Cleaning your makeup brushes - how often and when?

(Image courtesy of Unsplash)

27th January 2021

By Tarini Tiwari

I was a major tomboy growing up, and only got into makeup at around the age of 16 or 17. When I did, I was shocked by the realization that my brushes would get caked with makeup really quickly and would need to be washed. This was devastating. “Makeup requires maintenance? Upkeep? Effort? Maybe I should just throw in the towel.” However, I soon found washing my makeup brushes to be a cathartic process, especially as my induction into the world of makeup coincided with the beginning of my long struggle with cystic acne. Washing my brushes made me feel as though I was working towards improving my skin, as they were trapping bacteria along with the residual makeup that was making my acne worse.

So, how do you correctly wash your brushes? The truth is, that there’s no one correct method. I’ve experimented lots over the years, and this is just what works best for me.

1. Find a brush cleaning pad. I bought one from Primark that was very cheap. It’s silicone and has suctions at the bottom so that it can stick to the sink while you clean your brushes. The pad has multiple ridges and bumps that help get the product out of the brush, and its curved edges help in reusing the soapy water so that you don’t waste too much! You can check it out here.

2. Get a brush cleaner. I skipped this step for years, thinking it was all a marketing ploy. I’d use shampoo or shower gel, but besides the copious amounts of both that I’d end up wasting, their heavily alkaline compositions were also breaking down the glue holding my brushes’ bristles in place. This made them wear down faster, which just meant I was losing money in the long run. I bought a brush cleaner from Wilko on a whim, not expecting it to be any good, and it was incredible. It cut the cleaning time down by half and also was so much less abrasive. You can also buy a liquid brush cleaner that requires no water, if you need to clean brushes on the go; for example when using your make up brushes on a friend.

3. Get scrubbing. Soak the brush cleaning pad with water and squeeze in a dollop of the brush cleaner. Swirl your brush around in the mixture and let it form a lather, making sure you also scrub the edges of each brush. I usually tend to run each brush under the tap for a while afterwards to get as much of the soap out as possible, and then I swirl them on a towel to partially dry them.

4. Beauty blenders. I have been fighting a long battle against my makeup sponges, desperately trying to get them clean. When your skin is acne-prone, the amount of bacteria that a sponge absorbs is a death wish. It’s imperative to clean them regularly, but you can’t use the same method as the brushes. If you rub them on the pad, the sponge will tear and it will become even easier for bacteria to get trapped inside. Instead, make a mixture of brush cleaner and boiling water and leave the sponge soaking in it overnight. The next day, squeeze it repeatedly and run it under a tap to remove the product that the sponge has absorbed over time. If you want to scrub away some superficial makeup from the sponge, you can use the palm of your hand as a sort of pad, as it isn’t harsh enough to rip into it.

5. Time to dry! I am very guilty of this, but it’s terrible for your brushes if you leave them to dry upright. The remaining water and soap will seep down towards the barrel and slowly dissolve the glue holding the bristles in place. Therefore, it’s best to suspend them upside-down. I’d suggest tying them to the bottom of your radiator or along any horizontal bar using hair elastics, since that will allow the water to drip out. After about a day, swirl each brush on a towel to fluff the bristles up again, and you’re good to go! I

Ideally, you should be washing your brushes after a few uses/once a week, but I honestly don’t adhere to this. As long as you’re not using brushes that are so dirty that you can’t remember the original colour and you’re not noticing any negative effects on your skin, I’d say once a fortnight is a safe bet for regular makeup wearers.