How-to Clean your Makeup Brushes & Take Care of Your Brushes

How to Care for your Makeup Brushes

How-to Clean your Makeup Brushes

Start by choosing either a mild shampoo or brush cleanser. There is a slew of brush cleansers designed with makeup in mind from just about every brand that also has brushes (and some that don’t!). You can also use a mild shampoo that’s designed for human hair as well.  Either method works just as well–it depends on what you like.

Shampooing requires at least an eight hour window for drying (a little less for eye brushes, a little longer for denser, larger brushes); brush cleansers are often alcohol-based and can be used as a spot cleaner between applications or dry within minutes as opposed to hours.

If you use brush cleanser, read the instructions. I know, that sounds way too basic, and almost like a cop out, but brush cleansers vary in technique. Some brush cleansers require water, others don’t. For instance, Sephora’s Brush Shampoo works much like a shampoo and requires the same process, while on the other hand, shu uemura’s Brush Cleanser has you pour the brush cleanser into a small glass, swirl the brush in it, and then press the brushes against a towel to reshape. Often, an alcohol-based cleanser is a process that doesn’t need water and will also dry faster than cleansers that need water.  Lay flat on a towel to dry.  Always lay your brushes flat (or clothes-pin them so they hang with brushes pointed downward) to avoid water getting into the handle and ferrule (which can cause rust or deterioration of the brush).

If you use shampoo, begin by wetting the brush you want to clean with lukewarm water (never hot) and then dip in shampoo/cleanser. Brush the brush back and forth to absorb the shampoo and start to work up a lather/foam. With larger brushes (like for powder or blush), I also like to squirt a little shampoo into the center of the brush and really work up the lather. After you’ve worked the shampoo into the brush, gently run it under water and repeat the back and forth brushing motion until the water runs clean (and there are no signs of suds, either). Gently squeeze out any excess water and lay flat on a towel to dry.  Always lay your brushes flat (or clothes-pin them so they hang with brushes pointed downward) to avoid water getting into the handle and ferrule (which can cause rust or deterioration of the brush).

If your brushes are incredibly dirty or stained, try using an oil-based product, either jojoba oil or a marketed “cleansing oil” (Bobbi Brown, MAC, and shu uemura all make one). Apply a little bit to the brush, swirl and work it in, and then add a bit of lukewarm water. Swirl some more, get a little lather going, and then rinse until the water runs clean.

Or if you’re more of a listener, here’s a video on how to clean your makeup brushes.

Find out about the basics of good brush care!

How-to Take Care of Your Makeup Brushes

Clean your brushes frequently to avoid bacteria or product build-up. Regular cleanings keep your brushes in better working order. Brushes used with creams or liquids (anything emollient) should be washed shortly after use, particularly if using a brush with lipstick or gloss. The stickiness of gloss can often gunk up a brush and make a real pain to get it out if you don’t clean it quickly!

Stand brushes upright or laying flat. (When they are dry!  Lay them flat when wet to dry.)  Doing this will help them retain their shape and keep bristles from splaying every which way. Keep brushes out of direct sunlight to help maintain their quality and keep them from fading.

Avoid staining your brushes by washing them immediately after using white or light colored brushes. Even though sometimes you can manage to find a way to remove or significant remove a stain later on, I’ve found the easiest way to combat staining is simply to nip it in the bud!

Always re-shape your brushes after you’ve washed them. Your brushes will dry in the shape they are left wet, so you’ll want to shape them into the shape you expect while they’re wet or damp so they’re the right shape when you go to use them the next time.

Never blow-dry or use direct sunlight to dry your brushes, as it can cause permanent damage to your brushes. If you are pressed for time, opt for an alcohol-based cleanser and spray or dampen a paper towel and then sweep the brush against the paper towel until it’s clean. Alcohol-based cleansers have a much faster drying time compared to brush cleansers or cleansing methods that require shampoos and/or water.

Beauty Lessons is a series of posts focusing on going over the basics of beauty topic by topic.   You can find all of the previous Beauty Lessons here.


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Melly Avatar

Do you use brush guards to maintain the shape of your brushes? I despise ordering things online, but idk the best way to keep the shape of my 109 and 168.

Any tips??

