How to Clean Your Makeup Brush Like a Pro

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

When was the last time you washed your makeup brushes? Exactly! “Dirty bristles attract dust, dirt, and sebum, which can transfer from your brush onto your skin leading to breakouts,” says Dr. Elizabeth Tanzi, MD, an associate clinical professor at the department of dermatology at the George Washington University Medical Center, in Washington, D.C. “Plus, bacteria including staph and E. coli, along with viruses like the cold sore virus, can live on bristles for a long time.” Dirty bristles can also make it difficult to blend makeup, leaving you with an uneven, patchy application, while abrasive, dried-up makeup left on the bristles can cause scratching and skin irritation. Enough said? It’s time to brush up on the best ways to keep your bristles clean. 

1

Here’s How Often You Should Wash Your Brushes

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Photo by Carol Yepes/Getty Images

“The reality is some people never wash their makeup brushes,” says Dr. Tanzi. “Depending on how much use they’re getting, I recommend cleaning them at least once a month, but once a week is ideal.” Remembering to wash them is as simple as setting a reminder on your phone. “Or, 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.

2

But Before You Wash, Know What Your Bristles Are Made Of

There are two types of bristles: natural haired, which are used mostly on dry products like powders and pigments; and synthetic, best used on wet products like foundations, concealers, and lipsticks. “Moist products need to be applied with a synthetic brush as oils and waxes will cause the cuticle on a natural bristle to swell and expand, making application difficult,” says New York City-based makeup artist Alison Raffaele Tatem.

3

How to Clean a Brush With Natural Bristles

“Dip the bristles into some dishwashing detergent before running them under warm water, swirling the bristles in your palm to break down any makeup residue,” says New York City-based makeup artist Daniel Martin. “Do this until the water runs clear. Then gently squeeze out any excess liquid, shape the bristles to a point, and lay them flat to dry overnight.” You can also use a shampoo made specifically for brushes (EcoTools Makeup Brush Shampoo, $8, ulta.com) or a gentle regular shampoo (Neutrogena Anti-Residue Shampoo, $5, amazon.com). To remove excess powder between washings, swipe your brush against a textured sponge (Color Switch Sponge by Vera Mona, Solo Instant Brush Cleaner, $17, sephora.com). “The rough consistency of the sponge will remove pigment from your bristles so you can switch palettes without having to switch brushes,” says Tatem.



4

How to Clean a Brush With Synthetic Bristles

The same cleaning strategies that apply to synthetic bristles apply to natural bristles, but since synthetic brushes are often covered in creamy, emollient makeup residue, you may need to do some in-between cleanings. You can wipe them down with a makeup removing towelette (EcoTools Makeup Brush Cleansing Cloths, $8, ulta.com), or spritz them with a rinse-free spray cleanser (Cinema Secrets Makeup Brush Cleaner, $24, sephora.com) or foam (Artis Brush Cleansing Foam, $25, bergdorfgoodman.com), which will dissolve pigments, oil buildup, and dead skin cells before they hit your skin. “I also like to clean in-between using a solid soap (London Brush Company’s Brush Shampoo Goats Milk Soap, $18, dermstore.com),” adds Tatem. “Simply swirl the brush’s wet bristles over the soap’s surface to create a foamy lather, then rinse. The makeup binds to the soap and literally forms little balls that roll off the bristles.”

5

To Dry, Lay Your Brushes Down

Always point your brushes downward when washing and never allow a wet brush to dry standing up, as the water will run into the ferrule—the metal band that attaches the bristles to the handle—and loosen the glue that holds the brush and bristles together. “A set of high quality makeup brushes should be considered an investment. Treat your tools with respect by cleaning and caring for them properly and they will last a very long time,” says Michiko Boorberg, a New York City-based makeup artist.

6

Keep Brushes Covered 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,” says Dr. Tanzi. And keep them out of the bathroom, since nasty bacteria from the toilet can spew throughout the room and onto your brushes every time you flush with the seat up. What the pros use: Tatem swears by the stackable trays and drawers from Muji (muji.com), Martin keeps brushes in a holder from Sigma Beauty (sigmabeauty.com), along with pencil cases from an art supply store, Baker tosses them in Ziplock bags—keeping the dirty brushes separate from clean ones, and Boorberg loves the brush pouch from Make Up For Ever (makeupforever.com).