How to Clean Your Makeup Brushes Like a Pro

A dirty makeup brush isn’t just gross—it’s bad for your health, too.

When was the last time you cleaned your makeup brushes? Unfortunately, not washing them often enough is a beauty mistake you're probably making. But learning how to clean makeup brushes is vital not just to the integrity of your brushes but also to your skin and general health.

"I can't stress enough how important it is to clean your makeup brushes," says Jillian Dempsey, a celebrity and editorial makeup artist who's worked with Emilia Clarke, Kristen Stewart, and Julia Roberts, among others. "They accumulate bacteria, oil, and dead skin cells, which will clog your pores and also cause breakouts. Not to mention, leaving your brushes in bad form means they're unable to perform as well as they would if cleaned and fresh."

Dr. Elizabeth Tanzi, an associate clinical professor at the department of dermatology at the George Washington University Medical Center, agrees. In addition to poor brush performance and acne breakouts, Tanzi says you're also putting yourself at risk for gnarly infections. "Bacteria, including staph and E. coli, along with viruses like the cold sore virus, can live on bristles for a long time," she says. Convinced yet? Read on for the best ways to keep your makeup brushes clean and sanitary.

How Often to Clean Your Makeup Brushes

"The reality is, some people never wash their makeup brushes," says Tanzi, who recommends cleaning makeup brushes at least once a month, ideally once a week. If you use a brush to apply liquid foundation, blush, concealer, or other wet products, clean it after every use.

"Pick one night a week—mine is Sundays, a good day for doing chores before the week gets started—and take five minutes to clean your brushes," says Los Angeles-based celebrity makeup artist Jo Baker.

What You Need:

Brush Cleaner Method

Shampoo Method

  • Baby shampoo or gentle shampoo, such as Neutrogena Anti-Residue Shampoo ($16,
  • Makeup brush shampoo, such as EcoTools Makeup Brush Shampoo ($8,
  • Warm water

How to Clean Makeup Brushes With a Brush Cleaner

Step 1: Spray Brushes with Cleaner

  • Spritz brushes with a spray brush cleaner. This is the best option if you have sensitive skin, as it's formulated for this purpose and won't have other additives or artificial fragrances.
  • Alternatively, mix warm water and a bit of soap. This can be a touch of non-drying bar soap or a few drops of liquid hand soap. (Steer clear of dish soap, which can dry out the bristles.) Dampen a microfiber cloth with it and gently brush the bristles over the cloth.

Step 2: Massage Into Bristles and Rinse

  • Use your fingers to work the cleanser through the bristle. "I gently massage the tips of the bristles in the palm of my hand or on a silicone brush cleansing mat, and then rinse the bristles, making sure the soap and product are 100 percent out," she says.
  • Point your brushes downward when rinsing. Otherwise, the water will run into the ferrule—the metal band that attaches the brushes to the handle—and loosen the glue that holds the brush and bristles together.

Step 3: Squeeze Out the Remaining Moisture

  • Once you stop seeing pigment streaming from the bristles and the water is running clear, squeeze out the remaining moisture. "I gently squeeze out any remaining moisture with a towel," Dempsey says. "It's important to shape the brushes to their desired shape so that when they're dry, they're in their original form for better performance."
  • To clean makeup brushes fast, a brush cleaning mat expedites the process via patented textures that help pull the product off each brush more efficiently.

Step 4: Dry

  • Lay your makeup brushes flat on a clean towel or hang them upside down with a product like the JackCube Design Bamboo Brush Makeup Cosmetic Air-Drying Rack ($20,
  • Never allow a wet brush to dry standing up.
  • If you wash your brushes in the evening, they can dry completely overnight.

How to Clean Makeup Brushes With Shampoo

You might have heard that you can use shampoo for cleaning makeup brushes. While this is true, it's important to choose the right shampoo.

Step 1: Rinse Bristles With Warm Water

At the sink, hold the brush under warm water. Keep the handle out of the stream to avoid damaging the glue that attaches the bristles to the base.

Step 2: Add Shampoo

Apply a drop or two of baby shampoo or a gentle shampoo. Rich shampoos can leave a residue on the bristles, which will weigh them down. Alternatively, use a makeup brush shampoo specifically formulated for this purpose.

Step 3: Massage Bristles

To create a lather, place the bristles in the palm of one hand, and use your fingers to work the shampoo into them.

Step 4: Rinse and Condition

Rinse the bristles under water until there's no longer any pigment or shampoo streaming from them, and the water is running clear. Squeeze out the remaining moisture. Add a touch of hair conditioner to moisturize the bristles and rinse again.

Step 5: Reshape and Dry

Squeeze out the remaining moisture, reshape the bristles into their original form, and dry flat on a clean towel.

How to Care for Brushes When Not in Use

Your makeup brushes will last longer if you store them correctly when not in use. "Store your brushes in a closed container to prevent pollutants like dust and dirt from landing on the bristles and eventually onto your skin," Tanzi says. Some options for where to keep brushes:

  • In a clean makeup bag or pencil case with other clean brushes.
  • In an acrylic makeup organizer.

When to Replace Your Makeup Brushes

Well-made makeup brushes that are washed consistently and dried properly can last many years. Signs that they're ready to be tossed include:

  • Bristles that keep falling out
  • Foul odors
  • Frayed bristles
  • Bristles that can't be reshaped
  • Gunkiness that won't come out with cleaning

"A set of high-quality makeup brushes should be considered an investment," says Michiko Boorberg, a New York City-based makeup artist. "Treat your tools with respect by cleaning and caring for them properly, and they will last a very long time."


How do you clean liquid products off makeup brushes and sponges?

With a brush used to apply liquid foundation or other wet products, clean it after every use. You can use the regular washing technique outlined above, but there are also a few quick solutions for in-between proper cleanings. Here are some options to help dissolve pigments, oil buildup, and dead skin cells:

  • Wipe makeup brushes down with a makeup-removing towelette. See our recommended eye makeup removers for our favorite brand of towelettes.
  • Spritz them with a rinse-free spray cleanser, like Cinema Secrets Makeup Brush Cleaner Spray ($9;
  • Rinse under a stream of warm water.
  • Use the same process to clean a Beauty Blender. When thoroughly rinsing with water, you'll want to squeeze them throughout the cleansing process to ensure all liquid product has been removed.

How do I clean eyeshadow brushes between colors?

When creating a multi-color eye look, cleaning your eyeshadow brush between every color doesn't make sense. Fortunately, there's a tool for that. Alison Raffaele Tatem, a makeup artist based in New York City, says you can swipe your brush against a textured sponge to remove powder between shades.

"The rough consistency of the sponge will remove pigment from your bristles so you can switch palettes without having to switch brushes," she says. Try Vera Mona's Color Switch Duo Brush Cleaner ($12,

How can I clean makeup brushes fast?

If you're looking for a shortcut, you have a few automated options, like a makeup brush sanitizer. (And no, you can't clean your makeup brushes in the washing machine.) Try these:

  • The Lilumia 2 Makeup Brush Cleaner Device ($100, only requires you to push a single button to clean your makeup brushes.
  • The Brushean Makeup Brush Sanitizer ($89, also disinfects your brushes at the click of a button.
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  1. American Academy of Dermatology Association, How to clean your makeup brushes. Date Accessed August 8, 2022.

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