Rengirl Avatar

Although Brush guards are pretty inexpensive, I still think it’s a waste of money if you want to use them to dry your brushes upside down. Even when I used the most snug size, my brushes still splayed a little and medium/large brushes took forever to dry (2 or more days). Instead, I lay my brushes facing on a downward incline (with a rough towel so the friction keeps them from slipping down).

Once your brushes are already dry, they do a decent job of keeping brushes a good shape but if you have quality brushes, this is not necessary.

Dianna Avatar

I’ve heard that it’s not wise to stand a brush upright while it dries b/c water can get into the ferrule and cause it to rust over time. I’ve never had it happen to me but I avoid doing so just in case 🙂

What’s your favourite brush cleanser?

Christine Avatar

Yes, don’t do that when it is wet – only when it is dry 🙂

I like MAC’s, but I really haven’t tried that many. It’s one of those things that if it does its job, you never feel inclined to stray from. I guess ’cause brush cleanser is kind of boring!

Sherry Avatar

Is there something that you can use in addition to cleaning your brushes that will keep them feeling soft? It seems like after cleaning them that some of them feel stiff. This goes for my low cost brushes and even a couple of my MAC brushes. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

Christine Avatar

What are you currently using?

You can use a conditioner or a deep conditioner periodically to help give your brushes the softness you want. Whenever I have brush issues, I think about, “How would I solve this… if it was the hair on my head?”

Sherry Avatar

I use baby shampoo. It is just the Walgreens brand of baby shampoo. I don’t know if that makes a difference since it is a cheap brand. I did not know I could use a conditioner on them. I will give it a try. Thanks Christine.

kurisu Avatar

use an oil-based product that Christine mentioned. Jojoba oil itself is a fantastic moisturizer for your face, and can definitely keep your brushes soft after you use it for a quick clean. Jojoba oil can also be used as a gentle makeup remover, as opposed to EVOO/olive oil. So yea after you use your brush, just add a few drops of jojoba oil on your brush to clean it, and wash it off. There won’t be any residue, and it definitely keeps your brushes soft, WITHOUT ruining how your makeup will be applied.

Vanelle Avatar


So I noticed the MAC brush cleanser instructions says to ‘rinse’ after cleaning, but most people don’t, even the MAC MU artists. So is it okay to just cleanse and leave to dry and skip the rinsing step?

Christine Avatar

Hi Vanelle,

I always rinse with my MAC Brush Cleanser unless it is for a spot clean, then I’ll wipe it on a paper towel. Spot cleaning (for me) is usually if I need to use the same brush again soon or if my other brushes are dirty (but I am pretty meticulous these days and wash after every use!).

Dusty Avatar

I don’t tell ANYONE to do this because I don’t want to be responsible for f*cked up brushes, but about twice a year, I take my white-hair brushes (217, etc.) and give the tips a quick dip in a solution of 50%water/50%bleach. I have a thing about my white brushes being WHITE!

Even though I clean them all the time, they still get a little stained after 5 or 6 months and this makes them look brand new! Just a second or two, not long!

I’m probably violently raping my brushes when I do this, but they look so pretty when I’m done 🙂

Christine Avatar

LOL, Dusty!

I have heard that whispered a few times in my ear 😉 Like you, I wouldn’t personally recommend it… just once of those things you gotta decide for yourself, haha.

Definitely don’t do it too long or else those white bristles may turn yellow!!

Ashley Avatar

A quick add: I don’t remember where I read this (heck, maybe I got this tip from one of the comments here!), but there is another way to wash brushes with shampoo/soap that is a little easier and requires much less product.

Instead of placing the shampoo onto each brush individually, just mix up a batch of foamy water in a small cup (or even a bowl would work, but might be messier as they aren’t as shallow). I find that a ratio of 2:1 for shampoo to water works best, or an even ratio if you tend to spot cleanse would work. Take your brush and swirl it around in the water for a little while, but don’t smoosh the brush into the glass. The movement of the brush in the water can help remove the build up with much less water and soap. Then, in a separate glass or just under a stream of water, rinse the brush. You might have to repeat this to get the brushes completely clean, but it saves a lot of time and soap/water for me! Also ensures that my hands don’t dry out from washing the brushes. I’ll usually also smoosh the brushes into my palm before rinsing to ensure the lather is clean before rinsing though.

sf Avatar

If anyone has cold cream or noxzema lying around that works fabulously for cleaning brushes. I was getting fed up with my brush cleanser and brush shampoo not cleaning well enough so I tried the cold cream. OMG not only does it get rid of all residue my brushes are super soft. I do not break out either from using this, love it!

