We’ll put this bluntly: disgusting things happen when you don’t clean your makeup brushes. We’re talking about the growth of potentially harmful microbes that can transfer to skin and cause irritation, breakouts and clogged pores.
In addition to breeding bacteria, dirty makeup brushes prevent us from getting a flawless makeup application. “A dirty brush doesn’t perform as well distributing product as a clean one. When a brush is dirty, many people try to push harder on the brush to get a result,” Artis founder Matthew Waitesmith explains.
A grubby brush can also alter makeup. Stowaway Cosmetics founder Julie Fredrickson says that dirty brushes impact a product’s color clarity. Using a dirty tool will cause that pretty lipstick or eyeshadow to mix with residual makeup in the bristles, altering the finish.
How Often to Wash Makeup Brushes
There are times when it’s OK to slack a bit with beauty routines, but washing makeup brushes isn’t one of them. (Neither is removing makeup.) How often you clean your makeup brushes is a personal decision, just like washing hair. In general, Waitesmith and Frederickson recommend a basic cleaning after every use, followed by a deep clean every week or as needed. Neah Williams, lead trainer at Blushington Makeup & Beauty Lounge, suggests cleaning brushes every two days, depending on usage.
Don’t balk just yet because it’s not quite as high-maintenance as it sounds. Fredrickson swears by Cinema Secrets. “Dab some on a cotton swab, twirl the brush and that is enough. Then once a week, do a thorough cleaning with a cleanser that isn’t too harsh. I personally use Dr. Bronner’s,” she says.
The type of makeup used also impacts how often brushes need to be washed. Formulas that contain water (e.g., liquids, creams, serums) provide a hospitable environment for microbes, so brushes need to be cleaned more often after using them compared to dry powders.
How to Clean Makeup Brushes
Knowing how to clean makeup brushes is essential because the wrong method can ruin beauty tools. The first step is choosing the right cleanser based on the type of bristles. Brushes with man-made fibers should be cleaned following the manufacturer’s recommendations, while brushes made with animal hair should be treated like your own hair. Waitesmith says that washing with soap or detergent is usually sufficient, but sometimes he likes to do an alcohol rinse to sanitize brushes. Derek Selby, Cover FX global ambassador, also likes to use soap and water, but says it’s also fine to use shampoo or a makeup brush cleaner.
DIY lovers can make their own makeup brush cleanser by mixing one cup of water with one tablespoon of dish soap and two tablespoons of vinegar. Alternatively, a 50-50 mixture of dish soap and olive oil will clean makeup brushes.
No matter the brush cleanser, it’s important that brushes are washed thoroughly to completely remove built-up makeup and product residue. Selby adds that brushes should always be facing down when they’re rinsed under water so nothing runs into the ferrule (the part between the bristles and handle).
Drying makeup brushes properly is an important step. Fredrickson recommends placing tools flat on an absorbent surface, like a towel, because standing them up will cause more water to go into the ferrule. If the brush hairs need to be reshaped, gently do it while they’re wet. Those looking to add another piece of equipment to their kits can try a brush tree. Williams says brush trees are one of the best ways to dry brushes because they allow them to hang with bristles facing down.
One big no-no is using a blowdryer on makeup brushes, cautions Waitesmith. The heat from a dryer can damage brushes made from animal hair and can cause man-made fibers to melt or deform.
When to Throw Away Makeup Brushes
Sorry, but makeup brushes aren’t a once-in-a-lifetime purchase, especially if they’re not being looked after properly. Waitesmith says wear and tear is almost impossible to avoid.
If a brush isn’t maintaining its natural shape, there’s pilling or bits of hair coming off, it probably needs to be replaced. Same goes if there’s a crack in the handle. Be aware that natural hair brushes will need to be replaced more frequently. “Synthetics can last longer as they don’t have a cuticle so makeup won’t stick to it and gunk up over time, as opposed to natural brushes where it will break down the fiber and eventually the cuticle,” Fredrickson states.
Don’t panic because it isn’t necessary to replace makeup brushes as often as cosmetics — as long as brushes are properly cared for. Selby says, “If you invest in good-quality brushes that are well made and you take care of them, you will get decades of use out of them. I have brushes in my kit that are 30 years old from when I first went to makeup school!”
You know the deal, now it’s time to ensure your makeup brushes stay in top shape. Grab those dirty brushes and click through the gallery to see the best makeup brush cleaners.