How To Clean Your Makeup Brushes Revisited

cleaning makeup brushes

Back in June of last year I posted about a quick and easy way to clean your makeup brushes using rubbing alcohol. Since that time I have acquired several new brushes and have made some changes to the way I clean them, so I decided it was time for an update.

In my last post I suggested using alcohol as a quick and easy way to clean makeup build-up from your brushes. There were lots of you who suggested that this might be too drying on a regular basis. Well, I can admit when I’m wrong! While I still think alcohol is a good idea for a quickie cleaning once in awhile…for deep-cleaning there are several better options.

cleaning makeup brushes

I decided to try two of them. First, an expensive Brush Cleanser made by MAC ($14) and old ol’ Dawn Dishwashing Liquid ($3). Results? Both worked great! I didn’t notice any difference after the cleaning. Of course I DID notice a difference in my pocketbook, because the Dawn option was MUCH cheaper! :-)

Let’s talk cleaning method:

cleaning makeup brushes

First, MAC’s Brush Cleanser. Pour 2 parts water to 1 part cleanser into a small glass, swirl the brush in it, being careful to only get the bristles wet.


cleaning makeup brushes

Gently massage the bristles between your fingers, starting at the base and working to the tip.


cleaning makeup brushes

If you’re like me and have waited longer than you should to clean your brushes, the solution will start to get really dirty, really fast! Yuck! Repeat the swirling and massaging the brush until it looks like no more make up is coming off of it.


cleaning makeup brushes

Then press the brushes against a towel to dry……


cleaning makeup brushes

……..and reshape the brush between your fingers.


cleaning makeup brushes

Lay brushes flat on a towel to dry. Always lay your brushes flat to avoid water getting into the handle and ferrule (which can cause rust or deterioration of the brush).


cleaning makeup brushes

Second, Dawn Dish Soap.  If you use Dawn dish soap, liquid hand soap, or shampoo, begin by wetting the brush you want to clean with lukewarm water and dip into soap. Brush the brush back and forth to absorb the soap and start to work up a lather. After you’ve worked the soap into the brush, gently run it under water and repeat the back and forth brushing motion until the water runs clean and suds are gone. Gently squeeze out any excess water, reshape the head of the brush, and lay flat on a towel to dry.


cleaning makeup brushes

A few more tips on cleaning and caring for your makeup brushes:

  • Allow at least 8 hours for your brushes to dry completely.
  • Plan to wash your brushes once a week, or more often if you suffer from acne or very sensitive skin.
  • Never blow-dry or use direct sunlight to dry your brushes, as it can cause permanent damage to your brushes.
  • Fill a shot glass (or something small like that) with rubbing alcohol and swirl your brush in it – it dries VERY fast that way and is disinfected.
  • For heavily soiled brushes that use oil based products like lip brushes and concealer brushes, use olive oil first to break down the oils in the makeup then follow with baby shampoo.
  • 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.
  • Take a ramekin full of baby powder (the cornstarch kind) and swirl your brush in it until it’s well coated. Then 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 and doesn’t have to be done as often.
  • If you are pressed for time, opt for an alcohol-based cleanser and spray or dampen a paper towel and then sweep the brush against the paper towel until it’s clean.


(or just re-read my first post on this subject!) :-)

How long has it been since YOU cleaned your makeup brushes?


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  1. Linda F says

    Maybe I’m alone here…. but I never clean mine. I apply make up to clean face, and see no point in removing the make up (blush or powder) from the bristles. All you are removing is make up at that point… or am I missing something?

    • Lynn D. says

      Linda F, even with a clean face, your skin still produces oils. The skin oils and the makeup on the brushes help collect dust and bacteria. It will eventually cause the brushes to breakdown and can cause your skin to get bacteria pushed deep into the pores leading to skin infections. If you invest in good quality brushes, especially the hair ones, it is worth the time it takes to keep them clean to protect them. It’s kind of like the hair on your head. It gets build up from products, oils from your skin and pollution from the environment. If you don’t handle your hair properly, it gets greasy, lays flat, gets split ends and will cause your skin to break out. Same kind of thing.

