remain in mint condition.

  1. Dry thoroughly: If you don’t dry your brushes thoroughly, the bristles can easily bend in whacky directions. Plus, it makes it more difficult to apply your makeup smoothly. Dry your brushes overnight if you have the time. But if you’re in a hurry, use a hairdryer to speed up the process. Make sure it’s on the lowest setting to avoid damage.
  2. Condition natural bristles: If your bristles are made from natural hair, they might need conditioning every once in a while. You can use your hair conditioner to do this. It will keep them soft and healthy.
  3. Wash weekly: If you wear makeup every day, wash your makeup brushes every week. This keeps them super clean and protects your skin from bacteria and oil build-up.
  4. Be gentle: If you’re washing weekly and don’t need to remove pesky stains, use gentle products. Baby shampoo or makeup cleaning cleanser is a good option. While dish soap is fantastic at deep-cleaning, it’s best to use this sparingly.
  5. Keep the bristles in shape: When you’re drying the brush, hang the bristle end over the counter, so it’s not drying flat. For even better results, you can wrap the brushes in a mesh cover and use a makeup brush drying rack to hang the brushes upside down. This is the top method for drying your brushes properly. Remember that it can still take 24 hours to dry using this method, but your bristles will be in wonderful shape.
  6. Don’t soak the whole brush: You might notice stains on the metal connection or the handle of your brush, but do not soak these parts. Water can easily get into the nooks and crannies and loosen the glue that holds your brush together. Instead, you should only be soaking the bristles. If you need to clean the rest of the brush, use a makeup wipe.
  7. Be gentle: With natural bristles, you must be gentle. Otherwise, you can damage them. Also, you need to be super gentle with powder brushes. First, shake off all the excess powder before cleaning. When you’re cleaning, don’t rub too hard. This can damage the ends of the bristles.
  8. Think twice about vinegar: While it’s okay to use apple cider vinegar when there’s nothing else available, it should never be your first choice. It can damage the bristles since it’s acidic, and it can also irritate your skin. If you do opt for vinegar, only use apple cider vinegar. Never use malt vinegar, distilled vinegar, or any other kind.

How Often Should You Replace Makeup Brushes?

While we suggest washing your makeup brushes weekly — or every seven uses — don’t forget to replace them when necessary.

You should generally replace your makeup brushes every one to five years, depending on how often you use them and how well you maintain them.

Here are a few signs that it’s time to replace your makeup brushes:

  • The bristles aren’t full or soft anymore.
  • The bristles are stained or difficult to clean.
  • The bristles are very coarse.
  • The handle and connection parts are wearing down.
  • The brush smells bad.
  • The bristles are shedding.
  • The bristles are fraying, sparse, or no longer sitting in the correct shape.

How to Extend the Life of Your Makeup Brushes

If you want to get nearer to the five-year end of your brush’s lifespan, you can do a few things to make that happen.

First of all, clean your brushes regularly. This includes foundation, eyeshadow, and blush brushes. Use a gentle cleanser made explicitly for makeup brushes, and let them dry upside down in a rack.

Second, you should avoid using oils or vinegar when cleaning your brushes. We know those products are on our list, but they’re not our top choice.

Third, use a moisturizing product or condition your bristles from time to time. This hydrates the bristles and prolongs the brush’s lifespan.

Fourth, don’t buy cheap makeup brushes. When you buy quality, you can save money in the long run.

Last but not least, do not submerge the whole brush. This can wear down the glue and break your makeup brush, requiring you to buy a new one.

Bonus Tip

This tip isn’t about cleaning but storage. If you want to extend the life of your makeup brushes, it’s important to store them correctly. We recommend storing them in a case that will protect the bristles. If your bristles are squished against a makeup bag or more products, they can lose their shape. Plus, a case protects the bristles from bacteria or leakages.

How to Clean Makeup Sponges

Cleaning your Beauty Blender or blending sponges is pretty similar to washing your makeup brushes. However, this method focuses specifically on makeup sponges so that you may notice better results.

Remember to replace your makeup sponges every three to six months, depending on how often you use them.

  • Time: 10 minutes
  • Difficulty: Easy

What You’ll Need:

  • Water
  • Bar of soap
  • Towel

1. Soak the Sponge

Run the makeup sponge under water until the sponge has absorbed a lot of water. The sponge should get noticeably larger.

2. Rub the Sponge Against the Soap

Keep the makeup sponge under running water while you scrub the sponge against the soap bar. Repeat on all sides of the sponge. You should see the soap suds up on the sponge. This means that the soap is really getting into the pores of the blender.

Continue until the makeup sponge is clean.

3. Rinse and Squeeze the Sponge

Under the faucet, rinse and squeeze the sponge to remove gunk, makeup build-up, and soap. Continue until the water runs clear.

4. Dry Overnight

Squeeze the sponge to remove all excess water. Lay it flat on a towel overnight until it’s 100 percent dry.

FAQs

Can Dirty Makeup Brushes Cause Acne?

Yes. Dirty makeup brushes harbor product build-up, dirt, oil, and bacteria. When you smear this on your skin, it can easily cause breakouts and rashes (1).

Keep your brushes clean; keep your skin clear.

How Do I Dry My Makeup Brushes?

You have two options.

Number one: lay them flat on a towel with the bristles hanging over the counter. This ensures that they don’t dry flat. Leave them overnight or until they are completely dry.

Number two: use a drying rack and hang the brushes upside down, so they drip dry. You can also put them in a mesh cover to maintain the bristle shape. Leave them overnight or until 100 percent dry.

What Soap Should You Use to Clean Makeup Brushes?

The gentler, the better. Avoid soap with sulfates or other harsh chemicals. Gentle hand soaps, like ivory soap, are a great choice.

However, the best choice is a specific makeup cleanser designed for cleaning brushes.

Can I Soak My Makeup Brushes?

Soak the bristles, but don’t soak the entire brush. If you get the handle wet, water can break down the glue that keeps the brushes together.

What Household Items Can You Use to Clean Makeup Brushes?

If you aren’t investing in a makeup brush cleaning solution, you can use dish soap, hand soap, or baby shampoo. Baby oil and apple cider vinegar can also work, but they should be a last resort.


Makeup Brush Reset

It’s essential to clean your makeup brushes regularly. Giving them a quick clean every week will keep them in top condition. They’ll last longer, giving you more bang for your buck.

Our cleaning process is very easy and only takes 10 minutes.

You can use household products — like dish soap or baby shampoo. Or you can invest in quality makeup-brush-cleaning solutions and a textured mat for fabulous results.

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About the Author

Beth McCallum

Beth McCallum is a 20-something freelance writer & book blogger with a degree in creative writing, journalism and English literature. Beth firmly believes that a tidy house is a tidy mind. She is always looking for new ways to sustainably clean and tidy her house, that's kind on the environment but effective in the house, too!