If you were to take a microscope to the bouquet of makeup brushes currently sitting in your bathroom, what do you think you’d find? If it’s been over a month since they were given a deep clean, there’s a solid chance you may not like what you see. And if it’s been multiple months—or maybe even never?—you might even feel downright queasy!
We won’t beat around the bristle brush. Dirty makeup brushes are full of built-up product residue, oil from your skin, debris, and dirt—all of which can gunk up your brushes and lead to subpar makeup application. Even worse, the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) says that this buildup of yuckiness can potentially compromise your complexion, resulting in breakouts, rashes, and infections.*
“Remember that makeup contains oils. [When] mixed with the bacteria that naturally live on your skin, makeup brushes can really become a reservoir for bacteria that you basically then just keep applying to your skin,”
— explains Kavita Mariwalla, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist and IT Cosmetics Advisory Board Member.
If you’re noticing more blemishes than usual or less than stellar makeup performance, chances are it’s because your brushes aren’t getting cleaned as often—or as thoroughly—as they should be. Lucky for you, we’re covering everything you ought to know about how to clean a makeup brush, including how often your brushes should get a scrub down, whether you can use makeup cleanser for brushes, and proper techniques to ensure they don’t (gasp!) get ruined.
What Should You Clean Makeup Brushes With?
One of the biggest roadblocks to regularly cleaning makeup brushes is not knowing what to clean them with. Some people wonder if you can use dish soap, baby soap, shampoo, or even your everyday makeup cleanser for brushes. Good news: all the above work, so long as they’re a gentle, mild formula.
Jessica Ross, IT Cosmetics Director of Education, says that her go-to makeup brush cleaner is Confidence in a Cleanser, a sulfate-free, non-drying facial cleanser. “Because of all the skin-loving ingredients and non-drying properties in it, it helps to keep the shape of your brushes, too,” she says.
How to Deep Clean Makeup Brushes
Let’s jump right into this sudsy fun, shall we? Aside from your preferred makeup brush cleanser, all you need is a sink and some water. Some people like to use a silicone cleansing pad, which you can rub your bristles against to really massage out the built-up gunk. However, a clean towel or washcloth works just as well.
Step 1: Prep Your Sink
Place a washcloth or hand towel in a clean sink and dispense a few drops of your preferred cleanser onto the cloth. Turn on the warm water, and fully saturate your cloth.
Step 2: Swirl Your Brushes
While the water is running, gently swirl your brushes back and forth on the cloth. Every once in a while, run them under warm water to rinse, then repeat. Continue this until you can no longer see any trace of product. Being gentle is really important; try not to press the brushes down, but instead maintain a soft swirling or back-and-forth motion. Also, don’t let your makeup brushes sit fully emerged in the water.
Step 3: Pat Dry
Once you’ve cleaned your makeup brushes, use a clean, dry washcloth or hand towel to absorb the excess water from the brushes. You can press the water out, but use a gentle hand here as well.
Step 4: Lay Flat To Dry
Place your dry towel on a flat surface and lay the brushes flat on the towel to dry. Ross explains this drying method helps the brushes maintain their shape. It’s also preferable to standing them up because it prevents liquid from seeping into the metal piece (called a ferrule) and breaking down the glue that holds the bristles and handle together.
How to Clean Makeup Sponges
If you like to use reusable makeup sponges and blenders in addition to brushes, those need to be cleaned as well. This process is pretty straightforward, too. Simply wet your sponge under warm water, squeeze, and wet again so the entire sponge is fully saturated. Apply a drop or two of your choice makeup brush cleanser and start massaging to remove product, oil, and dirt buildup.
Reusable sponges can hold a lot—they’re sponges after all—so this can take some time. Apply more cleanser as needed until the water runs clean, and then set them on a towel to dry.
How Often Should You Clean Makeup Brushes and Sponges?
Don’t hate the messenger, but you should be cleaning your makeup brushes once every seven to 10 days.
If you tend to only use your brushes for special occasions, then set your future self up for success by cleaning your makeup brushes after each use. That way they’re poised for action the next time you want to break them out.
Between deep cleaning sessions, we recommend using a quick daily brush cleanser for even better hygiene. IT’s Your Brush Love Makeup Brush Cleaner is a spray formula that cleanses and conditions in one fast-drying step.
For the best results, spray directly onto the brush head or makeup sponge until it’s fully dampened. Then, gently wipe with a paper towel or cloth to remove any visible makeup residue. Repeat as needed, and once all product is removed, reshape the bristles into their original shape and lay flat to dry for 60 seconds.
Signs It’s Time to Replace Your Makeup Brush
High quality makeup brushes can endure for many years—sometimes even a lifetime—but not all brushes are created equally. If your brush’s bristles have begun to fray, fall out, have a funky smell, or barely resemble their original shape and form, it’s likely time to say farewell.
Our Best Makeup Brushes
Lucky for you, IT Cosmetics offers a wide assortment of cruelty-free, synthetic, custom-cut brushes that do the work for you to deliver a flawless application of your favorite products. Here are a handful of our best makeup brushes for you to choose from.
Best Overall Complexion Brush: Heavenly Luxe Complexion Perfection Brush #7
Perfect for applying our best-selling* CC+ Cream with SPF 50+ and Bye Bye Under Eye Anti-Aging Concealer, the dual-ended Heavenly Luxe Complexion Perfection Brush #7 delivers seamless coverage to large and small areas of your face.
Best for Liquid Foundation: Heavenly Skin Skin-Smoothing Complexion Brush #704
You’re in for a truly revolutionary, skin-smoothing complexion brush. Heavenly Skin Skin-Smoothing Complexion Brush #704 features an inventive angled brush head that reaches every corner of your face for your most even, streak-free application.
Best for Powders: Heavenly Luxe Wand Ball Powder Brush #8
Made with a soft, rounded, tapered brush head, the Heavenly Luxe Wand Ball Powder Brush #8 picks up and applies the perfect amount of loose or pressed powder for your most airbrushed finish.
Best for Eyeshadow: Superhero 4-in-1 Eye-Transforming Super Shadow and Liner Brush
We’re always game for a multitasking hero, which is exactly what the Superhero 4-in-1 Eye-Transforming Super Shadow and Liner Brush is. It acts as your all-over eyeshadow, crease, smudger brush, and precise liner.
Feeling more confident about how to clean your makeup brushes the right way? Now you can get up to speed on finding the Best Makeup Brush for Your Complexion Goals.
*The NPD Group/US Prestige Beauty Total Measured Market, Makeup Product Sales, January - December 2020.