    • Nikki H. says

      Not cleaning your brushes because you use the on your “clean” face is like saying you don’t launder your towels because you use them on your “clean” body. Your skin never gives up 100% of the dirt on it, you still produce sebum and sweat regardless of how “clean” your skin is, and there is always all that dead skin. Ever knew you needed to change out a towel because it smelled funky from dead skin build-up or sebum? Now imagine all the junk on your brushes. Also, your brushes won’t perform as well with a bunch of product and face residue build-up.

    • krystina Bibb says

      no matter how clean your face is when you begin applying your makeup, your skin is still releasing natural oils that build up in your brushes. That buildup can cause breakouts and stuff.

    • Jo says

      You will get dead skin cells coming off your face into the bristles & from that bacteria will grow. Also where the brush lies as you place it down on different surfaces it will pick up bacteria. It would be worth giving them a little freshen up clean once in a while.

  2. says

    Great ideas again, Jillee! I use shampoo to clean my brushes, the same shampoo I use on my hair. I guess the reason it has worked well for me is I use a gentle shampoo to being with…not baby shampoo but gentle. I’ll have to pickup some baby shampoo when I go to $ store. I try to clean my brushes frequently because I have them setting out on my counter in a pretty container and I’m sure the same dust that settles on my counter tops, if I don’t continually wipe it off, is settling on my brushes, especially if there is any cosmetic or facial oils left on my brushes.
    Thanks again, Jillee. Love your blog. I’ve read your blog to my husband so many times that he immediately perks up…and listens…that’s the cool part…when I say, “Jillee says such in such is good for…or Jillee thinks…or Jillee recommends trying it this way…or Jillee has a great new recipe…and on and on.” LOL Keep up your great work! : )

  3. Susie White says

    When I used to paint pictures with oil paints this is how I washed my $$$$$ brushes. I would pour a little baby shampoo in the palm of my hand and gently brush the brush back and forth working the lather up into the ferrel (under the metal). Repete this step until the lather has no color from the make up in it. Do not rub the brush in cirlces – it will “rat” up the hairs and break many haors off at the ferrel. I then repeat this brushing on my palm under running water until no more shampoo comes out. Form the wet brush to it’s orginal shape with your fingers. lay it down and let it dry. Store your brushes hair end up.

  4. Kat says

    Hey Jillee,
    As a professional make-up artist in the entertainment industry I have used a number of methods to clean my make-up brushes. I use the MAC Brush Cleaner about once a week but for daily cleaning I use Dr. Bronner’s Castile Soap. I’ve used the Rose scented and the Lavender scented soap but my all time favorite is the original Peppermint scent. It’s pleasing to the senses and has a fresh mint scent. I use a few drops in water and mix, swoosh the brush around to wet all the bristles, massage the brush in my fingers and rinse in clean water. Press the clean brush on a clean towel and lay flat to dry.

  5. says

    I thought I was doing well cleaning my brushes once a month. Didn’t stop to think about the brushes picking up stuff on my face. When I bought one of my more expensive brushes at Sephora they told me to cleaning it with alcohol. I always wondered about the alcohol drying it out too much. I’ll follow your Dawn method. Thanks for the tips.

  6. Nancy says

    I usually clean mine with my liquid/gel facial cleanser – always figured it is gentle enough for my face and also good at removing makeup so it should do a good job. My results have been satisfactory. I also now will try the Dawn and see which is better….after all thanks to you I use Dawn (and Vinegar) to clean just about everything else!

  7. GLORIA says

    I buy a cheap bottle of baby shampoo and keep it in the bathroom. I use it for makeup brushes,hair brushes and combs as well as hand washables. It’s great to have on hand and I don’t have to go looking for something to clean them with and get sidetracked with something else. :)

  8. Susan says

    I really should wash my brushes more often, so thanks for the reminder Jillee! Another tip is when the brushes are are all cleaned you should consider methods of hanging the brushes so that they drying bristles down. That way you can be sure that water doesn’t seep into the handle. I usually knot together a few heavy duty rubber bands so that it forms a short string. I then attach this string to my bathroom towel rack and tie a knot at the hanging end so that it leaves a small loop. Insert the brush handle into the small loop–and there it hangs until it’s dry! I make a rubber band string for each brush.

