We Tested Different Makeup Brush Cleaning Tools To See Which Ones Really Work

Go go gadget brush cleaner!
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Practk Palmat, $9.95, available at practk.com. Photo: Lauren Hubbard/Fashionista

Practk Palmat, $9.95, available at practk.com. Photo: Lauren Hubbard/Fashionista

It's not exactly a secret that you should be cleaning your makeup brushes… no doubt more than you probably are. Like daily flossing or hitting the gym, giving your makeup brushes a good scrub down every week isn't difficult; the issue is more that it's just so easy to let it fall by the wayside. You're busy, you lost track of your cleaning schedule, you really can't sacrifice your brushes for the hours it will take them to dry out and are you really even getting them that clean anyway? I know your excuses. I've used them too, then quietly simmered in guilt over all of the dirt and oil I was probably depositing right back onto my skin.

In my best infomercial voice, I ask: There has to be a better way, right? Fashionista has reviewed one brush cleaning device before, but there are, in fact, plenty of other options out there. So I went on a mission to find out which one works best. I tested out five different options, and after much trial (and the occasional error), I chronicled my findings below.

Sigma Spa Brush Cleaning Mat

Sigma Spa Brush Cleaning Mat, $32, available at sigmabeauty.com.

Designed to fit into the bottom of your sink for minimal-mess washing, this electric pink silicone pad is covered in different zones of nubs and ridges, each texture supposedly performing a different brush-purifying function.

The procedure is simple: wet brush, apply soap, swirl brush over the appropriate section (they're helpfully marked in case you, like me, are unable to discern the labyrinthine logic of the different textures). Then rinse while sweeping over the assigned "rinse" section, and rub the brush over the "refine" section for… reasons, I guess. To be honest, even after using it, I'm still not entirely convinced that the whopping seven different designs of bumps and whorls (three for face brushes, three for eye brushes and an additional all-purpose refining segment) perform drastically different functions, but I will say that they seemed to work. After a round of cleaning per the instructions, my scuzzy foundation brush left no trace of makeup residue when I swept it over a clean tissue — and considering I couldn't remember the last time I had washed that thing before then, I'd call that a major win.

For ease of use, this one scores big for me; just flop it down in your sink and go to town. Tiny suction cups on the back are supposed to help the mat mold to any sink shape, and although I experienced a bit of slippage in my oddball square sink, it wasn't enough to really inhibit the cleaning process. The open format also meant that weirdly shaped brushes and other tools like sponges also worked readily (though not always as smoothly), and there's something satisfyingly old school about washboarding your beauty tools into submission.

Pros: Effective. Easy to use. Simple to clean. Rolls up for easy storage. Good for any size and shape of brush. Also suitable for sponges.

Cons: Multiple sections can be intimidating. Suction cups were mediocre.

Sephora Color Switch by Vera Mona

Sephora Color Switch by Vera Mona, $18, available at Sephora.

The Sephora Color Switch sets out a slightly different goal than the other cleaners I tested: Rather than attempting a full-brush clean, this coarse plastic mesh (remember when hair donuts were a thing? This feels like the same material) is designed to allow you to seamlessly switch eye-shadow colors without having to use multiple brushes. It's handy if you're trying to cut back on your brush arsenal, or if you're just lazy, like yours truly. It comes in a tin about the size of your average compact and can be flipped over and/or washed if it starts to lose its cleaning potency.

To test out the Color Switch's chameleon prowess, I picked out the brightest shades from my powder pigment collection — a royal purple, emerald green and a Barbie pink — coating the brush in the color, then wiping it off on the Color Switch before sweeping it across a clean tissue. While I noticed some staining of color remaining on my brush, none of the three shades had any rub-off on the tissue.

Impressed, I decided to take things a step further and tested out a switch from blush to bronzer to highlighter with one of my facial brushes. The results were a little less stellar, with a slight wash of pink left behind from the blush and a noticeable shimmer from the highlighter. At a guess, I'd say it might have something to do with the more densely packed bristles, but considering that the colors I use on my face have far less dramatic contrasts than my eye shadows, I'd still call the switch a passable cleaner there.

Honestly, aside from shelling out nearly $20 for a tiny puck of what appears to be fairly inexpensive material, I can't find much to complain about.

Pros: Effective. Can be used for a long time.

Cons: Better for smaller brushes. Expensive for what it is.

StylPro Makeup Brush Cleaner and Dryer

StylPro Makeup Brush Cleaner and Dryer, $64.43, available at stylfile.com.

One of the more annoying parts of cleaning your makeup brushes is waiting for them to dry out afterwards. The StylPro sets out to fix that problem by making both the washing and drying steps of your brush cleaning routine super-speedy with a spin cycle. Specifically, it comes with a small motorized spinner (batteries included), eight different size silicone collars to stick your brush handles into, a connector to attach the spinner to the collars and a special bowl to keep all of that gyration contained. It's a fairly elaborate setup, compared to the other cleaners I tested.

The StylPro can be used with the brand's own branded brush cleaner (an oil-based formula that doesn't have to be rinsed off after cleansing) or classic soap and water, so I tried it out both ways.

With the cleanser, I emptied one of the sample packets into the bowl, then fitted brush, collar, connector and spinner together. After giving the brush head a quick dip into the cleanser, I turned the spinner on. It makes a mild whirring noise, similar to those little handheld fans that pop up like daisies during concert season, spinning the bush fast enough that the bristles flare out almost like fan propellers too. Raising and lowering it into the cleanser a few times, the makeup seemed to fly right off. Even better, once I pulled the brush out of the bowl and turned off the spinner, the brush was already dry. Like magic! I'd been concerned that the cleanser would leave an oily residue, but after wiping it against a towel as the instructions suggested, it simply felt clean and passed the tissue test with flying colors. Or no colors, as the case may be.

