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The Makeup Maniac

How to clean your makeup brushes

January 24th 2019 / Anna Hunter / 0 comment


Still life by Ian Skelton

Come clean - how often do you wash yours? Here are the best ways to clean makeup brushes and tools and shower them in the ultimate TLC…

It’s about as exciting as doing the dishes or filing your tax return, but equally necessary if you’re determined to be adult about ‘life’ things; washing your makeup brushes regularly is non-negotiable (I mean, there's no point investing in the best brushes in the industry if you're not going to look after them). That being said, it needn’t be a thankless Cinderella task either; there’s many a modern invention that can assist you in both cleaning and preserving your precious tools, saving you time, and in the long run money, along the way.

Here’s how to polish up your brush hygiene habits; it’s time to get sensible (and sanitary...) with our lowdown on the best makeup brush cleaners and how to use them.

The Cleaning Rota

Here’s the basic deal; wash your brush stash once a month, minimum. Your foundation, lip and concealer brush are likely to get mucky pretty quickly, and as they’re used all over the face the likelihood of dirt and bacteria spreading is all the higher. Plus, if your base brushes are covered in crud, they won’t blend product efficiently, so the signs of a brush in need of cleaning will be quite simply written all over your face. Vow to clean these brushes once a week, because you’re worth it. Thankfully the synthetic brushes you’re likely to be using are easy to clean. If you’re using a sponge, up the cleaning frequency to twice a week or so.

As for eyeshadow, liner and powder brushes, every fortnight should cut it, unless you’re changing the shade of the makeup you’re using, in which case a quick ‘spot clean’ will keep them ticking over. Brow brushes are normally a bit more hardy, especially if you’re using the spoolie end without any product, so the once a month rule is fine here.

1. Deep Cleansing

Your cleansing method of choice depends on a multitude of factors, from the makeup you use (glitter and glue may require something akin to a chainsaw) to the type of brushes you’re working with. Baby shampoo and warm water can still work wonders, but if you’re after something a bit more targeted, here are your options:


Plain old h2O isn’t much help when it comes to thorough cleaning, and while Beautyblender liquid blendercleanser®, £15, is indeed water based, it’s demineralized for optimum purity and teamed with clarifying lavender and dirt sapping sea salt. Designed to soak off stubborn makeup residue and grease from makeup sponges, makeup artist Justine Jenkins uses this specialised water to clean her brush collection too; she loves the fact that it washes away grime quickly without being overly ‘chemical’.

Your cleansing method of choice depends on a multitude of factors, from the makeup you use, to the type of brushes you’re working with.

Just a pointer on deep cleaning; sponges are fine to be soaked, but soaking brushes on the other hand could degrade glue at the base of the brush and damage the brush ferrule, leading to accelerated bristle ‘fallout’ and general lacklustre performance. Instead massage brush tips and mid lengths gently in the palm of your hand with your chosen cleanser, rinsing with warm water in a downwards direction.


Just as a facial cleansing balm melts away makeup, so a solid brush cleanser breaks down everything and anything that latches onto a makeup brush. A solid cleanser is a light and very useful addition to your kit if you’re travelling, and the ‘swirl in pan and rinse’ cleansing method helps you to avoid scuffing up bristles or damaging the ferrule or handle due to overzealous washing.

Dampen brushes before working them gently into the solid cleanser of your choice until you get a light lather, rinsing and repeating until water runs clear. Japonesque Solid Brush Cleanser, £16, is a favourite of makeup artist Ruby Hammer for its luxurious, balmy feel and ‘ultra-clean’ results. It leaves bristles soft as silk too, which not only makes brushes a pleasure to use post-wash but also extends their lifespan. For a vegan alternative (the Japonesque offering is goat milk based), Beautyblender Pure Solid Cleanser, £14, does the job beautifully with no mess, fuss or stickiness.

Along the same lines, London Brush Company Goat Milk Solid Brush Shampoo , £16, has acquired cult status in makeup artist circles, as makeup artist Lee Pycroft testifies:

“I actually enjoy cleaning my brushes with this; it leaves a lingering aroma of lavender and is quick and easy. Although I know that there are various cleaning mitts on the market that do indeed help to wash brushes effectively, I’ve always used hard wearing gloves along with this soap; I simply swirl the soap and water together into the textured palm of the glove, running makeup brushes back and forth until they’re spotless.”


Traditional bar soap has a tendency to make bristles dry and brittle, so if you’re a die hard soap fan consider swapping to a liquid form instead, preferably with antibacterial properties to blast germs. Makeup artist Lou Dartford favours Dr Bronner’s Organic Tea Tree Castile Liquid Soap, £6.49, as ‘it removes everything and anything extremely quickly, including heavily pigmented or greasy products. Unusually for such a hardcore cleanser, it rinses out really easily too.’


