How to Clean & Maintain Your Makeup Brushes (They’re Dirtier Than You Think!)

Makeup Artist

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If you’ve made the swap from low quality beauty blenders and makeup brushes to better made and longer-lasting applicators, it’s time to start taking proper care of them, so you really get your money’s worth.

You would never leave old makeup on your skin day after day without washing, and you shouldn’t leave it on your brushes or blenders either.

When you touch your brushes, you’re transferring all the germs and bacteria onto your brushes, and by repeatedly rubbing them on your face you’re exposing yourself to buildups of bacteria and other nasties, including Staph. Touching your face with unwashed hands deposits sweat and germs, and can cause acne flare ups; all the same risks exist every time you put a dirty brush on your clean face.

Thankfully, it isn’t any harder to clean your brushes than it is to clean your face! A gentle shampoo and water will do all the work for you. Wash your hands before you start, then rinse, lather, gently rub to dislodge any build-up, then rinse again until the water runs clean. Make sure you’re only wetting the bristles of your brushes, because soap and warm water can break down the glues that keep your bristles in place. Drying is just as important as washing, because you don’t want to grow mildew or other funky friends after going through the trouble of washing. Ensuring that your sponges have good air circulation and room to drain is particularly important. Don’t towel off delicate brush bristles, because you may cause shedding.

If you want to try a high-tech route for more peace of mind, compact UV sterilizers are more affordable now than ever, with this mini portable sterilizer going for about $20. Using UV too frequently though may contribute to bristles breaking frequently; just think about what UV exposure does to hair.

Professional makeup artists also swear by new formulations specifically for makeup brushes, rather than using shampoos. Home users can save big with house brand cleansers like Sephora’s Solid Brush and Sponge cleaner, or try out sample sized cleansers by brands like Cinema Secrets. NYX PROFESSIONAL also makes a spray-on cleanser.

You can also go way retro, and clean your brushes with beauty shop staple Barbicide; you’ll only want to dip your brushes in a jar filled with this disinfectant, not leave them submerged a la the corner barbershop.

I’m not going to address those claims that say you can wash beauty blenders or sponges in the laundry or- gag- the dishwasher, except to say that you probably shouldn’t wash them with anything you wouldn’t want to put directly on your face.

Top Tips to get the most out of your blenders and brushes 

  1. Don’t store them on the bathroom counter uncovered. You know all those gross stories that flushing the toilet gets germs on your toothbrushes and counters? Beauty brushes are at the same risk. Stow ’em.
  2. Sharing isn’t caring. Siblings, partners, roommates, it doesn’t matter, everyone needs their own makeup and applicators to avoid sharing bacteria, including the kind found in acne.
  3. Accept their lifespan. Brushes don’t last forever, and when they start fraying, splitting, or coming unglued it’s time to toss them. Say “thanks” for their hard work and bid them farewell.

Below are some of our favorite brushes and your basic brush-cleaning essentials.

This is the perfect starter kit for those looking to get the basic collection of brushes for every day use. Real Techniques brushes are used by professional makeup artists and are the gold standard for longevity and performance.

This balm is formulated specifically to prolong the lifespan of your Real Techniques brushes. With a deep cleansing pad included, this solid cleansing balm easily removes buildup. Just follow the same directions for blush cleansing when you use it, swirl, rinse and dry, and you’ll be all set.


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