How To Clean Makeup Brushes: Tips, Frequency, and More

If you want to know how to get the best makeup look of your life, all you need to do is open TikTok and see the thousands of opinions online. 

Influencers will tell you to blend your eyeshadow a certain way, and other brands will claim the right sponge will transform you into a makeup artist. However, while some of these tips aren’t half bad, they’re all forgetting one important element: a clean tool. 

It’s so easy for makeup brushes to get dirty. From leftover beauty products on the bristles to any fallout that might be lingering at the bottom of your makeup bag, it seems your brushes are always in need of a deep clean — but while cleaning makeup brushes can be a pain, its importance can’t be understated. 

A dirty makeup brush is the fastest way to ruin your makeup look — and to irritate your skin in the process. These tools don’t just harbor leftover beauty products but bacteria, molds, and mycotoxins that can cause breakouts if used on the skin. 

That’s why cleaning your makeup brushes, though inconvenient, is essential. 

Preventing bacterial building on your sponges and brushes doesn’t have to be complicated. Today, we’ll walk you through how to clean your makeup brushes step-by-step, how often you actually need to do this, and when cleaning is no longer the most effective way to keep your skin clear. 

Why Is It Important To Clean Your Makeup Brushes?

We said it before, and we’ll say it again: You need to be cleaning your makeup brushes, sponges , and application tools. Why? Well, there are a few reasons. 

Even Application

Dirty makeup brushes can change the way your makeup looks on your skin. 

When a makeup brush is loaded with lingering beauty products , it can weigh down the bristles or make them stick together, changing the brush's shape. This different shape changes the function of your makeup brush — meaning using a dirty brush can actually mean using the wrong brush. 

Leftover concealer or remaining eyeshadow on a makeup brush can hurt your makeup look in another way, too: added texture or color. 

When you dip a dirty makeup brush into a fresh product, you end up with both the old and the new on the brush. Both of these products then get transferred to the face — meaning you’re applying old makeup to your skin, too. 

Old makeup is often dried out, which gives it a new texture that doesn't always look great on the skin. This residue on your makeup brushes can prevent a clean finish for your makeup — not to mention any mixing colors if you’re using a different beauty product than what’s lingering on the brush.

Bacteria Buildup

Your skin is a complex organ (the largest on your body) that has certain needs. Though your skin is made to be durable, not sensitive, things can start to go wrong if you don’t take care of it the right way. Namely, impurities. 

Dirty makeup brushes are one of the fastest ways to introduce harmful bacteria, mold, and other organisms to your skin… and it can all happen without you even realizing it. 

When you dip your makeup brush in a liquid beauty product or run it under clean water, moisture travels through the bristles into the ferrule — the metal part of your makeup brush, just under the brush head. Once wet, this area becomes the perfect breeding ground for bacteria and other organisms that can break out your skin. 

The best way to avoid these breakouts and prevent bacteria buildup is to keep your makeup brushes clean. 

When you think about it, cleaning makeup brushes is another part of your skincare routine

What’s the Best Way To Clean Your Makeup Brushes?

While the reasons to clean your makeup brushes are endless, the right way to do it isn’t as endless. Despite all the tips, tricks, and hacks you can find online that claim this new trend will keep your brushes squeaky clean, there is only one way to wash and disinfect your makeup brushes for healthy skin. 

Thankfully, we’ve broken it down into a step-by-step guide. 

Use Lukewarm Water

The first step in the makeup brush cleaning process is to start with water. Your mom might have taught you to use scalding hot water to wet your brushes — but this is one of the worst things you can do for your makeup brushes. 

Water that is too hot can damage your makeup brush. Not only can it disfigure the natural hair pattern of the bristles, but it can also seep through the brush ferrule and start to loosen the glue that holds your brush together. This kind of internal damage is one of the fastest ways to damage your makeup brush. 

Instead, use lukewarm water to clean your makeup brushes. This temperature is gentle on the brush while still working to dissolve lingering product buildup and kill off any other bacteria clinging to it. 

Choose a Designated Brush Cleaner

The next best thing you can do for your makeup brushes when cleaning them is arguably the most important step in the whole routine. When cleaning your makeup brushes, it’s essential that you use a designated brush cleaner. 

