A Lazy Girl’s Guide to Makeup Brush Cleaning

A Lazy Girl's Guide to Makeup Brush Cleaning

It’s all too easy to put off cleaning our makeup brushes until they’re coated in product, or worse yet, start to smell (yep…been there). Sometimes all it takes is learning exactly what dirty makeup brushes are doing to your face and your makeup products to get you heading to straight to the sink.  So before we get into a few easy hacks for us lazy gals, here are 5 reasons to keep in the back of your mind when you start procrastinating on cleaning those brushes.


Why It’s Important to Clean Your Makeup Brushes

makeup brush cleaning essentials and how to

1. Dirty Brushes Cause Breakouts

Whenever you use your makeup brushes, they’re not just depositing product on your face, they’re also picking up oil, dead skin, dust, and anything else clinging to your skin.  If you leave your brushes out on a vanity table, they’re collecting even more dust, and possibly even perfume, hair products, and other residue that you spray around your makeup area.  Even if you’re cleansing your face each day, by reaching for that dirty makeup brush, you’re wiping a concoction of pore-clogging grime right back onto your face that could cause breakouts and pimples.

2. Dirty Brushes Spread Bacteria

Dirty makeup brushes make an especially cozy little home for another acne-causer – bacteria. Let the bacteria thrive, and they’ll start moving over to your face and your precious makeup products every time they take a little dip.  Once this happens, you’ve entered a vicious cycle of transferring bacteria between your brushes, products, and face – even after you’ve finally cleaned the brushes. The end result? Makeup that spoils well before its expiration, and acne-causing bacteria that’s constantly being transferred back onto your face.

3. Dirty Brushes Irritate Your Skin

Bristles that are caked with dust and especially dried liquid product can harden, weigh down, and change form, making them abrasive to the skin. Overtime, not cleaning natural and synthetic fibers can cause them to permanently loose their softness and shape.  Both situations lead to irritation and even damage to your skin.

4. Dirty Brushes Ruin Your Makeup Application

If you want to achieve dramatic looks like a cut crease and super precise eyeshadow transitions, brushes need to be completely clean and free of leftover pigments, or else your look will turn out muddy and messy.  The same goes for blending eye shadow or cheek products – it’s impossible to get a true-to-color and naturally blended, seamless look when your brushes are caked with pigment and other gunk.

5. Dirty Brushes Ruin Your Investments

Cleaning your brushes keeps the bristles stay soft and in their original shape, not to mention it greatly prolongs their life. And lets not forget about our precious makeup products – cream products especially, since water and oils make perfect breeding grounds for bacteria.  Keeping all your makeup brushes, tools, and products bacteria-free will help them perform at their best all the way up until their natural expiration.


How Often Should You Clean Your Makeup Brushes?

makeup brush cleaning how to and essentials

It’s recommended that you wash your brushes at least every two weeks, but some should be washed more (or less) often depending on 1) where they’re stored (out in the open vs in a drawer/case, 2) what type of products you use (liquids vs powders, eyes vs face), and 3) how often you use them.

For example, if you use a liquid foundation brush (i.e. a nice, moist breeding ground for bacteria) on a daily basis and keep it out in the open where it can accumulate dust, wash it at least 2x a week. Eye makeup brushes that you use daily should be cleaned after every use, as they have a greater risk of causing an infection if you let bacteria begin to grow.  Bronzer brushes that you pull out only a few times a week can be washed less frequently, but at minimum once a month.


Makeup Brush Cleaning 101

makeup brush cleaning essentials and how to

To clean your makeup brushes, all you need is a sink with warm running water and some anti-bacterial hand soap.  (Brush cleaning mat and mitts can help you get in between all those bristles, but they’re by no means required.)  Then, follow these steps:

  1. Wetting the brush hairs with warm water, keeping the brush pointing down (so that water doesn’t seep down into the handle and break down the glue).
  2. Squeeze a small amount of mild hand soap or brush shampoo into the palm of your hand or mat/mitt, then swirl the brush to lather.
  3. Rinse thoroughly (always keeping the brush pointed down) until all the soap residue is gone and the water runs clear.
  4. Gently squeeze the bristles, working from the base to the tip. Dab them off on a paper towel/wash cloth, then gently reshape the bristles.
  5. Leave your makeup brushes on their side and slightly elevated or hang them upside down to keep the water from seeping down into the ferrule as they dry.

Make sure to let the brushes dry 100% before you use them to apply makeup again.

makeup brush cleaning essentials


Lazy Girl Makeup Brush Maintenance Hacks

Hopefully the above reasons (and easy how-to) convinced you to pick up at least a slightly more consistent makeup brush cleaning routine.  If you still find yourself slacking, or simply don’t have the time to do regular, thorough cleanings, here are a few lazy girl tips to help keep your brushes clean while stretching out wash cycles.

1. Store brushes away from dust.

It may be tempting to keep all your brushes out in the open on your vanity.  But if you aren’t using them on a daily, or even weekly basis, you’re just making more work for yourself as they sit accumulating dust, perfume, hair sprays, and so on.

Instead of leaving your entire brush collection on display, store the ones you use less often in a brush roll or brush case, and tucked away in a drawer. For the everyday brushes that make sense to keep your vanity, try using a brush holder with a lid, or a covered, dust-proof makeup brush box.

2. Do quick cleanses with wipes and sprays.

If you don’t have time to be bothered with a full wash at the sink, you can do one of these three things to give you brushes a quick cleanse:

  • Use brush wipes, like these from e.l.f. Cosmetics, which come well saturated in a cleansing solution. They can clean 3-5 eyeshadow brushes and 1-3 face brushes (depending on how big/dirty they are), and while they don’t replace a good sink and water wash, they do remove a lot of dirt and pigment to keep your brushes clean in the interim.
  • Light mist an alcohol-based spray (to kill bacteria in seconds) on brush bristles, then wipe clean on a paper towel.  Two of my favorite are the jane iredale Botanical Brush Cleaner and SHANY Detox Professional Brush Cleanser.

elf brush cleaning wipes, makeup brush cleaning essentials

elf brush cleaning wipes, makeup brush cleaning essentials

5.  Keep your cosmetics clean.

When you’re been slacking with brush cleansing and fear that your makeup could be contaminated, break the bacteria cycle by cleaning your cosmetics with sanitizer wipes or sanitizer sprays for powders.  Or, simply grab a cheap bottle of bacteria-killing isopropyl alcohol, add some to a spray bottle, and do a few quick spritzes. Let dry completely before using your products again.

5. Buy doubles (or triples).

If it’s within your budget, buy doubles (or triples) of your most reached for brushes – the ones your use everyday with liquids/cream products should be first priority.  Keep your extras in rotation so that you always have a back-up while you’re cleaning the other (and so there’s no excuse not to clean them). Or stretch time between washes by waiting until both brushes are dirty (storing them separately of course).  BH Cosmetics and e.l.f. Cosmetics both offer super affordable makeup brush that make buying doubles especially easy.



How often do you clean your makeup brushes?  What are your favorite ‘cheats’ when it comes to keeping your brushes clean without washing quite as often?

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