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Back to Basics: How to Clean Your Makeup Brushes

A guide for keeping your tools in tip-top shape (and bacteria-free).
Makeup brush maintenance is key. Photo: Getty Images

Makeup brush maintenance is key. Photo: Getty Images

"Basic" may have adapted a negative connotation in recent years, but there's no shame in seeking advice on theoretically simple sartorial conundrums. In our latest column, "Back to Basics," we're here to guide you through life's most common (and important) fashion and beauty concerns.

You wouldn't think twice about washing your clothes on a regular basis or changing your toothbrush every so often, but for some reason, the tools we reach for to apply makeup sometimes get neglected.

Don't get us wrong: We've experienced many mornings where we sit down to put on foundation or eyeshadow and think some variation of "Oops, I definitely meant to clean these last night. I'll just do it tonight!" Well, after a long day at the office (and a couple glasses of wine later), the last thing you're likely to remember to do is lather up your angled liner brush in the sink. And so the vicious cycle of uncleanliness begins. But we're on the case to save your bacteria-caked brushes (and skin!). Without further ado, here's everything you need to know about cleaning your brushes (and Beautyblenders, too!) and keeping them that way.

If it's been a while, you should probably deep clean

If you use your brushes on a daily basis, there's a good chance you're accumulating product buildup. To rid brushes of any caked-on makeup as well as bacteria, reach for a liquid brush cleanser like the OG one from MAC, or a bar soap specifically formulated for getting rid of makeup (like Beautyblender's Blendercleanser Solid or Koren Zander's Brush Soap). For the MacGyver take on brush cleaning, you can also reach for some dish soap to get the job done, but keep in mind that you're working with harsher chemicals here, which can wear down your brushes more quickly.

When washing your brushes, it's important to always hold them upside-down so water doesn't seep into the ferrule (the metal piece that connects the brush hairs to the handle), and loosen the glue. Makeup artist Katie Jane Hughes recommends holding brushes face-down under lukewarm running water and working brush bristles back and forth on a solid brush soap. "I love the Sephora one," she says.

Once your tools are squeaky clean, make sure you take the proper steps to dry them, too: "Squeeze excess water carefully from the brush and lay [it] out over an edge to dry," recommends Hughes. "I'll often put a small towel under the top end of the brush so the head points down toward the ground — this will help make you brush last longer and dry better."

To restore your beloved Beautyblender back to its neon pink glory, follow similar steps to cleaning brushes along with a bit of elbow grease: "Work your fingers into the soiled areas to help break them down," explains Hughes. "Rinse under the faucet again and keep going with these steps until your sponge is clean, and air dry on something that won't cover the sponge's sides."

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It's not just for cute pink sponges! Photo: Beautyblender

It's not just for cute pink sponges! Photo: Beautyblender

Maintenance is key

Take care of your brushes in between deep cleans by wiping off any excess product immediately after use either with a clean towel or with a bit of brush cleanser, like Temptu's S/B cleaner (which works on the brand's airbrushes in addition to traditional makeup brushes) for a quick clean.

If you're going to be using several shades or products at once, we suggest pouring a tiny amount of liquid cleanser into a tiny cup or jar and keeping it accessible to remove buildup quickly in between applications. (Note: this works fine for personal tools, but if you're working on multiple faces, make sure you're giving them a thorough wash because dirt and sebum are real.)

But wait, there's more!

Making sure your brushes and sponges are free of dirt is a great habit to form, but the same rules also apply to beauty tools that don't actually come in contact with makeup. Things like eyelash curlers and tweezers can also store oil and breed bacteria since they're constantly touching your hair and skin. Lightly mist these with a 70 percent isopropyl alcohol spray, let sit for a few seconds and wipe away. 

Lastly, make sure to be aware of any changes in color or scent with your cosmetics, as these can be an indication that the product has gone bad. Items packages in tubes (like mascaras and lip glosses) or jars are especially prone since you can't really clean them, unlike lipstick bullets and and powders, which can be disinfected with a light spritz of cosmetic sanitizer mist, like this one by Beauty So Clean, which unlike pure alcohol, won't dry out creams or powders or affect pigments in any way. Here's to keeping your brushes #sofreshandsoclean.

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