How To Clean Your Makeup Brushes

Here’s a shocking statistic for you! According to an poll (published in Allure Magazine – July 2011), 45 percent of women surveyed NEVER clean their makeup brushes! Now, I am DEFINITELY not the role model for keeping makeup brushes clean (witness the photos below! ugh!)….but I DO try to clean them once in awhile…ofoccasionally…when I remember! But after reading several articles about this, I have now recommitted myself to good makeup brush hygiene.

When you think about it…good, clean brushes makes sense! I mean these things are touching your face! If you are not careful, dirty brushes can be a source of bacteria and cause skin breakouts and even minor disease.

So…how often SHOULD we clean our brushes?

Well, that depends on who you are asking. I read everything from EVERY DAY to every couple of months! But I am going to go with renowned makeup artist Bobbi Brown who says…..

“For concealer and foundation brushes, at least once a week to prevent a buildup of product. And because these brushes are used on your face, the cleaner, the better. Brushes that are used around the eyes should be cleaned at least twice a month, while all others can be washed once a month.”

Now that sounds rather reasonable. Especially after discovering THIS tip for quickly and easily cleaning makeup brushes from Allison at Petit Elefant. Allison says she picked up this tip from a makeup artist she works with.

All you need is:

  • rubbing alcohol
  • an old washcloth
  • a spray bottle

#1  Lay your brushes down on the washcloth and spray the alcohol on the brush bristles. Make sure they are completely saturated.

cleaning makeup brushes

#2  Then rub the makeup brush back and forth on the washcloth and just WATCH all the gunk that comes out! If your brushes are as filled with makeup as MINE were….you are going to need to repeat this process several times. Just keep spraying, rubbing until no more makeup comes off onto the washcloth.

cleaning makeup brushes    cleaning makeup brushes

#3  Now this is important! Squeeze out the excess alcohol with a clean towel, reshape the brush head, and let the brush dry on a table or countertop. This will allow the brush head to dry into a perfect shape. Never let your brushes dry on a towel—the bristles can become mildewed.

cleaning makeup brushes    cleaning makeup brushes

And here they are… clean and perfectly “fluffed” makeup brushes!

Don’t they look happy?  :-)

cleaning makeup brushes



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    • Liz says

      I used to work at a cosmetic counter for a couple years (now, I play mom). We would use this technique after each client. However, each night we would REALLY clean the brushes. Rebecca is right. We told people to use shampoo (we suggested baby shampoo) or the face cleaner they used to really get the brushes clean. Just a pea sized amount & rub till the brush is clean & water runs clear.

  1. Mommy2jands says

    I haven’t used alcohol, but I’ve read and have tried using baby shampoo. I have it already since I use it for my kids and it’s probably more gentle for the brushes than regular shampoo.

  2. says

    I don’t understand how they can hold harmful bacteria. If it only touches YOUR OWN face, wouldn’t it just be your own bacteria? You can’t infect yourself. If you have some kind of open wound or infection on your face, maybe dirty brushes could irritate it more. And you definitely don’t want to share with anyone–that’s bad hygiene all around.
    Now, if you’re using makeup with all the nasty chemicals and additives, then I can see how you’d want to wash your brushes more often….but we shouldn’t be using that kind of make up anyways!
    I can see how the makeup would build up and get gunky. I need to clean a couple of my own brushes. I read you can just use a little baking soda in water and soak your brushes, then rinse them clean. I may add a couple drops of tea tree oil to help with the cleansing process.

    But….you know…I’m not a pro or anything like Bobbi :)

    • Ayshela says

      They get wet (water, sweat, moisturizer, etc), and many types of makeup hold proteins that feed bacteria and molds. You get bacteria on your face from touching things with your hands and touching your face, from airborn bacteria, from having a cold, etc. Besides, many makeup brushes are left in the bathroom, which is one of the places in your home where bacteria thrives *because* it’s often damp and dark enough to foster growth. Just like you need to throw away cosmetics periodically to get rid of the bacteria that grows in them, you need to clean the brushes that come in contact with those cosmetics, with your face, and with an environment prime for growing icky stuff. =)

  3. Queenie says

    I’ve always been told to invest in really good make-up brushes and they will last you a lifetime. My favorites are by Bobby Brown, they clean beautifully and I’ve had several of them for nearly 20 years. I used to use alcohol to clean my brushes, now I use Dawn dish soap in a glass of warm water. Swish brushes around in solution and when water becomes discolored, start fresh and continue until water remains clear. Rinse thoroughly in warm water and reshape brushes. I dry mine in a glass with the brush end up.

    • Norma says

      If you wash your brushes using a water method, it is not a good thing to dry your brushes with the bristles facing up or laying flat. Try to hang them upside down to avoid water getting into the ferule.