MacAddict Avatar

Why if our brushes are stained should we use jojoba oil? Is there some other type of oil that can be used, besides jojoba oil? Such as olive oil, rosemary oil and so on. Or is jojoba oil meant to remove stains?

Vonvon Avatar

Thanks for the tips. I just opt for my little girl’s baby shampoo to clean my brushes which I do so every week or at least, every few days if I use the brushes more frequently.

make_up_maven Avatar

I’ve never done anything special to clean my brushes.

My oldest brush is a blush brush I purchased while getting my makeup done for my 1st wedding in 1991! It’s an Estee Lauder brush and it’s 19 years old – it’s lasted 16 years longer than my first husband! LOL It’s in great shape and I still use it EVERYDAY – including just a few hours ago!

The only thing I’ve ever done is wash it in dish liquid, reshape it and let it air dry – I never even layed it flat, I stand it upright and never had a issue. I have many brushes that I’ve cared for this way – but I use the blush brush as an example because I’ve been caring for it this way for 19 years and it’s still going strong – the handle is “weathered” from being in purse etc., but it’s still awesome – so I dunno! LOL

MariaPaula Avatar

Hi, Christine!!
Funny! I just DEEP cleaned my brushes for the first time in months 2 hrs ago! I know that’s bad. I usually spot clean them. But for those who have heavily stained brushes [stippling brush, white hair brushes, italian badger brushes] use EVOO & Antibacterial dish soap [preferably one that smells nice]!! My brushes have never been so clean! They’re pretty close to the white color as for when I bought them!!

Aimee Avatar

These are some great tips. The only thing that I would add is that with cleansing oils they won’t work if you use them on a damp/wet brush as they are designed to work on a dry face.

BrownBrickhouse Avatar

I use the Sephora Daily Brush Cleaner after every use. Then once a month (or if I remember) deep clean with MAC brush cleaner.

Christina Avatar

I love using anti-bacterial dish soap mixed with a little olive oil for my natural hair brushes. I use just dish soap for my artificial ones. The clothespin idea is such a good idea! I need to try that, I feel like even laying my brushes flat can cause water to gather in the ferrules.

Luisafer Avatar

This is way helpful!!! thanks!!!
Remember when I first use makeup jajajaja…. only bought the ones at the supermarket, used to use the sponge applicators, was bad. One day I heard that makeup artist and models disinfected everything they used so I started investigating and finally got what I need to apply and clean it!!!

Heidi Avatar

What I’ve tried for softening my rough brushes, is to work a tiny, tiny drop of Biosilk Silk Therapy into the bristles. Its a product for dry/ damaged hair, so I figured it might help a scratchy brush lol?

I tried this on my green 219SE, and its now super soft. I used about a pin-drop sized amount and am pretty pleased with the results!

Jennifer D Avatar

Oh my gosh! Does anybody remember this makeup artist that was on the Tyra show about three years ago that said to put your brushes in the microwave for 30 seconds for a fast way to disinfect??? I was getting ready to go do a wedding and had three brushes that were a maybe use? and wanted to take them. So, I used this method. Within 30 seconds the handles had melted and had blisters on the ferrel. That was ridiculous. I was like, did she just make this up. For kicks, I thought it may have just been the brand so I came home and tried a few other brushes that I don’t like and they all (being different brands) did the same thing at 30 seconds. I think she made this up. Has anyone else heard of this?

Cassy Avatar

Was that the episode where they took some girl’s makeup kit and showed how germy it was? I just remember an episode like that when I was bored in the hospital (the only reason I would watch the Tyra show, lol) Anyway I think the lady you are talking about is a nutso. Not even having to do with disinfecting, there is metal on the brushes (ferrule) and that could cause a fire if you microwave them!

Nancy Avatar

Hi Christine,
I have many Mac brushes face and eyes and it’s overwhelming to keep up with cleaning all of them at once, I was wondering has any of your MAC brushes ever rusted on you over time on the ferrule part or loosened up at the ferrule?? and also if you don’t clean a MAC 182 kabuki will it ruin it?

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