For the soap and water, I added a pump of my usual brush cleanser with a quarter cup of water (the pictures on the box show it being used with very little water, and considering how the soap foams up when you stick the brush into it, I can see why). The process was identical as with the cleanser, although this time I held the brush above the water for several additional seconds at the end before turning off the spinner to get rid of more water. Unlike the cleanser version, the brush was still slightly damp when it came out, though drastically less so than my usual dunk and scrub method. Within an hour it was fully dry, which was way faster than the other versions I tested. When I brushed it over a tissue, there was an extremely faint stain of color left behind.

My main complaint with the StylPro is that it requires keeping track of a lot of pieces and parts. The connector in particular, an absolute essential for keeping the device functional, is small and doesn't readily lock into any of the spots on the dock for the rubber collars. After my second test, I figured out that by removing the top of the bowl I could fit the collars inside, helping to keep them contained, but I wish it came with a bag or something to make sure nothing wanders off.

The collars also have a few issues. Though the brand has provided you a good variety of sizes, particularly small or tapered brushes like the one I use for eye shadow, non-round handles or double-ended brushes just aren't a good match. Likewise, you're going to have to hand wash any additional tools or sponges that don't come with handles.

Pros: Fast cleansing. Fast drying. Wide variety of collar sizes for different brushes. Effective.

Cons: Bulky. Lots of parts to keep up with. Not suitable for some brush sizes and shapes. Not suitable for sponges and other tools. 

Swirl + Sparkle

Swirl + Sparkle, $24.99-$34.99, available on Etsy.

On the low-tech end of the spectrum, Swirl + Sparkle is an organic solid brush cleansing soap paired up with a set of craggy acrylic "diamonds" in the lid meant to function as an added scrubbing surface. The cleanser comes in a bunch of crazy, if tasty sounding, scents (Caramel Pretzel Bar?) and many have designs on the surface, which give bristles something more to agitate against. Using it made me feel like an old-fashioned barber, lathering up shaving cream in a tin cup.

To use it, you wet the brush and swirl it around over the surface of the soap, adding more water as necessary until a frothy foam develops. Within about a minute, the foam started to turn white, suggesting the brush was clean. For extra deep cleaning, I then scrubbed my brush over the cluster of jewels, which felt unnecessary on my first brush, though on my dirtier blush brush some more pink started to seep out during that second sweep. From there, I simply rinsed out the brush, lid and the surface of the soap.

The brand claims that you may notice your brushes drying faster after use, but I didn't pick up on any of that. The final results yielded brushes that were scrupulously clean, with not a smudge left behind on my trusty clean tissue. It does seem expensive for what it is, but considering that after cleaning several brushes and working into a hearty lather there was no noticeable product loss (the edges of my sugar skull weren't even dulled) it appears the cleanser will last for a long time.

My biggest source of concern with the Swirl + Sparkle is that unlike silicone agitators like the Sigma pad, the "diamonds" in the lid are made from hard plastic, which could potentially be damaging to the bristles of delicate, natural-bristle brushes. To this point, the brand recommends using light pressure when scrubbing over the gems, but I'd say for your average, regularly cleaned brush, the cleanser alone would probably do the trick.

Pros: Easy to use. Minimal mess. Compact (you could even use it for travel).

Cons: Jewels could be damaging to bristles if used incorrectly. Have to wait for the soap to dry out before storing.

Practk Palmat

Practk Palmat, $9.95, available at practk.com.

Similar in concept to the Sigma mat, the Palmat is made of bright, flexible silicone with different raised textures for washing and rinsing brushes. Where it strays from the formula is in design. Comprised of two connected circles, the mat is meant to be strapped onto the hand so that the cleaning surfaces rest on the front and back of the palm (though it also has suction cups on the back should you wish to use it in-sink). Each side has a unique texture, and it's a bit more Choose Your Own Adventure than the Sigma version, since there are no guidelines about which one to use for different brushes.

I found putting on the Palmat to be somewhat awkward; the fastener straps each have three different holes so it can size up or down depending on your hands, but I struggled to get them locked into place while wearing it. I gave up on that method, eventually securing them first and then slipping my hand inside. At that point, I had to take a break because my cat instantly fell in love with my new fancy-textured handwear and demanded to be petted for 10 minutes.

Once I finally tore the Palmat away from the loving ministrations of my cat, using the mat was the same wet-soap-scrub-rinse procedure I'd been through before. Having the flexible pad in the palm of your hand makes manipulating the soapy brush head easy, though I found using the back of the hand cumbersome. Given the size, I think this cleaner is better suited to more petite brushes like those for eye makeup. But my favorite use for it was actually as a sponge cleaner; the malleability of the in-hand round made it ideal for squishing and scrubbing the grime out of both full-size blenders as well as hard-to-clean teeny tiny ones, like my Beautyblender Micro Mini. The sponges and eyeliner brush I tried out on the Palmat both passed the tissue test, though the bronzer brush did leave a faint tint behind.

Pros: Inexpensive. Compact. Makes manipulating brushes easy. Good for small brushes and sponges. My cat's number-one pick.

Cons: Slightly awkward to put on. Small pad not ideal for larger facial brushes. Messier than the other options I tested.

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