  4. Courtnei says

    I always clean my makeup brushes with baby shampoo, it’s gentle enough for the delicate bristles. I work with makeup artists who say straight alcohol is too strong for how often you should clean the brushes (at least once every two weeks if you use them everyday).

  5. Keri says

    When my brushes get reallllly gunky, I use a teeny tiny bit of EVOO on a paper towel to help break down the makeup. I dab the folded paper towel on the top of the olive oil bottle to get a blot on the paper, then swirl my brush on it to get the bulk of the makeup out of it, then I wash with baby shampoo, rinse, shape and let them hang over the edge of my counter overnight. I only do this every couple of months or so, but it’s helped prolong some of my more expensive brushes.

  6. Britt says

    I use purity made simple to clean my brushes. This is my favorite because not only does purity cleanse and remove all makeup but it lightly hydrates my brushes as well keeping them happy.

  7. says

    As a Professional Make-Up Artist I want to warn all about using alcohol all the time on your brushes- this is fine for an occasional brief cleaning (think no more than once a month). The reason for this is because the rubbing alcohol WILL damage your brushes over time., they STRIP needed emollients in the hair of the brushes….. would we put alcohol on OUR own hair— many brushes are natural hair and they same result will happen dry, brittle, breakage!!! Even if the brushes are synthetic it can still cause breakage. Using baby shampoo is a much better option and for an even more greater solution use something like Pink Soap from Mona Lisa-
    it can be found at art supply stores as well as make-up websites. I use this and Graftobian’s Brush Cleaner—- both cleanse and condition the bristles and fibers of the brushes. And as for the need to clean your OWN brushes is because (1) oils from your face and products OXIDIZE with air exposure and time & (2) all skin has yeast and it will breed and YES you can get a yeast infection from your OWN bacteria and yeast because it multiplies! Hope this helps clarify and educates.

  8. Veronica says

    Once a week or so I like to take a ramekin full of baby powder (the cornstarch kind) and swirl the brush in it until it’s well coated. Then I tap the brush firmly on the edge of the sink until nothing more comes out of the brush. This gets enough of the buildup out of the brushes that following up with alcohol or shampoo is much easier. Then you should only have to do a very gentle shampoo or alcohol cleaning about once a month or every couple of weeks to rid the brush of bacteria and any remaining oils. They stay dry and ready for use in between the less frequent wet cleanings.

  9. Joan says

    I saw on tv makeup artist suggested a good shampoo and a little conditioner.
    I use foam of Bronner’s Castile soap, that I diluted for a foam soap dispenser, and swirl brush carefully in my hand and rinse, shake like you would a house painting or artist brush, lay on on paper towel each side for a few seconds to absorb moisture, shape and hang over sink edge.

  10. Jill Storer says

    I’ve always just used antibacterial hand soap on my brushes because that’s what I have by the sink in my bathroom. Of course I could never afford really expensive makeup brushes. I figure I would rather not get a skin infection or a stye than save a makeup brush!!! So a little alcohol sounds good to me. It would sure kill any bacteria.
    So thanks for the reminder Jillee!!!

  11. Katherine says

    I use MAC brush cleaner between thorough cleanings- mainly when I need to use an eyeshadow brush with a different color. It’s $6 at MAC stores/counters.

    Once a week (at least I try to do it once a week) I clean with baby shampoo. I dry them over the edge of the counter so any moisture doesn’t seep into the ferule of the brush (which would then take off the adhesive or separate your hairs from the handle of the brush). A gentle shampoo is better to use than clarifying shampoo if your brushes are natural hair as it doesn’t strip the natural oils from the hair.

    You can really only use alcohol based cleansers on synthetic brushes and even then I wouldn’t do it often. I use synthetic brushes primarily for foundation and concealer as they don’t absorb as much product as natural hairs. Plus natural hairs tend to shed a little bit and getting these hairs on your face sort of defeats the whole even coverage of using a brush.

    Invest in good makeup brushes. They should last years. That being said, I like the brushes from Coastal Scents for my eyes because they are inexpensive and there’s probably twenty different brushes just for your eyes.

  12. Dawn says

    I tried this today and it just took…forever. The results were not worth it. Shampooing the brushes worked much faster and got out lots of gunk that the alcohol didn’t. I thought my tiny eyeshadow brushes were clean from the alcohol, but when I shampooed them lots of eyeshadow gunk came out. Ladies, stick to your shampoo.

  13. Brittany says

    To clean my brushes I use an anti-bacterial dish soap and olive oil mixture. I squirt little of both into a small plate swirly my brush into it and then on clean palm of my hand i swirl it around with little water then rinse. The anti-bacterial soap kills the germs and the olive oil conditions the brush. Just don’t put to much olive oil or it will not rinse out well.

