How To: Washing Makeup Brushes

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cleaning brushes

Part of my arsenal of cleaners – I have larger sizes of all of these that I decant into the smaller bottles for ease of use.

I’ve been meaning to put together a post for a while on how I wash my brushes, and this is it! I’m going to discuss options for washing brushes generally, plus discuss how I wash my brushes & why. Warning: this post is very long!

Spot Cleaning

Spot cleaning refers to quickly cleaning your brushes, often between each use. Spot cleaning generally can’t replace regular thorough cleanings, but it’s a great way to (semi-) clean your brushes between each use. I am aware of two basic ways to spot clean: alcohol-based sprays and microfiber cloths.

Alcohol-based sprays

Alcohol-based sprays are perfect for makeup artists, because can be used to quickly sanitize and clean brushes between clients. However, the alcohol dries out the brush hairs and will eventually damage them. Thus, I limit my use of alcohol-based sprays to my less expensive brushes – mostly my ELF Studio brushes, which are great, but easily and cheaply replaced. To use, spray on your brush then wipe your brush clean on a paper towel.

I currently have a bottle of Sephora’s Daily Brush Cleanser (which I will never use up at the rate I’m going) but there are lots of other options.

Microfiber cloths

I learned recently (thanks to Sweet Makeup Temptations’s epic post on cleaning brushes) that microfiber cloths can be used to spot-clean brushes.  I just gently wipe the brush on the cloth, and most – though not all – of the powder residue is removed.  This is especially great for more delicate brushes, such as those made of squirrel. You could also use a tissue, but I find microfiber cloths to work much better.

 Deep Cleaning

To thoroughly clean your brushes, you can use a dedicated brush cleanser (liquid or solid); a regular shampoo or soap; or a solvent.

Dedicated brush cleansers

There are tons of brush shampoos out there – the Sephora Collection has one, Ulta carries several and I’m sure there are more I don’t know about.  There are also solid brush soaps – Becca makes one that is generally though of well, as does Enkore Makeup.  Using a dedicated brush product is not necessary, but there’s no reason not to either as long as it works for you.  Please see below for more information on how I use liquid and solid products to deep clean my brushes.

Dr. Bronner's soaps by swanksalot on Flickr

Dr. Bronner’s soaps by swanksalot on Flickr

Soaps, shampoos, and more

You can use just about any soap or shampoo to clean a brush, but keep in mind that you want something gentle, especially for delicate natural hair brushes (you can use something a little stronger on a less-delicate brush, whether natural or synthetic hairs). I personally use diluted Dr. Bronner’s most of the time – the almond one is my favorite.  I use it somewhat diluted for synthetic brushes and goat hair brushes, and very diluted for squirrel hair brushes.

Some people like to use their shampoo, which makes sense to me – if it works on the hair on your head, it’ll probably work for your brushes. However, a lot of people use baby shampoo, believing that it’s very gentle – but baby shampoo is not actually formulated to be more gentle than regular shampoo – it’s formulated not to sting if it gets in the eyes. It’s not necessarily gentle at all.

Some people use mild solid soaps like Ivory or Dove bars, which also work.  I personally find them less convenient than liquid products.

Solvents

You can also use a solvent to deep clean your brushes. The only solvent-type cleanser I’ve tried is the Cinema Secrets brush cleanser, which is – in my opinion – awesome at some things, but not suitable as one’s sole method of cleaning brushes.  It instantly dissolved even the toughest cream products, so I love to use it on my inexpensive lip brushes (I use the ELF $1 concealer brush as a lip brush sometime and also have several very cheap ones from TKB Trading). However, it also dissolved the glue holding one of my brushes together so that all the bristles fell out, so I now only use it on inexpensive brushes, and even them I’m careful not to get any product near the ferrule.

Another popular solvent cleanser is Parian Spirit Brush Cleaner (Japonesque has a version too.). I haven’t tried it though, so I have no opinion on it.

