How to clean your makeup brushes and sponges

Did you know you should be cleaning your makeup brushes and sponges regularly?  And that there’s a right way to do it? It’s a quick and easy task that requires no special supplies and provides that rewarding feeling when it’s done! Here’s how — and how often — to tackle this little task.

How often should I clean my makeup brushes?

Experts agree that a weekly cleaning (more or less, depending on how often you use your brushes) is a good idea for makeup brushes. That’s because you want a perfectly clean brush to use on your face. Otherwise, the brush can collect oils, dirt, and bacteria that you’ll then transfer onto your skin — not great for your complexion! 

Not only should you wash your brushes for your skin’s sake, but also because the brushes will work better and last longer if you keep them clean.

makeup brushes lying on a white surface with pink striped and floral wallpaper in the background

How to clean makeup brushes

This is an easy job, but there are a couple of “don’ts’ to keep in mind:

• Don’t use harsh soaps, which can damage the bristles. 

• Don’t  get the ferrule of the brush (where the bristles meet the handle) soaked, or you may loosen the bristles as the glue holding it all together becomes waterlogged. 

You can purchase cleansers especially made for cleaning cosmetic brushes and sponges, but warm water and a gentle liquid soap will work just fine, too. A liquid castile soap, a gentle dishwashing liquid, your facial cleanser, or even your shampoo will fit the bill. Something gentle and soapy is what you’re going for. A tea tree oil soap will add disinfecting properties, so you might try one if you don’t mind the smell. (I have an aversion to it, but some people actually like the “clean” scent.)

Now down to the washing:

  1. Wet the brush under warm running water, holding the brush bristles down. Run the water over the bristles only, not over the handle or ferrule.
  2. Swirl the wet bristles in a cup of soapy water or in the palm of your hand containing a handful of the soapy water. (If you use the cup, remember, only dip the bristles.) You can also gently rub the wet brush onto a bar of mild soap.
  3. Rinse under warm running water, then cool water. 
  4. Wrap the bristles in a clean washcloth and squeeze out the excess water. (Don’t rub.)
  5. Lay the brush on a counter, with the brush over the edge, to dry. It’s best not to lay it on a towel or it may mildew rather than completely dry. If you have a cooling rack in the kitchen, that’ll work perfectly, too. (Don’t stand the brush up to dry, or the water will drip down into the ferrule and loosen the bristles. And don’t use a hair dryer to speed up the process, or you might damage the bristles.)

And why not clean your makeup brush holder, too, while you’re at it?

When it’s time to get a new brush

If your makeup bristles are starting to fall out or fray, it’s time to get a new brush.

a wedge-shaped makeup sponge with purple product on it on a white cloth with black dots

Should I clean makeup sponges?

Yes, unless you’re using a disposable sponge (not very sustainable), it’s super important to clean makeup sponges. Maybe more so than brushes, because the sponges stay damp and can more easily harbor bacteria. 

Ideally, wash your sponge with warm water and mild soap after each use and allow to dry before reusing. 

Brush-cleaning tools

Let me start by saying I don’t use (and so can’t recommend) any of these tools but imagine one or more of them might be appealing to those who use makeup brushes often — for fun or for work. For example, a brush cleaning glove or pad is said to improve the clean you’ll get when you wash your brushes. They’re made to help break up any makeup as you wash.

There are also tools you can purchase to clean your cosmetic brushes without washing them. This color switch brush cleaner loosens makeup on your brushes without water. It might be useful for changing colors on your brush when you’re limited to the one brush and don’t want to wait for it to dry between applications. (Cosmetologists might find this especially useful.) The insert is washable, which is nice.

Are you diligent about cleaning makeup brushes and sponges? Do you have any tips you’d like to share?

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