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How to Clean Your Makeup Brushes, According to the Experts

Photo: Getty Images

There’s a slew of creative ways to clean your makeup brushes, as evidenced by the internet — from rubbing them in dish soap to sticking a BeautyBlender in the microwave — and certainly in theory, you could do all of these things. But what’s the most efficient way to do it that will prolong the life of your beauty tools (and keep them from getting contaminated)? We turned to some professionals who would know. Here, a dermatologist and two makeup artists — including Rihanna’s makeup artist Mylah Morales — weigh in on the best practices for cleaning your makeup brushes and sponges, followed by the best products for doing so.

How to clean your brushes

Before we get into the right cleansing products for your brushes, you’ll want to get a handle on how to clean your brushes correctly. One foolproof method comes from dermatologist Sejal Shah of Smarter Skin Dermatology, who recommends that you wet the bristles with lukewarm water, place a drop of the cleanser of your choice into the palm of your hand or on a cleansing mat (more on that later), gently swirl the bristles onto your palm or mat to create a lather, and work the lather through the bristles. Then you can rinse the brush thoroughly, squeeze out excess water gently with a soft towel or cloth, reshape the bristles in the head of the brush, and let them dry.

There are different schools of thought on how to dry, but Shah says you should prevent damage to the brushes by drying them with the bristles hanging off the edge of the counter, or upside down with the bristles facing downward on a brush-drying rack. “You should always lay them flat or make sure that the brushes are never upright,” says Morales, “because you don’t want water to drip down into the handle and ruin the brush.”

For a BeautyBlender sponge, the process is similar. Shah says you should squeeze cleanser onto the blender sponge, then compress the blender gently, working the cleanser into a lather. After that you rinse it, squeeze out any excess water, and place it on a towel to dry (and never in a closed container where it could build up mold and bacteria). If you’ve been skimping on cleaning, consider this: All of the experts insisted on cleaning brushes and BeautyBlenders once a day — preferably after every use — to avoid buildup and breakouts. Now that we know how to do it, let’s talk about what to use.

Cleansers for synthetic brushes and BeautyBlenders

BeautyBlender BlenderCleanser Solid Pro Soap
$45 at Amazon

Morales likes to break up her makeup-brush cleansing routine by type. “I have a different go-to product for different brushes,” she says. For synthetic brushes and BeautyBlenders, Morales typically uses this soap created by BeautyBlender. “With BeautyBlenders that are really soiled, I use dish soap because it gets the products out of it, or I use the BeautyBlender soap that it comes with.”

BeautyBlender Liquid BlenderCleanser
$18 at Amazon

“There are some theories that putting your BeautyBlender in the microwave after placing it in a cup of water with some liquid soap thoroughly cleanses it. It’s worth a try, but I prefer the basic soap-and-water approach,” says makeup artist Vanessa Ungaro. For BeautyBlenders and all of her brushes — synthetic and real — Ungaro uses this BlenderCleanser liquid soap. “The BeautyBlender liquid cleanser is easy to travel with and great for getting out stains. It has a gentle formula containing coconut surfactants, which keeps your brushes soft and your BeautyBlender in perfect condition.”

Cleansers for brushes with real hair

Dr. Bronner’s Pure-Castile Liquid Soap
$7 at Amazon

Morales likes to use shampoos exclusively for her fancier brushes with real hair, and says that any shampoo you have at home will do. She didn’t have specific recommendations, but typically, people like to use baby products on their brushes and sponges since they don’t contain any harsh fragrances or ingredients (which could cause breakouts if used on your makeup brushes). So we might pass along this Dr. Bronner’s soap and shampoo, which has come up multiple times on the site as a stellar baby product.

Quick-fix cleansers

Parian Spirit Professional Brush Cleaner
$18 at Amazon

Some days you might not have the time to do a full cleansing routine, so you could also grab a cleansing spray, which has a slightly different (and simpler) cleaning process than a shampoo or cleanser. When she’s in a hurry, Morales uses this Parian Spirit brush cleaner, which she either sprays on the brush head directly or on a paper towel first, blotting the head to remove makeup. (“Most of the time, I like to spray it on the towel so it’s not directly on the brush.”) You can repeat this as necessary to gently remove the dirt from your brush and use a dry paper towel to dry the bristles, or lay the brush flat to air-dry.

BeautySoClean Wipeout Brush Cleaner
$28 at Amazon

When Ungaro needs a quick clean day to day, she uses this brush cleaner from BeautySoClean. “It contains sea salt as its major ingredient, so it’s ecofriendly and a natural stain remover that kills bacteria, but keeps your skin soft,” she says. If you’re spraying it on the bristles directly instead of with a paper towel or tissue, you can also gently swirl the brush onto a clean towel or cloth afterward to remove any lingering makeup, then air-dry flat.

Make Up Forever Instant Brush Cleanser
$23 at Amazon

Shah prefers this fragrance- and alcohol-free cleansing spray that’s less irritating for skin.

What to use if you want help

Japonesque Brush Cleaning Mat
Photo: Eric Muetterties/©2017 Eric Muetterties Photography
Japonesque Brush Cleaning Mat
$14 at Ulta

In order to help massage soap all the way into the bristles, it helps to add friction with a cleansing mat that has soft bristles or surfaces to help remove oil and gritty powders from the bristles. Morales uses this Japonesque cleaning mat, which has five different textured surfaces for cleaning your brushes.

NYX on the Spot! Brush Cleansing Pad
$11 at Ulta

For a more compact option, Ungaro recommends this handheld cleaning pad from NYX that you can grip in one hand and swirl with your brush in the other.

Sigma Beauty Brush Cleaning Mat
$32 at Amazon

Shah suggests this hyperpopular Sigma cleaning mat (you might recognize it from YouTube), which has a bunch of different raised surfaces for cleaning your brush.

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How to Clean Your Makeup Brushes, According to Experts