    This is just the way I do it. You can attach the rubber bands to a coat hanger instead. You certainly don’t need to use a lot of rubber bands. If you have some clips those might work too. The main thing is finding a way to hang your brushes upside down. Give it a try!

  9. Ally says

    My good friend has her own makeup business, and she told me just to use baby shampoo. I use Susie White’s method when cleaning my brushes, and it’s worked great for me so far. Also, when drying, I rest them on the side of my sink so that the brushes are slightly angled down into the sink. This is my way of making sure water does not make it past the brushes.

    Thanks for the cleaning reminder, Jillee!

  10. Connie says

    Sometimes we all need a reminder for these little things! I wash my makeup brushes once or twice a month using Sephora brush shampoo. I know the importance of keeping clean brushes, but I really only put on makeup maybe once or twice a week. The eye liner brush does get washed a little more often considering the makeup that goes on it is moist. I dampen the tip of the bristles, add a little shampoo the palm of my hand and swirl the bristles in it until no makeup comes out of them, then rinse in warm water, focusing the water only on the bristles. Sometimes I need to repeat the lathering process depending on how dirty they are. After rinsing, I use a paper towel to squeeze out any excess water gently. I lay them down to dry.

  11. Linda H says

    I love reading all your awesome tried & true ideas. I wanted to run an suggestion past you to see if you know how to fix the underwire in our bras that like to poke their pointed head into our tender skin. I have put a couple of bras away in hopes that they can be fixed. The rest of the bra is not worn out. I believe I and many other women would benefit from your help.
    THX, Linda

  12. Brenda says

    Oh my…it’s been forever since I’ve cleaned my brushes and I have used baby shampoo but I’m going to use Dawn next. Thanks for the reminder Jillee and of course your site with great alternative advice verse store bought brands.

  13. Bridget Farrall says

    I’ve always gone by the recommended method suggested by my hairdresser: Use a tiny amount of shampoo (milder than Dawn & more appropriate in my opinion, since some of you no doubt have real hair makeup brushes) and massage in. Rinse WELL–repeat. Then (& this is the important part) squeeze as dry as you can & massage in a tiny amount of conditioner well. Rinse as before, but don’t wipe off on a towel; just squeeze dry & re-shape with fingers. Air dry. The cool thing about this is that your brushes will last a really long time. I do it once a week & it only takes 5 minutes max.

  14. RHONDA says

    I am already in love with your blog. I just discovered it today! I used your technique for washing the makeup brushes, except I used Palmolive dish soap because that’s all I had. I see on many blogs and cleaning sites, they specifically say Dawn. Why is that?

  15. LizH says

    I’m a licensed cosmetology and by law if you are working with clients we are required to use alcohol or a cleanser that has alcohol to sanitize. With that said, at home alcohol or a basic soap is all you need to clean your brushes, even the expensive ones! Conditioning is not necessarily since all cosmetics have emollients, silicones, waxes or oils in them. Trying to “condition” them can actually ruin them by leaving residue. Ever tried putting on eyeshadow with a gunky brush?… Love your site!

  16. Barrels says

    I find that a small dish of olive oil and dawn soap works wonders.

    If you have a lot of brushes you’ll need more, but start off with a little as you can always add more!

    Simply get a small plate, put about a tablespoon of olive oil down, then another table spoon of dish washing liquid so that they meet in the middle. Take your make up brush, wet it, and mix it a bit in the mixture. Use a swirling motion in your hand to get the subs going, and run it under warm water and keep going until no more soap runs out, and repeat the process until it runs clear. Your brushes stay nice and soft and get all the nasty oil and gunk stripped out of them!


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