There’s something so satisfying about using a brush for the first time — or the first time after you clean it. It feels perfect, your makeup applications are flawless, and all's right with the world. But not everyone realizes that there’s a right and a wrong way to keep your brushes clean. So, let’s do a deep dive into why you need to clean your makeup brushes, the anatomy of a makeup brush, and how to clean them properly.
Why Dirty Brushes Are the Ultimate No-No
Ask any makeup artist (MUA) and they’ll tell you that clean brushes are essential. Not only do they reduce the risk of smearing old makeup residue on a client in their chair, but it’s a health hazard. Imagine using the same brush without cleaning it to go from face to face.
Now, while the “same brush, different face” scenario is less likely for the average consumer, leaving your brushes dirty is still a no-no. First, brushes can carry dirt, bacteria, oil, skin, and of course — old makeup. At a minimum, this can cause your makeup to break down faster than the expiration date listed on the container.
But that also means that you could be reintroducing dirt, bacteria, and other nasties onto your skin with every swipe, buff, and blend. So, that unexpected acne breakout could just as likely be caused by dirty brushes as it could by other factors like stress or changing your lotion or skincare products.
Also, consider that leaving your brushes dirty means that they’ll fall apart faster. Even though experts recommend that you change your brushes out every few months, that’s not an excuse to not take care of them.
Brush Anatomy Explained
Believe it or not, your makeup brushes have an anatomy. Regardless of whether it’s a foundation brush, contour brush, or eyeliner brush, most brushes have three parts — a handle, ferrule, and bristles.
Of course, there are exceptions like the oval paddle makeup brushes that dominated Instagram feeds a few years ago. But most of the time, you can count on a brush to have those three things. And if “ferrule” doesn’t sound familiar, it’s the metal clamp that holds the bristles to the handle. Sometimes, the bristles are glued to the handle. But the ferrule’s main task is to ensure that the bristles don’t come loose.
Clean Your Brushes Like a Pro
Now that you know all the parts of your makeup brush, it’s time to learn how to clean your brushes properly. Ideally, you should clean your brushes after every use — but this isn’t always practical for everyone’s lifestyle. So, if you’re the type who wears makeup regularly, aim to clean your brushes once a week.
Assemble Your Supplies
Gather your brushes together along with a towel and soap — preferably something gentle. While you can buy specialized makeup brush cleaners, you can also opt for a gentle bar or liquid body soap or even dish detergent like Dawn.
Although optional, many people prefer to use a brush cleaning pad. These are textured surfaces that help to dislodge dirt and grime from your brushes. Additionally, many people like to use brush holders to keep brushes vertical while drying.
Wash Your Brushes
In theory, this is a straightforward step. But considering how many questionable makeup brush cleansing videos are floating around the internet, it’s important to dig deeper for this step.
Most people will run water while washing their brushes. Temperature doesn’t matter for the bristles, but your hands will probably appreciate using warm water. Gently dip the brush in the water to moisten the bristles. It’s very important to hold the brush so that the bristles are pointed down. You want to avoid getting water into the ferrule as this can loosen any glue that’s holding the bristles and cause the ferrule to rust.
Depending on your soap choice, you’ll either squirt a little bit of soap on the bristles or rub them gently against your solid soap or cleanser. If you’re using liquid soap you can also opt to squirt the soap onto your textured surface or the palm of your hand before dipping your brush into it.
If you’re using a textured surface, you can gently wipe the bristles against the surface to create bubbles and agitate dirt. If you don’t have a textured brush cleaner, you can simply rub the ends of the bristles against the palm of your hand to create a lather and remove the makeup or dirt.
Gently rinse the brush head — again be sure to hold it so the bristles are pointing down and you avoid getting water in the ferrule.
Gently squeeze out the excess water. If it runs clear, your brush is clean, if it’s murky or very colorful, you’ll need to cleanse the brush head again.
Repeat these steps as needed until all of your brushes are clean. Keep in mind that sometimes, depending on the ingredients used in your makeup, staining is possible. This is especially common with foundation and highly pigmented powders. Additionally, some bristle materials — especially natural animal fibers — are more susceptible to staining.
Dry Your Brushes
Once your brush is clean, you have a few options for drying them. First, begin by reshaping the brush head as needed to return the bristles to their original shape. Then, at a minimum, lay your brushes flat on a towel to air dry.
Alternatively, if you have a makeup brush drying rack, you can insert your brushes so that they’re facing with the brush head down. Again, you want to avoid getting water into the ferrule.
Brush Cleaning FAQs
Can I clean my brushes in a washing machine?
Absolutely not. It doesn’t matter that your BFF swears by this method and claims that it gets her brushes cleaner. It’s also a great way to destroy your brushes. Washing machines work by fully submerging clothing in water. This means that your brush’s ferrule will be completely submerged in water. Even on a short rinse cycle, this is a recipe for disaster.
Can I use a spin cleaner to clean my brushes?
While spin cleaners are popular because of how quickly they can remove dirt from your brushes, the verdict is out on whether or not they’re safe for your brushes. Common complaints about these devices center around damaging the bristles because of the high speed created to quickly dry the brush head. In short, proceed with caution.
Do I have to use specialty brush cleaner soap?
No, you don’t. Regular body soap or even dish liquid will easily do the job. Both options are gentle enough to be used without risking any damage to synthetic brushes. However, if you have natural hair brushes (think animal hair like goat, boar, or mink), you’ll want to avoid dish soap as it may be too strong and could dry out the bristles — leading to poor performance.
How often should I wash my brushes?
In a perfect world, you should wash them after every use. But for anyone who wears makeup regularly, this might not be realistic. Aim to clean your brushes once a week if you wear makeup every day, or twice a month if you wear it only on the weekends.
Can’t I just clean my brushes with the foam eraser sponges?
Foam sponges are a great temporary solution for quickly cleaning your brushes if you’re using the same brush to apply different products — namely eyeshadow or powder pigments. But a foam sponge isn’t a real solution for keeping your brushes clean.
First, it only removes what you can see. It’s not soap, so it’s not cleaning your brushes. Instead, it’s more of an eraser. Second, the vigorous rubbing you have to do to clean your brush using a foam eraser isn’t ideal for long-term use. While it won’t damage your brush if you occasionally use the foam eraser, over time, you might dislodge bristles or create a terribly misshapen brush head.
And P.S. — you should clean that foam eraser along with any makeup sponges when you’re washing your brushes too.
Can I use a blow dryer to dry my brushes?
Depending on who you talk to, you’ll get very different answers. Generally speaking, any kind of forced air device can help to speed up the drying time for your brushes. And we know that the larger brushes — like our Large Flat Top Kabuki Brushes — can take much longer to air dry than thinner brushes like the Duo Eyebrow Brush.
However, while you can use a blow dryer, you’ll want to be mindful of how close your dryer is to the brushes and the airflow strength. Additionally, mind the heat as you don’t want to risk weakening any glue that might be inside the ferrule, holding the bristles to the handle. Rather than a blow dryer, consider using a table fan on a lower setting. This is a cool airflow that won’t impact the ferrule, but will still help shorten your drying time.