How to Clean Your Disgusting Makeup Brushes

Makeup brushes need shampoo, too. Photo: Courtesy the vendors

If you own makeup brushes and use them, there’s a high likelihood that they are, in fact, disgusting. Studies have shown that makeup brushes aren’t just painting foundation onto your face — they’re smearing big, fat bacteria loads all over it too. The easiest way to protect your skin from breakout-inducing bacteria is to simply … clean your makeup brushes. Sadly, that’s extremely chore-adjacent, so you must let the paranoia of possible salmonella skin propel you forward. Below, advice on how to do it.

How often should I clean my makeup brushes?

Cleaning makeup brushes is not unlike another often annoying act: washing your hair. Everyone agrees you should do it, but how often you do it and how you do it ultimately depend on your germophobe level and definition of “cleaning.” If you simply want your brushes to stop being dirty — as opposed to wanting to wash them — you can just spritz them with a rinse-free brush cleaner and go live your life. To extend the hair-washing metaphor, it’s sort of like using dry shampoo.

Makeup artists agree this method can and should be done after each use, at the very least. “My whole career, I have used a fast-drying brush cleaner on-set so I can clean my brushes all day long,” says makeup artist Jenna Menard. “I want to make sure I’m always killing as much bacteria as possible.” So maybe a better metaphor here is actually hand sanitizer: quick and great for instantly quelling germ-related anxiety.

How often should I wash my makeup brushes?

Full-on washing your makeup brushes, however, is like the proper 20-second handwashing that outperforms Purell: It’s more laborious but more effective. Makeup artists recommend washing-washing your makeup brushes between once a week and every other week, depending on frequency of use and the products you’re painting on. For example, Menard and celebrity makeup artist Meredith Baraf both say to pay special attention to any brushes that are used for liquid products (wet = fertile breeding ground for bacteria) and any brushes used near extra-sensitive and extra-moist areas like your eyes and mouth. For your skin’s sake, try your hardest to wash all your brushes at least once a month.

Okay, how do I wash my makeup brushes?

Once you’ve willed yourself to grab your disgusting brushes and head to the sink, keep Bobbi Brown global pro artist Cassandra Garcia’s cardinal rules in mind:

- Wet your brushes but keep the water as close to the brush head as possible. Otherwise, liquid can creep into the barrel of the brush (which will ruin it and its bristles!).

- Swirl wet bristles in a cleanser (more on that below) holding your brush either horizontal or facing downward. “Never hold a wet makeup brush upright,” Baraf adds. “This will loosen the glue, and you’ll find that the brush will begin to shed.”

- When rinsing, make sure to squeeze all excess water out and gently reshape the bristles with your fingers for brush longevity.

- To dry them, place brushes over the edge of a table or counter so they can air-dry from each side. Again, don’t place them upright, as you would when the brush is dry.

Okay, now all you need are some trusty brush cleansers to pair with that newfound self-discipline. Here are the pros’ favorite picks for a pleasant brush-cleaning and brush-washing experience. You’ve got this.

The Popular Pro Favorite

If you’re (finally) dipping your toe into brush cleaning, start here with the easiest of the bunch, a product beloved by beauty pros. “It’s a fast-drying, instant way to clean your brushes. No rinsing needed,” says Menard. You simply dip your brush, swipe on a paper towel or cloth, and let it dry. Even celebrity hairstylist Lacy Redway vouches for it. “It’s one of the products I picked up along the way from the makeup pros. It cleans out all of the makeup out of my brushes pretty seamlessly.”

The Trusty Horse Shampoo

Baraf’s favorite brush cleaner is actually a cult-favorite horse-and-human shampoo. “Mane ’n Tail is adequately moisturizing and gently cleanses brushes, leaving them shiny and soft. It’s also affordable and doesn’t have a strong fragrance,” she tells the Cut. Baraf washes a few brushes at a time using warm water. “I pour shampoo in my palm and wash without breaking or bending the bristles. I then gently rinse the brushes in hand and reshape them while softly squeezing out excess water. Next, I lay them flat to dry, in a row, and pick up the next few. Repeat. Brushes should be dry by morning.”

The Dedicated Brush Cleanser

Sometimes you need something hyperspecific — like a moisturizer for just your neck — to get you to stick with a regimen. If that’s the case, go with Garcia’s pick, this highly rated gentle brush cleanser that was specifically designed to keep Bobbi Brown’s makeup brushes super, supersoft.

The Arts-and-Crafts Helper

If you’re more into makeup-makeup than no-makeup makeup, consider this art-store staple Menard relies on after creating statement looks. “It’s more for lip lacquers and any kind of paint, but I love using this to help remove really stubborn makeup from brushes,” she says.

The Magic Soap Everyone Already Loves

Another reason to add some Dr. Bronner’s to your cart: This cult-favorite Castile soap not only makes an excellent body cleaner but makeup brush (and makeup sponge) cleaner, too. Baraf is a fan of using soothing mint soaps when cleaning brushes that have remnants of cream or liquid products to keep the bristles from drying out, and Dr. Bronner’s has you covered there as well with its most popular soap: peppermint.

Menard is a fan of the liquid version but loves traveling with the bar version as a convenient “all-in-one way to clean sponges and brushes.”

The Spongy Set

This soothing solid made of palm oil, coconut oil, lavender, and aloe is designed to lift the grime hiding deep inside spongy Beautyblenders, and it works equally as well on makeup brushes that apply heavier products too. Add extra exfoliation to your cleansing routine by using the included textured silicone mat to get deeper in between bristles and remove more stubborn stains.

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How to Clean Your Disgusting Makeup Brushes