  14. Lynn says

    I love everything that you post and blog about… really! Such great ideas and info! Thank you so much for all that you do, and please keep up the great work. YOUR blog is my #1 now, and I look so forward to seeing what surprises you have in store for us everyday! :)

  15. Shauna says

    I see that other professionals have already popped in to warn about using this method as your go-to for cleaning your brushes, but I just wanted to add my voice as well. I am also a professional makeup artist and would never recommend this method to clean brushes on a regular basis. I use baby shampoo as well… just swirl your brush in a tiny amount in the palm of your hand. This should get most brushes clean. For heavily soiled brushes that use oil based products like lip brushes and concealer brushes, I use olive oil first to break down the oils in the makeup then follow with the baby shampoo method. Alcohol will dry out your brushes, making them brittle and causing them to break.

  16. Ogreletmama says

    I use the technique that Wayne Goss (find him on youtube) recommends, which is taking about a shot glass sized glass (or something small like that) and swirling your brush in 99% alcohol in it- it dries VERY fast that way and is disinfected. I’ve been doing that for over a year now with no sign of damage to my brushes, and every once in a while, I let them sit for about 10-15 mins in hair conditioner and then rinse them clean. If you spray the alcohol on the brushes, that takes forever, but with the method above it’s much faster!

  17. Tabitha says

    I make a solution of dish soap, vinegar and warm water. The soap is designed to remove oil from dishes-the idea is the same for brushes! Vinegar has antifungal properties and that will help to sanitize your brushes. Rinse until clear with cool water and dry!

  18. Nicole says

    I use the brush soap for E.L.F. ( for once a week cleanings (suds it up sunday! lol) and their brush cleaner (spray) for in between cleanings (esp. if you need a quick cleaning before using on someone else or if you need to clean a color from the brush). They both cost only $3! (Actually, all of their products are really good for the price). I probably don’t clean them as much as I should, but I try, and it’s more because I have a LOT of brushes, and I use them for different purposes, so my foundation brush will usually end up with blush and bronzer that I don’t want all over my face the next day. Both cleaners are of course anti-bacterial. And this company can be found at most Target stores (although, not all of the products) but most carry the brush cleaners.

  19. WendyB says

    I used this technique on my makeup brushes last week (after my 6YO decided to give me a makeover using them), and I can’t believe how well it worked. Even better is how much better my brushes feel on my face! So soft!! You’ve inspired me to be a little nicer to my beloved brushes. Then they’ll be nicer to me. :-)

  20. says

    I’ve done a solution of white vinegar, baking soda, and water to soak my brushes in. I read somewhere that this would disinfect and degrease my brushes but I found it wasn’t enough (though I don’t think I soaked it long enough). Mainly I just use my own facewash to clean my brushes (a non oil based one would probably be best). Afterall, this is what I use to remove makeup off my actual face right? I’m not sure if you’d want to do this if you use an expensive facewash though. I might try the vinegar/baking soda/water mix again when I have something bigger to soak my brushes in (I just used a cup which wasn’t enough for all my brushes)

  21. Jasmine says

    When I clean my make up brushes, I use Dawn dishwashing liquid. I try to keep my brushes clean and conditioned as possible! I would think that alcohol would maushes hard and less conditioned!

  22. Jodi says

    I too use quality shampoo and tepid water. If its gentle enough to use on your hair then it’s also good on natural hair and synthetic brushes. Keep the water on the cool side so that the glue used to hold the bristles doesn’t melt.

  23. Gigi says

    Last night I tried hot vinegar in the microwave plastic cup and then added dawn liquid. I could not believe how quickly my foundation brush was clean just a few minutues!! Rinshed and dried off with a paper towel blotting and reshaped smelled fresh. Tonight I will be cleaning the others.

  24. Suzi says

    Mom was a hairdresser and makeup artist and taught me to clean my brushes after every use! Brushes (even good ones) don’t last forever and Mom showed me that Q-tips (they come in several shapes) and cotton balls make great substitutes. You don’t have to bother cleaning them or worry about contamination as they’re tossed after using once — plus they’re economical. Also, WASH YOUR HANDS before those fingers contact any liquids and then touch your face. Simple, easy & inexpensive. ;-)

  25. says

    I just liked your pinterest pin! Great that you didn’t close comments on this older post, so I can say it’s a great idea you had here, to remind everyone of the need to clean makeup brushes just like everything else. It’s weird that many tend to forget about is, isn’t it?

  26. says

    Fantastic art! This is the variety of facts which might be meant to be discussed online. A sense of shame on bing with no for a longer period setting the following put up better! Can occur around in addition to pay a visit to my internet site. Cheers Equates to)


  1. […] Fantastic Clean: I am usually too lazy to clean my brushes until my face breaks out and I blame dirty brushes (instead of sugar and dairy, hence my face right now – augh)! Do your face a favor and clean your makeup brushes this weekend! […]

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