How to Clean Makeup Brushes (All You Need To Know)

Pricey primers, flawless foundations, and high end highlighters. Brushing this, blending that, a little contour and spray to set. We carefully curate each and every product we use, right down to the collagen beads we stir into our morning smoothies. In this endless pursuit of porcelain perfection, the brushes we use take a backseat to the products and process. The greatest tool in our quest for contour success can also be our greatest enemy. Dead skin cells, oil, dirt and bacteria can all build up over time, leading to sloppy applications and even serious medical problems.

Types of Brushes
Natural fiber bristles are made of animal hair, often goat, sable or squirrel. The bristles are light brown or tan, but can also be dyed black or bleached. The fibers contain a natural cuticle coating that lifts and absorbs powdery pigments along with your skin’s natural oils, blending them seamlessly to create an even, natural look.

Pros: Natural brushes are soft and fluffy and cling well to pigments. The porous fibers allow controlled, precision applications with fewer strokes. Natural brushes are ideal for powder-based applications.

Cons: Because natural brushes “hold” more product, they are prone to clumping and require frequent cleanings. Because of this, they are not well suited for liquid applications.

Synthetic bristle brushes are made from melted and spun nylon, polyester or taklon fibers, and lack a cuticle coating. Synthetic bristles are white or transparent, but are often dyed in a variety of bright and vibrant colors. These man made bristles gravitate toward each other naturally, making them flatter and stiffer and ideal for custom brush shaping.

Pros: Synthetic brushes do not have an absorbent cuticle layer, which means they pick up and distribute product with little to no retention. They are ideal for liquid applications, come in a variety of shapes and are easy to clean.

Cons: Synthetic bristles are flat and smooth, and not at all suited for powder-based applications. They are stiffer and pokey, and do not produce a soft, even finish.

Different kinds of makeup brushes

Why Do I Need to Clean My Makeup Brushes?


Dirty brushes leave streaks and uneven finishes. You have to press harder, and use more product to achieve the desired effect. This can add another 20 minutes or more to your beauty routine. If that’s not bad enough, consider this- Makeup brushes are a breeding ground for all sorts of pore-clogging, skin-dulling bacteria. Just one week of buildup can kick off a nasty round of blackheads and breakouts. Constant buildup wears down bristles. Brushes get rougher and heavier, causing redness and irritation that requires more product to conceal.

Facts About Mites

  • Discovered in 1841 by Frederick Henle
  • Worm-like arthropods with eight stubby legs
  • Of the more than 60 species, only two live on humans
  • Demodex brevis, or face mite
  • Demodex folliculorum, or eyelash mite
  • Mites have a 14-day life cycle
  • Humans are born mite-free
  • Mites spread by human-to-human contact
  • Healthy adult will have 1,000-2,000 mites at any given time, without experiencing ill effects.
  • Demodicosis– overabundance of mites. Symptoms include red, itchy, or burning eyes; eyelid inflammation; crusty discharge.

Bugs in Your Makeup Brushes!?


If you’re using dirty brushes, blackheads and pimples “mite” be the least of your worries. According to cosmetic Scientist Lynne Sanders, your dirty brushes could be hiding the microscopic remains of countless mites! These little buggers are generally harmless, but dermatologists have found links between excess mites and certain skin conditions including rosacea and cystic acne. Still not convinced?

In 2015, YouTube sensation and beauty professional Stevie Miller posted a video of the horrifying moment she discovered real, actual bugs inside her beauty blender. As bad as that is, creepy crawlies aren’t the only things you have to worry about.

Dr. Debbie Palmer, co-founder of Dermatology Associates of New York offers a stark warning about the dangers of dirty brushes. “Dead skin cells, dirt, oil, pollution and bacteria,” can build up over time, leading to serious medical problems including pinkeye, staph infection, streptococcus, and e coli.

How Often Should You Clean and Wash Your Makeup Brushes?


The American Academy of Dermatology recommends you clean your brushes every 7 to 10 days. This is especially important for foundation, concealer and blending brushes, because these come in direct contact with your skin most often.

Even brushes you rarely use could be harboring bacterial fugitives, so it is important to wash them at least once a month. While you’re at it, clean your makeup bags and kits to reduce the chance of cross-contamination.

How Do You Clean the Brushes?