You're not alone if you used Dawn dish soap, baby shampoo, or any other bar soap to clean your makeup brushes growing up, but it’s time to upgrade to a real makeup brush cleaner. 

Unlike these basic soaps, makeup brush cleaners are specifically formulated to remove product residue and disinfect each individual bristle on your makeup brush. Because they’re made with this specific purpose in mind, they’re also gentle on your brushes — meaning using the right cleanser can extend the life of your makeup brush. 

While there are many designated makeup brush cleaners available, here are a few recommendations to get you started: 

Lather Your Brushes

But using the right cleanser isn’t always enough. You also need to use it correctly. When cleaning your makeup brushes, make sure to lather the soap on the brush head. 

Lathering describes the act of agitating soap until it begins to froth or foam. This process is what creates the bubbles commonly associated with cleaning products. 

When you lather your brushes, you activate the ingredients in your makeup brush cleanser, allowing the soap to do its job and clear away all the buildup on your brushes. This scrubbing motion creates the friction needed to detach debris from the bristles, which are then easy to wash away. 

You can use a cleansing mat or a specific silicone brush cleaning mat to lather the soap onto your brushes. Or, you simply do this step in the palm of your hand. 

Rinse

Once your brushes are nice and soapy, it’s time to move on to the next step: rinsing. 

To rid your makeup brushes of the dirt and debris you just loosened when you lathered them, run your brushes until a stream of water. Again, remember to use lukewarm — not hot — water for this step. 

One misconception about cleaning your makeup brushes is that you should soak them in water to rinse away the soap. This is not true. Soaking your makeup brushes in water of whatever temperature allows moisture to become trapped in the inside of your brush, which can loosen the glue and cause your makeup brush to fall apart. 

Instead, simply run the brush under your faucet, using your finger or the palm of your hand to get the soap hidden between the bristles. 

Dry Your Brushes Flat

There is one last step to cleaning your makeup brushes. Before you can use your brushes again, you need to let them dry. 

The best way to dry your makeup brushes is to let them air dry. Lay your brushes flat across a paper towel or clean towel and leave them be for a few hours. This will let all of the excess water leave your brush naturally, preventing any heat damage that might have been caused by a blow dryer. 

How Often Should You Clean Your Makeup Brushes?

Knowing how to clean your makeup brushes is the first step. Now, you have to know when to do it. 

Depending on what type of hair brushes are made up, you can actually do more harm than good by washing your makeup brushes too much. However, the same can be said for not washing them enough. That’s why it’s so important to clean your makeup brushes the right amount. 

Dermatologists recommend cleaning your makeup brushes every 7 to 10 days for the best skin look. This frequency allows you to prevent product build up on your brushes and keeps them clear of any bacterial build up as well, all while supporting a clear complexion. 

When Is It Time for New Makeup Brushes?

You can be the most talented makeup brush-cleaner in the world, and still you will run into a point where no amount of brush cleaner or warm water can make a difference. Eventually, makeup brushes need to be replaced. 

How often you trade your old makeup brushes and tools in for new ones depends on how often you use them. Specialty brushes that sit in your makeup bag until that one night a month when you go full glam can last several years — but your daily brushes? Not so much. Your go-to makeup brushes may need to be replaced as often as every six months. 

Because the life of makeup brushes depends on how often they get used, the best way to tell when it’s time to replace them is by inspecting their quality. 

There are a few signs you can look for to tell when a makeup brush is at the end of its life:

  • Loose bristles 
  • Misshapen brush head
  • Product build-up that won’t wash away

Brush Refresh

The fastest way to step up your makeup routine is to start with the best foundation. We’re not talking powder and cream foundation ; we’re talking brushes. 

To avoid messy applications and prevent bacteria-caused infections on your skin, you should always start with a clean makeup sponge or brush. 

While it may seem like a no-brainer, when the time comes, it can feel easier to just use a dirty brush. Before you pick up that daily concealer brush that hasn’t been washed in over a month, remember that you might be trading temporary coverage for long-lasting breakouts. 

Sources:

Makeup brushes are dirtier than toilets, disgusting microscopic photos show | New York Post

Anatomy, Skin (Integument), Epidermis | National Library of Medicine

What conditions encourage bacteria to grow? | Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services

How to clean your makeup brushes | American Academy of Dermatology Association