Cleaning Makeup Brushes Like A Pro

Makeup Tutorial

In the Makeup Brush Buying Guide, we discussed materials, construction and brush shapes. Properly cleaning your makeup brushes is the most critical step to maintaining and protecting your investment. Let’s look at the how pros keep their tools in tip-top condition.

With each use, your makeup brushes become coated with more than just makeup residue.  They pick up body oils (sebum), dead skin (yuck!) and airborne dust and dirt (what?).
They need to be cleaned regularly AND properly.  If not, all of this debris will build up and negatively affect future makeup applications and decrease the life expectancy of your brushes… forcing you to replace them more often ($$$).  The most dangerous consequence of dirty brushes – they become a playground for bacteria that can cause skin problems and possible infection.

There are a few basic ways we go about cleaning our makeup brushes.  Some are a quick fix, while others are reserved for a more time-consuming deep cleaning.  Both are necessary for optimum makeup brush health.

CONSUMERS: If your brushes are only for personal use, spot cleaning daily and full cleaning once a week should keep them in top condition and skin safe.

BEAUTY PROFESSIONALS: If you’re a makeup artist, it is imperative that you clean your brushes between applications.

  • Never reuse a dirty brush on two people; it’s an open invitation to passing infection (herpes, pink eye – need I say more?)
  • Never blow excess product off of your brushes (do you realize how much bacteria is in saliva?).

For jobs where I’m working on a large number of people, I carry at least 3-4 full sets of brushes (each full set is 8-9 brushes).  After a makeup is complete, either my assistant or I do a quick cleaning/disinfection of the used set and I begin the next makeup with a clean duplicate set.  This allows set 1 to dry completely so they’ll be ready for the next face. Professional makeup artists should do a full cleaning of their brushes at the end of each day.


You’re probably familiar with ‘spray and wipe’ or ‘quick dip’ makeup brush cleansers. Most professional brush cleaners have disinfecting properties (due to the alcohol content) along with surface cleansing.

Simply spray the cleanser on brush bristles or quickly dip them into a small amount of cleanser (in a shallow bowl or cup) and then gently wipe with a paper towel or shop towel.

The high alcohol content in instant cleansers enables brushes to dry quickly, so you can continue working. Unfortunately, this time-saving benefit leaves a film of cleansing agents and some of the debris behind.  This quick clean process is great for removing surface makeup and disinfecting but will not get embedded makeup and debris out of your makeup brush – that’s why we wash them (we’ll discuss that a little later).

Some of the most popular professional makeup brush cleansers are:

Cinema Secrets – Possibly the most popular brush cleaner among pros because of its intense cleaning abilities and signature ‘vanilla’ scent.

WARNING: Not the gentlest on expensive natural hair brushes and the blue tint will stain light-colored or white brushes.

Beauty So Clean – WipeOut Brush Cleaner – (my favorite brush cleaner)
The addition of natural sea salt to this formula gives it professional strength cleaning, stain removal, and antibacterial properties without all the chemicals – yet it passes the “red lipstick test” – and we all know how hard it is to get that out of brushes. I love the fresh, clean, scent.

Parian Spirit –  Parian uses citrus oil solvents to deep cleanse and condition brushes while leaving a pleasant grapefruit-like scent behind.

WARNING: Excess oil solvents will be absorbed into natural hair brushes, but a slightly oily residue will remain on non-porous synthetic brushes (nylon, taklon, polyester).

Ben Nye & Kryolan Brush Cleaners – Both of these brands work very effectively to remove oily residue (foundation, concealer, etc.) from makeup brushes. No pretty scents here, you can smell the high alcohol content of both products (but it disappears when the brushes are dry).


Kevin's DIY Instant Brush Cleaner

If you use a lot of brush cleaner (like I do), a money ($$$) saving alternative is to make your own.

Mix in a non-corrosive acrylic or glass container:

  • 13 oz of 70% Isopropyl or Ethyl Alcohol (to disinfect)
  • 2 oz Cosmetic Grade Acetone (to remove tough makeup residue) Pure acetone is available at reputable beauty suppliers like Sally Beauty.
  • 1 oz Dow Corning 244 Fluid (as a solvent) 244 fluid is available at all pro makeup resources.
  • OPTIONAL: Essential oils to scent the cleaner.
  • OPTIONAL: Liquid food color to tint the cleaner.

NOTE: This formula does not contain emulsifying ingredients (which are unnecessary), so it must be shaken before each use.

Some of my favorite fragrance combinations are:

  • Grapefruit/Rose
  • Lavender/Amber
  • Ginger/Bergamot
  • Sweet Orange/Mint

Essential oils of Tea Tree or Grapefruit Seed add additional antibacterial properties to your homemade brush cleaner.
Use this formula the same way as you would any commercial spray or quick dip brush cleaner.


Regular full washing will preserve your quality makeup brushes and keep them in optimum shape.  Natural hair makeup brushes deserve the same treatment as the hair on your head.  Would you shampoo your hair with dishwashing liquid?  Of course not, it would make it dry, brittle and cause breakage – the same thing will happen to your natural hair makeup brushes. Use products that are specifically designed to clean brushes or quality hair shampoo.

These are some of my favorite solid brush cleaning soaps.

When my brushes are extra dirty, I wash with ‘detox’ shampoo.  These shampoos are designed to remove stubborn styling product build-up on hair.  That makes them ideal for removing stubborn makeup (creamy and waxy) from natural hair or synthetic fiber makeup brushes.

Some of my favorite Detox shampoos are:

Mix 1 part shampoo to 4 parts warm (not hot) water in a small bowl or mug.  Dip the brush head in the solution, then gently massage it through the bristles.  Rinse the bristles well with warm water and squeeze the excess water out of the brush with a towel.  Reshape the bristles and lay them out on paper towels.  If you can, lay the brushes on a counter with the bristles hanging over the edge.  This will allow air to circulate all around the brush head to dry faster.

IMPORTANT: NEVER stand your brushes up in a cup or container to dry.  The moisture will seep back into the handle, loosen the glue, and could rot or warp the wood handle.  It will also cause the bristles to ‘splay’ or fan out and dry in a different shape.

If you use natural hair brushes, you MUST condition them periodically.
Massage some Jojoba, Flax Seed or Hemp Oil into the DRY bristles and let it sit for about 5 minutes.  DO NOT RINSE.  Add a small amount of shampoo directly to the bristles and massage it into the oil.  Now begin to add small amounts of water until lather appears.  Rinse and dry as described previously.


Even if you’re washing brushes with a soap that claims it disinfects, it’s a good idea to take an extra antimicrobial step by spraying with 70% alcohol after they have dried completely. #BetterSafeThanSorry


The #MyTwoCents Blog is informational only and not a substitute for professional advice. Product(s) featured in posts were purchased unless otherwise noted. ALL reviews are unsponsored, and product links are NOT MONETIZED (no affiliate links). Outgoing links are directed to reference sources and trusted retailers. Click the star (above left) for more Legal information.

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