Before you start, remember to avoid getting the base of the brush head wet. This is where the bristles are glued in place. Soap and moisture can weaken and eventually disintegrate the glue, causing bristles to fall out.
1. Dry-tap the brushes to shake off as much powder as possible.
2. Rinse the tips under warm water.
3. Fill a bowl with warm water and a cleaning agent.
4. Swirl the brush around and massage with your fingertips. For difficult buildups, lather the brush tip by massaging it in your palm.
5. Rinse the brush under warm running water.
6. Repeat steps 4 and 5 until brush appears clean and the water runs clear.
7. Use a clean, dry towel to squeeze excess moisture from the bush.
8. Reshape the brush head.
9. Lay the brushes out to dry with the bristles hanging over the edge of a counter. This not only helps prevent mildew, it speeds up the drying process and allows the brush head to retain the correct shape.

Remember: Never stand your brushes up to dry. Moisture can seep down into the base of the brush head and cause the glue to fail.

What Should I Use to Clean My Makeup Brushes?


The most important thing to remember when cleaning your makeup brushes is to use products free of harsh detergents and chemicals. A mild dish soap or baby shampoo is a good start. Facial cleansers and micellar water are good options, and you can also find a variety of products specifically designed to clean makeup brushes at most beauty stores.

While a bowl and your hand work well, you may want to consider investing in a few cleaning tools. Cleansing mats offer a solid, textured surface ideal for nonabrasive scrubbing. Simply swirl the brush head through the textures to clean the bristles. A drying rack makes a safer, more effective alternative to a counter’s edge and also doubles as brush storage. Hang the brushes, bristles-down to dry, then flip them over when it’s time to glam.

Are There Home Remedies I Can Use to Clean My Makeup Brushes?


You don’t have to use pricey beauty store products to clean your makeup brushes. Chances are, you already have everything you need in your cupboards.

Olive Oil
Mix a few drops of olive oil with a few drops of unscented castile soap to give dirty brushes a thorough deep cleaning.

Apple Cider Vinegar
Combine one tablespoon of apple cider vinegar with a half-teaspoon of mild dish soap and one cup of warm water. Apple cider acts as a strong disinfectant and soaking the brush heads in this mixture will help break up any clumps.

Coconut Oil
Mix one tablespoon of organic coconut oil with one tablespoon of liquid hand soap and one tablespoon of liquid dish soap. Add several drops of water and mix until a lather forms. Swirl the brushes in the mixture several times, then rinse under warm water.

Hydrogen Peroxide
Combine a single teaspoon of hydrogen peroxide with a few drops of castile soap in a bowl of warm water. Allow the brush heads to soak for about 10 minutes, then swish them around and rinse with cool water.

Daily Disinfecting:
Use a disinfecting mist to keep those brushes clean between washings.
You’ll Need:
Glass spray bottle
Witch Hazel
Essential oil (grapefruit, tea tree or lavender)

Mix four ounces of Witch Hazel and 12 drops of essential oil into the glass bottle. Spritz your brushes then wipe them down with a clean towel.

Pro Tip- For makeup that is heavily caked in the center, use a comb to brush the product loose.

How Often Do I Need to Replace My Makeup Brushes?


Though proper care and cleaning can extend the life of your brushes, they are not meant to last forever. Here are some signs it’s time to replace them:

Funky Smell- When bacteria accumulates at the base of the brush head, it omits a funky odor. This is more common in natural brushes, but can also happen with improperly cleaned synthetic brushes. If the odor remains after a deep cleaning, it’s time to chuck it.

Shapeless- A makeup brush is only as good as its shape. Brush heads are carefully cut, angled, rounded and tapered for specific applications. It is common for brushes to become slightly misshapen, and a thorough washing should fix that. If a brush don’t return to its natural shape after a deep cleaning, the brush has outlived its usefulness and it’s time to replace it.

Shedding- Density is just as important as shape. While some shedding is common, when too many bristles are lost, the brush is no longer effective. Higher quality brushes use a stronger glue that is more resistant to shedding. To help prolong glue life, always avoid saturating the base of the brush head and dry brushes bristle-down. If you are picking bristles out of your makeup, it’s time to toss it.

A Clean Routine


The finished product is only as good as the tools you use to achieve it. Whether natural or synthetic, expensive or cheap, clean brushes just work better. Dirty brushes leave streaks, blotches and bristles behind. A buildup of dirt, oil and bacteria can cause irritation, breakouts and infections. A good cleaning regimen not only preserves the life of the brushes, it helps prevent potentially dangerous bacterial infections.