You could do a lot worse that give your brushes a bubble bath (no submerging mind). Artis Brush Cleansing Foam, £25, offers one of the most gentle but powerful cleans around; the cloud-like formula reaches every nook and cranny without saturating your brushes, loosening and removing makeup and gunk in double quick time. You needn’t even be near a sink; simply distribute foam in brush bristles and trace your brush across a clean, moist paper or towel cloth until the brush no longer leaves any colour or dirt behind. Every so often you will want to give them a warm rinse though, just to freshen up.


Strictly speaking, conditioning your brushes isn’t necessary or advisable; your average conditioner can be difficult to wash out and make brushes too slippery to work with, particularly where powder brushes are concerned. If your brushes are looking a bit ratty or in need of extra TLC, go for something purpose made such as Bobbi Brown Conditioning Brush Cleanser, £12.

It does what it says on the tube, and the conditioning effects go above and beyond the instant ‘softening’ e ect; Bobbi promises that your brushes will actually be in a better physical condition long term. So basically an insurance plan for your pricier purchases then. Responsible.


If you’re partial to a thicker textured cleanser to really give fibres the once over (emphasis on the ‘once’), Real Techniques Deep Cleansing Gel, £6.99, could tick your box, so to speak. One tiny blob goes a long way in the brush cleaning stakes, and the concentrated formula will hopefully equate to less product wastage, which almost justifies the price above, say, an ordinary shampoo. Usage instructions state to clean brushes on a textured surface so the next deep cleaning device will prove handy...


Real Techniques Brush Cleansing Palette, £12.99, was the first of its kind I spied on the market, and it claims to clean brushes 55% more efficiently than the average hand wash. The idea is to slip it over your hand, add your chosen cleanser with warm water and run brushes over the various textured surfaces to coax out pigment, oil and anything else creeping around in your brush collection. It looks somewhat like a neon body buffer-come-cheese grater, but it works a treat.


If you thought the handheld brush palette was a bit ‘out there’, get ready to meet the Sigma Spa Brush Cleaning Glove, £31.25. Like the marigold of your nightmares, it’s garish, spiky and has only three ‘fingers’, but I beg you to give it a chance. Each of the lumpy bumpy surfaces on the glove outer does a different job, and you can quite literally get right to the root of most brushes without damaging the ferrule. Like a high quality exfoliation session, it leaves brushes soft, clean and revived without ravaging them, while the silicone mitt is both hygienic and kind to your hands (if you can keep it on that is- it’s a bit clownish size wise).

2. Spot Cleaning

Whether in between deep cleans, for quick colour changeovers or emergency damage limitation, a spot clean keeps brushes and tools ticking over. The sanitizing spot clean is a much performed activity backstage, on shoots and in any situation when time is seriously tight, and like many an instantly gratifying affair, it often involves alcohol, although that’s not a given. Here’s the breakdown of fast and potent brush cleansers:


Misting onto bristles keeps your routine hygienic, and the fact that many brush cleaning solutions dry in mere seconds means that they’re ready to work with immediately. If you’re concerned about the level of alcohol in cleaning sprays and liquids (it can dry out both skin and in particular natural brush fibres if used excessively), swap to a ‘teetotal’ spritz such as alcohol-free Bobbi Brown Brush Cleaning Spray, £16.


Face wipes are pretty much roundly vilified in the beauty industry, but giving brushes a quick rub down isn’t so bad, as long as it’s not your only method of brush housekeeping. Justine uses Ecotools Makeup Brush Cleansing Cloths, £6.99, for speedy surface cleans and residue removal.

3. Drying

Brushes are delicate specimens and don’t take kindly to being ruffled up. Towel dry at your peril. In fact, drying them on a towel at all isn’t advisable, as they won’t dry evenly. Instead, give your brushes a thorough airing by resting them on the edge of a counter or table. Masking tape comes in useful for this to stop them rolling off, or go all out and invest in Charlotte Tilbury’s brush collection; each brush handle is ergonomically designed not to roll off your dresser (trust a makeup artist to come up with this). Leave to dry overnight; only blow dry in absolute emergencies.

If scattering your brushes about the house drives you or your loved ones crazy, consider splurging on a brush drying ‘tree’. Sigma Dry N Shape Towers, from £24, are available in three different turret-like shapes to accommodate face and eye brushes, and are the cosmetic equivalent to hanging your brushes out on the washing line. Each tower holds a boggling number of brushes at once, and the ‘upside down dry’ method not only keeps brushes in shape but also prevents water damage to brush ferrules and handles, meaning that your brushes should live longer, fuller lives.

4. Beyond Saving

If a brush is behaving as if it’s moulting season (excessive shedding), has gone oddly wiry, dry, matted or misshapen, the bin beckons. Ditch standard sponges after about a month, depending on frequency of usage, but if you’re a Beautyblender fan you can expect to reduce that to approximately three months.

Wondering which brushes to buy in the first place? Discover the best makeup brushes here

This piece is extracted from the The Ultimate Guide to Makeup Brushes & Tools, £4.95, buy online here

Follow Anna on Instagram @annyhunter and Twitter @AnnaMaryHunter

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