TOOLS | Brush cleaning 101

There was a time in my life when I didn’t use makeup brushes. I used whatever applicator came with an eyeshadow or blush, and if there was none, it went on with fingers. After I started using makeup brushes it became apparent I needed to clean them in some way. And as you accumulate more and more, it becomes a larger and larger undertaking to clean them all. I did a big clean last week and took some photos of the process. I thought I’d share with you some of the things I’ve learned about brush cleaning along the way.

P.S. I’m writing this from the Mount where we are visiting Callum’s great-grandmother. I’m using my cellphone as a data hotspot so if I’m slow getting back to comments that’s why!

The first big question: What do I use to clean my brushes?
I keep a bottle of isopropyl alcohol and some paper towel handy with my makeup so that I can spot clean them after use. This is especially important for things like eyeshadow blending brushes, to remove the pigment from the bristles so you can use them with other shadows later. It is also important for keeping your brushes hygienic, especially when you’re using liquid products where bacteria can breed.

For a deep clean though, you need shampoo. There are special brush shampoos from brands like MAC that do the job, but I don’t think they’re necessary. I use a random shampoo I got a sample bottle of, and sometimes I use my Beauty Blender Cleanser. Baby shampoo is also good. Basically, you just want something grunty enough to get all the makeup out, but not something that is going to leave behind any residue on the bristles.

What else do I need?
Your dirty brushes, a towel, running water, your hand, a cup (optional) and a plate (optional).

Roll up the towel most of the way. You will rest the handles of the brushes on the roll, and the bristles on the flat, so they are angled downwards to dry. This will prevent water from running back into the ferrules (the metal part joining the bristles to the handle) and weakening the glue holding the brush together.

I fill the cup with warm water and dip each brush in here to moisten the dirty bristles. You can just run the tap over the bristles but I prefer to do this (for no good reason).


Squeeze a bit of shampoo onto your palm. This works well for large brushes but can be wasteful for the smaller ones, which don’t need much. I do all the large ones first, then once I get to the smaller ones I use the brush to pick up a little bit of shampoo from the plate. Pictured: this crazy plate with a dude relaxing on a prawn.

Now I swirl the bristles on the palm of my hand to get the shampoo right through. I usually have the tap running very slightly to rinse the gross, foundation-water that comes out away without removing all the shampoo. Then you want to swirl until you get a good lather and the rinse water runs clear.

Squeeze the remaining water out, reshape the bristles to their right shape (important or else your brush dries all weird… it’s like sleeping with wet hair) and lie them down on the towel. Leave them somewhere warm to dry and you’re all done! I don’t use conditioner on my brushes because I don’t want there to be any residue left on the bristles. If you do, you’re then transferring that to your skin every time you use the brush, which can cause irritation and breakouts.

I do a good deep clean like this once every 2 weeks or so. I should do it every week but when there’s so many of them it’s tempting to just pick up clean brushes instead of cleaning the dirty ones. How do you clean your brushes?

I’ll do a separate post about cleaning makeup sponges, as I am going to be doing a Makeup Sponge Smackdown soon – Beauty Blender vs. Real Techniques Sponge vs. Manicare sponge.

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  • If I had known brush cleaning was so easy, I would’ve done it earlier! I always thought you had to use fancy brush cleansers and whatnot hehe. Anyways, thanks heaps for sharing! x

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