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How to Clean Makeup Brushes and Sponges

Sanitizing your tools is easy and necessary — but you may not be doing it the way you should.

December 14, 2023


You’re probably aware that having clear skin comes down to several factors, including a solid skin care routine, your diet and genetics. But what you may not know is that if you want all the effort you put into your skin care routine to be worth it, then you’re going to need to wash your makeup brushes and makeup sponges (blenders) regularly too. 

In addition to causing color transfer and muddiness when doing your makeup, brushes and sponges that haven’t been washed harbor bacteria that can lead to breakouts. Plus, dipping dirty tools into your makeup also transfers bacteria to your products 一 not just your face. To make sure that this doesn’t happen to you, keep reading to find out how to clean makeup brushes and makeup sponges the right way 一 and how often you really need to wash them. 

How Often Do You Need to Wash Your Makeup Brushes? 

There’s no perfect science to this, but if you’re using your makeup brushes and sponges daily, it’s a good idea to thoroughly clean them once a week. However, if you can’t make that happen, give them a good clean at least every other week and treat them with a brush cleanser in between.

Brush cleansers are typically liquid formulas that come in spray bottles making it easy to spot treat your brushes. They have a high alcohol content which helps to kill bacteria, and they’re great for getting rid of pigment from makeup as a quick fix. But the truth is, they’re not as effective at eliminating bacteria as traditional soap so you don’t want to use them as a permanent solution.

What’s the Best Soap to Clean Makeup Brushes?

You can buy a brush cleanser made specifically for makeup brushes and makeup blenders, usually in the form of a bar soap or liquid. If you don’t have any on hand, you can keep it simple by using products you already have at home. 

A gentle shampoo, hand soap, or daily facial cleanser like the L’Oréal Paris Age Perfect Nourishing Cream Cleanser
can work perfectly to help break down the makeup or dirt that has caked onto the bristles over time without damaging your brushes.
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What Should You Not Clean Makeup Brushes With?

While you may have heard that dish soap is a good option for cleaning your brushes, it can be pretty harsh and cause the bristles to dry out since it’s meant to break up food particles and grime. Instead, pick one of the gentler options we mentioned above.

How to Clean Your Makeup Brushes

Follow the steps below to wash your makeup brushes and make sure they stay clean and in top shape.

1. Lather and Swirl

Set up shop at the sink and start running lukewarm water. Begin by wetting your dirty makeup brushes under the water. Be sure to point the brush with the bristles facing down 一 this helps prevent water from seeping into the handle and loosening the bristles over time. Then, squeeze a small amount of cleanser in the palm of your hand. Take a brush and swirl the bristles in your hand to help loosen the debris. You can also rub your brushes on a brush cleaning pad (a silicone mat with texture and ridges that will remove debris from your brush) to help clean them.


2. Rinse and Check

Once your brush is thoroughly sudsy and the cleanser that was in your hand has started to change colors, rinse off your brush. Repeat these steps until the water starts to run clear, and your tools have returned to their original color. Remember that some brushes are densely packed and have long bristles — like stippling brushes — so ensure that they’re properly washed by spreading the bristles apart and making sure the soap and water gets on every bristle before you move on. 

3. Test and Dry

When you’ve finished rinsing, gently brush your tools against a microfiber cloth or towel (even a textured paper towel will do) to test their cleanliness and dislodge any last bits of dirt or makeup that might remain. Then lay your brushes down to dry on a towel, which will help absorb any excess water. 

How to Clean Your Makeup Sponges

We love makeup blenders because they help seamlessly apply liquid and cream products. But if you’re using dirty ones, you could be doing your makeup routine more harm than good. The good news is, cleaning makeup blenders and sponges is just as easy as cleaning makeup brushes. Here’s what to do:

1. Lather Away

First, squeeze your dirty makeup sponge a few times under water to thoroughly wet it. Then, pour a small amount of liquid cleanser onto the blender and massage it in to loosen the makeup stuck inside and on its surface. 

2. Rinse and Squeeze, and Repeat

Rinse and squeeze out the excess water. Keep squeezing and repeating until the water runs clear — add more cleanser as you go if necessary. 


3. Dry and Store

Leave your blender on a towel to dry, then store it in a cool, dry place until you’re ready to use it.

How Do You Dry Makeup Brushes?

You may be tempted to put all your makeup brushes in an upright position while they dry, but don’t. Storing wet brushes standing up can cause water to leak into the metal bit beneath the bristles which can potentially lead to mold — the same way that washing them with the bristles facing up can. 

To dry your makeup brushes, lay them down on their side on a towel, or you can buy a specific drying rack for makeup brushes that will let your brushes hang upside down so the water will drip out of the brush. For a makeup sponge, you should also leave it on a towel to dry.

How to Store Makeup Brushes

Once your brushes are dry, store them in a dry place. In recent years we’ve seen an increase of retailers offering storage devices for makeup tools. If you’d prefer not to invest in one of those you can get creative and store yours in a mason jar, a beautiful glass vase, or even a small bin that can sit on your vanity. Place your brushes upright so that they don’t come into contact with anything that could transfer bacteria or residue onto them. As long as you keep them somewhere dry your makeup brushes should stay in good condition.

How to Store Makeup Sponges

Similar to makeup brushes, makeup sponges need to be stored someplace dry to avoid bacteria buildup and to maintain the integrity of the spongy material. If you have the space, you can place a vertical rack on your vanity to hold several makeup sponges. One of our favorite innovations is the use of empty egg cartons for sponge storage. Since makeup sponges are about the size of an egg it makes sense that they would fit perfectly in those little carton cutouts. Just opt for a paper carton to ensure that it stays dry (and so that you can see when it isn’t).

How Often You Should Replace Makeup Brushes?

Generally speaking, makeup brushes last about one to three years, but this will depend on the material that they’re made of, as well as how often you use them. If you notice your brushes’ bristles are becoming frazzled, stiff or are falling out of the brush, it’s time to get new ones. As for makeup sponges and blenders, replace them every three months.

What Happens If You Don't Clean Your Makeup Brushes?

Applying makeup with a brush that already has makeup residue on it can ruin your look — transferring old foundation or concealer onto your face. It just makes the application process more difficult than it needs to be. 

Not cleaning your makeup brushes can also result in the transfer of bacteria and oil from your brush to your skin when you apply your makeup. You probably know where this is going: Bacteria can cause breakouts and oil can clog pores, also leading to breakouts. And once you dip that same bacteria-ridden tool into your products, you could also be dipping that bacteria into your fresh makeup products. 

So the stakes are high if you’re applying makeup with dirty brushes. You should avoid this at all costs since it takes just a few minutes to clean your brushes every week.


Next: How to Use Concealer as Foundation

Photographer: Chaunte Vaughn

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