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How to clean your makeup brushes
April 14th 2020 / 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 when we there's not a lot else going on, it makes sense to tackle washing your makeup brushes (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.
How often should I clean my makeup brushes?
Different makeup brushes need to be cleaned with differing frequency. 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.
There are different methods for cleaning your makeup brushes - read on for your need to know.
Spot cleaning your makeup brushes
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:
Makeup brush cleaning spray
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, £14.40.
NYX's On The Spot Makeup Brush Cleaner Spray, £9, does a stellar job too; you just spray it onto a paper towel then swirl your brush head in it until the product is all washed up - perfect for on the go.
Makeup brush cleaning wipes
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. Makeup artist Justine Jenkins uses Ecotools Makeup Brush Cleansing Cloths, £3.99, for speedy surface cleans and residue removal.
Artis also sells Brush Cleasing Wipes, £18.60 for 30.
Deep cleansing your makeup brushes
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:
Cleaning makeup brushes with water
Plain old h2O isn’t much help when it comes to thorough cleaning, and while Beautyblender liquid blendercleanser®, £16, 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, Justine 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.
How to use a makeup brush cleaner
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.
Washing makeup brushes with a solid cleanser
Just as a facial cleansing balm melts away makeup, 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.
How to wash makeup brushes with a solid cleanser
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. Beautyblender Pure Solid Cleanser, £15, does the job beautifully with no mess, fuss or stickiness. It leaves bristles soft as silk which not only makes brushes a pleasure to use post-wash but also extends their lifespan.
Along the same lines, London Brush Company Goat Milk Solid Brush Shampoo , £20, 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. 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.”
We've also tried, tested and approved of the Mii Cleanse & Condition Brush Balm, £12. Made with coconut oil and shea butter it dissolves makeup effectively leaves bristles as soft as when you first bought them.
How to clean makeup brushes with soap
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, £8.19, 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.’
Beauty influencer Jamie Genieve has a hack for cleaning makeup brushes using Dr Bronner's soap and a sieve - she shared it with her followers on TikTok and we'll definitely be giving it a try.
Foam makeup brush cleaners
You could do a lot worse that give your brushes a bubble bath (no submerging mind). Artis Brush Cleansing Foam, £25.20, 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 need to 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.
Do makeup brushes need conditioner?
We wouldn't wash our without following with conditioner, but do we need to treat our brushes in the same way? 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’ effect; 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.
Gel makeup brush cleansers
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, £5.90, 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...
Tools for cleaning makeup brushes
Real Techniques Brush Cleansing Palette, £8, was the first of its kind I spied on the market, and it claims to clean brushes 55 per cent 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.
Since the Real Techniques cleaner launched a whole lot of other makeup brush cleaning palettes have arrived too; John Lewis sells one for £6 while Sigmagic has combined a silicone cleaner with cleanser built in for £17.25.
Our editorial director Victoria has recently been using the (questionably named) heart-shaped Unicorn Cosmetics The Dirty B*tch, £5, to clean her brushes. It has four different textured surfaces to deeply clean a variety of brushes and is small enough to take on trips with you.
Speaking of tools the team loves, digital designer Jemma sings the praises of the, £59.99. It might be more costly than the other tools but you get what you pay for. It cleans and drys eyeshadow brushes in seconds and gets to the nitty and gritty in foundation brushes way quicker than doing it manually.
She's also tried the original StylPro Original Make Up Brush Cleaner and Dryer, £39.99 which is still good but not all brushes fit in it and you have you change the water bowl more frequently.
We mentioned Artis' Brush Cleansing Foam and Wipes earlier but the brand also sells the Brush Cleaning Pad, £78, which has an antimicrobial-treated microfibre cloth attached to the top which gently grabs and removes makeup product residue from your brush fibres - just wipe your brush back and forth on the pad and voila, it's clean!
Makeup brush cleaning gloves
If you thought the handheld brush palette was a bit ‘out there’, get ready to meet the Sigma Spa Brush Cleaning Glove, £32.15 for two. 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).
Beautyblender also sell the Keep It Clean mit, £17, which allows you to clean your Beautyblender thoroughly in double quick time, and also turns its hand neatly to brush washing. Different lumps and bumps give your makeup applicators a good going over without tearing.
How to dry your makeup brushes
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, £70, 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.
Real Techniques also offer this brush drying rack for a more managaeble price at £15.
How to clean Beautyblenders and sponges
These little egg-shaped friends are a different kettle of fish when it comes to cleaning. Much has been said about how to clean a Beautyblender, but it's really quite simple.
Wet the Beautyblender, swirl an ample amount of your chosen cleaning formula onto the blender then allow it to soak in a bowl of water while working into a lather. To avoid snags or tears, squeeze delicately and then rinse with clean water; squeeze out excess water and allow the blender to dry completely in a clean, well-ventilated area.
For less admin, invest in the Keep It Clean mit.
When to throw away make up brushes
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