Dirty Makeup Brushes - by allialli on Flickr

Dirty Makeup Brushes by allialli on Flickr 

Techniques

To wash my brushes with liquid soap or shampoo, I create a solution of the soap and water – the strength depends on what I’m washing. Synthetic brushes used with liquids get the most soap; white goat hair brushes get a medium amount (to get them white again); and delicate brushes get a very mild solution.  I dip the brush head in the solution, gently rub the brush against the palm of my hand, then rinse carefully – try not to get the ferrule (the metal part attaching the hair to the handle) wet – you can loosen the brush hairs over time. I then use a paper towel to squeeze out excess water and leave flat to dry. Some people prefer to slant their brushes downward to ensure that water doesn’t get into the ferrule.   Others hang brushes upside-down to dry.

I use basically the same method with a solid soap – I get the whole soap wet, then swirl the brush on the surface and then my palm.

When drying my brushes, I use brush guards on just a few of them – only the ones that have a tendency to splay out if they dry without them.  Most of my brushes keep their shape without brush guards, so it’s just an extra step I don’t need. I have a couple real “The Brush Guard”brush guards and several cheap knockoffs from eBay – the real ones are much, much better quality, but either works in a pinch.

clean brushes

Clean brushes!

Frequency

A lot of people wash all their brushes once a week, but I am a bit more variable. I tend to use foundation brushes once or twice before washing; brushes with other cream products (eyeshadow, blush, contour) get used 1-5 times or so.  I’ll use my blush and eyeshadow brushes for a week or three between cleanings, because they are single-purpose and thus the colors don’t get muddy – though I do tend to wipe them on a microfiber cloth between each use. Some eyeshadow brushes need to be cleaned every use, but sometimes I use brushes multiple times if the colors are similar and there’s no sparkle on the brush.  Lip brushes always get cleaned between each use.

I currently store my brushes in drawers (cats & brushes in cups do not mix well), and after using a brush, I either put it back in the drawer to use again or put it in a container near my vanity that holds my dirty brushes. Once the container is full (it’s small – only holds about 10 eye brushes or 3 face brushes) I wash them.  And I make sure that all my brushes get washed at least once a month if they’ve been used, even if they don’t seem like they need it.

I’d love to hear about your brush cleaning process! What do you use to clean them, how often do you clean, and do you like or hate washing them?

*I received a Cinema Secrets Brush Cleanser as a PR sample, and subsequently bought an additional bottle. I purchased all other items featured in this post. This post contains affiliate and non-affiliate links. Please see my disclosure policy for more information.

  • Hey Emi, thanks for the informative post! I’ve actually never tried microfiber cloth, but it looks like I need one! I usually just squirt some mild shampoo onto the palm of my hand, add some water, and start swishing my brushes around. Now this sounds so primitive!

    • It sounds basically the same as my technique 🙂 And microfiber cloths are fantastic!

  • Liz

    OMG I feel like a makeup newbie all over again. All I ever do is spray that Sephora brand for quick touch-ups and shampoo the brushes with an old Neutrogena facial cleanser. But then my brushes aren’t fancy at all so I don’t worry much about treating them with a lot of care. x____x

  • MakeupWithdrawal

    Very comprehensive post! I use Dr Bronner’s too, but only on synthetic brushes as I find that even diluted it makes my natural haired brushes a bit brittle over time. Not noticeable in 5-10 washes, but I have ones that are 5ish years old and regret using it from the get go.

    I strongly caution people against Parian Spirit/Japonesque rebottled PS because it’ll pretty much ruin brushes with frequent use. It’s amazing for artists because it disinfects between clients, dissolves pretty much any grease makeup thrown at it and dries very quickly, but those citrus spirits are murder on brush glue- like you experienced!

    I generally use a silicone glove with little nubs on it placed at the bottom of a bowl with diluted sulfate free shampoo to swirl and cleanse, then rinse with cool water and form the tip with my fingers, leaving it to dry in the brush tree.

    • Thanks for the tips! Maybe I will switch from Dr. Bronners to sulfate-free shampoo for all my natural hair brushes, at least the ones I care about! I haven’t noticed any problems yet, but my oldest brushes are probably 3-4 years old that this point.

  • I own copies of most of my favorites too. Good brushes are really worth it to me.

  • I’m a big fan of “if it works for you, don’t change it!” – and shampoo makes sense as a great thing to use, since hair is hair.

  • The Cinema Secrets is pretty great for stubborn cream products, as long as you don’t get it into the ferrule!

  • Glad it was helpful 🙂