How to Clean Your Makeup Brushes Quickly and Easily

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Haven’t cleaned your makeup brushes in ages? You’re not alone. But you need to follow these directions if you want gorgeous skin and brushes that last.

You probably diligently cleanse your skin and faithfully replace your mascara when it starts to get clumpy…but when was the last time you cleaned your makeup brushes? Unless you’re a professional makeup artist, it might have been months or even (yikes!) years since you last dusted off those brushes and gave them a thorough deep clean. But this should be a regular step on your beauty routine, and it’s not just a matter of quickly rinsing them in water. You need to know how to clean your makeup brushes properly if you want them to work well and last.

Plus, it’s not just (ahem) cosmetic. If you neglect your makeup brushes, they can become a breeding ground for bacteria and cause a host of issues for your skin. Luckily, the cleaning process isn’t complicated, though you do need to follow a few specific steps. We got the scoop from makeup artists on how to clean your beloved beauty tools quickly and easily so they’ll go the distance. FYI, you’ll also need the right makeup brush cleaners for this essential task.

Why do you need to clean your makeup brushes?

When your makeup brush touches your skin, it will pick up dirt, oil, and bacteria. If you don’t clean your brushes regularly, this debris will quickly accumulate, explains Tracy Ftacek, founder and owner of the Pretty Convenient app. This is problematic for a few reasons.

For starters, it interferes with makeup application. “A clean makeup brush ensures you will achieve the most optimal result,” Ftacek says. “You are maximizing the purpose and design of each tool and allowing the cosmetic product to adhere properly to your skin.” Whether it’s an eye shadow brush or a foundation brush, your makeup will go on more smoothly if it’s clean and residual makeup isn’t caked onto the brush. That’s just one of the makeup secrets of women who always look put together.

Even more important? The health of your skin. “A dirty makeup brush harbors bacteria and dead skin cells,” says Ftacek. “A properly sanitized brush will prevent the transfer of this debris and bacteria.” The same goes for old makeup, by the way. Here are some disturbing facts that will convince you to throw out your old makeup.

Just how bad is it if you skip this step?

Imagine repeatedly swirling a brush full of bacteria and dirt across your skin, patting sebum and acne-causing microorganisms into your face. Gross, right? That’s what happens when you repeatedly use a brush that’s not clean. “Makeup brushes go back and forth between our powders or creams and our skin. Brush hair is porous, and without regular cleaning, the residual makeup, oil, dirt, and debris builds up within the hairs,” says celebrity makeup artist Terri Bryant, founder of Guide Beauty. “That buildup can clog our pores and cause breakouts or other skin irritations.”

Aside from damaging your skin, not cleaning your brushes will also damage them. “It will cause the product to build up on the bristles and be much harder to clean if left unattended over time,” explains makeup artist Marcia Williams, founder of Embellish Beauty Concepts. “Great brushes can be expensive, so it’s critical for you to implement a brush-cleaning routine into your schedule.” Find out which other makeup mistakes pros wish you’d stop making.

What should you use to wash your brushes?

There are multiple ways to clean your makeup brushes. Many pros rely on a gentle shampoo such as baby shampoo because it won’t damage brush hairs. Ftacek recommends Paul Mitchell Baby Don’t Cry: “It is one of the most gentle and cruelty-free options available.” For more heavy-duty jobs, you can use a liquid soap that strips oil, such as dish soap. Bryant recommends Dr. Bronner’s Pure Castile Liquid Soap.

Of course, you can also purchase something specially designed to tackle your brushes. “The most ideal products to use for cleaning makeup brushes are those dedicated specifically for makeup brush and tool cleaning,” says Ftacek. “BeautyBlender Brush Cleanser is one product we use and recommend in our artist kits and for our clients.”

Williams uses Sephora Instant Brush Cleaner Spray. “It’s a quick way to clean, purify, and condition the bristles. No water is needed. Think of it as a dry-shampoo for brushes.”

Another option is a brush-cleaning mat, which is designed to remove residue. Bryant is partial to Sigma’s Spa Brush Cleaning Mat. “The silicone mat fits neatly into the base of your sink,” she says, “and it has different patterned grooves to remove residual makeup and anything else caught in the brush hairs.” While the right brush cleaner is a must-have, makeup artists never waste money on these 10 beauty products.

What’s the best way to clean makeup brushes?

Now for the information you’ve been waiting for: how to clean your makeup brushes properly. It’s easy—we promise! Just follow these steps.

  1. If you’re using liquid soap, start by dampening the bristles.
  2. Next, add a drop of the soap in the palm of your hand and swirl the brush around until makeup begins to release.
  3. Repeat until the brush is clean.
  4. Rinse out the soap.
  5. Gently squeeze out excess water and reshape the brush head.
  6. Lay the brush flat to dry on an absorbent towel, avoiding pooling water by the handle. Bryant recommends letting the brush hair hang over the edge of the sink; if space is an issue, you can also use a drying rack.

While there are several different ways to clean your makeup brushes, Ftacek says it’s critical to avoid water around the base. “The most important step is to not soak them in liquid or allow water to penetrate the base where the bristles are attached. This will cause the adhesive to break down, and the brushes will begin to shed.” For this reason, adds Bryant, it’s also a good idea to keep the brush sideways or pointed down: “This keeps water from running into the brush handle.”

How often do you need to clean your brushes?

Williams recommends deep cleaning your brushes weekly if they’re used regularly, or every other week for brushes used less frequently. And while Ftacek agrees that once a week is standard, she explains that frequency of use, as well as your skin issues, should dictate your cleansing schedule. “A general rule of thumb is once a week unless you experience preexisting skin challenges—then twice a week would be recommended,” Ftacek says. Of course, things are a little different for professionals. Makeup artists sanitize brushes between every client to ensure that everyone stays safe.

Ftacek also recommends having two sets of brushes—one for colorful makeup and one for your more natural products. This prevents unwanted color transfer and ensures that you won’t have to clean your brushes multiple times a week if you want to switch things up. “Once cleaned,” she advises, “storing them in separate makeup brush cases or rolls helps you to know what needs to be sanitized at the end of the week.” Here are more genius ways to organize your makeup bag, according to makeup artists.

When should you replace your makeup brushes?

Have your makeup brushes seen better days? If the bristles are crimped, broken, discolored, or shedding, it’s time. “Makeup brushes should be replaced if the bristles start to shed or have discoloration,” says Williams. “If you experience shedding, then there’s a good chance that the glue holding the bristles has been compromised.”

Bryant agrees. “The life span of a makeup brush can vary greatly, but with proper care and cleaning, good makeup brushes can last for years. A brush that starts shedding or doesn’t bounce back to its original shape after it is washed and dried is past its prime and ready to be replaced.”

Ultimately, if you’re taking great care of your brushes—and yes, this includes gently cleaning them regularly—they should last for a good, long time, even with frequent use. “Within my artist kit, I possess several makeup brushes that have lasted me for years with proper maintenance and care,” Ftacek says. Next, learn the 13 expert tricks to make your makeup last all day.

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Nadine Jolie Courtney
Nadine Jolie Courtney is a Virtuoso travel advisor and regular contributor to Reader's Digest, covering travel, culture, and health. A former magazine editor based in Santa Monica, she also covers lifestyle and parenting, with regular outlets including The Healthy, Oprah Mag, Town & Country, Business Insider, and many other publications. Courtney is the author of four books, including ALL-AMERICAN MUSLIM GIRL, a Kirkus Best Book of 2019. Follow her on Instagram @nadinejoliecourtney