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The Ultimate Guide to Cleaning Your Makeup Brushes and Sponges Like a Pro

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Main image – Juanmoyano/Stocksy

There are some things in life you just can’t avoid. Tax bills. Your car alarm going off multiple times in the early hours of the morning thanks to strong winds, waking up the entire neighbourhood. *facepalm* And cleaning your makeup tools.

Yup, I’m afraid the latter is a non-negotiable, no matter how much you want to go against all your environmental beliefs and just buy shiny new tools in order to escape this mindless task. But in the interests of our planet, I’m here to tell you that cleaning your makeup sponges and brushes doesn’t have to be a huge inconvenience. 

Here, managing director of Isoclean Benjamin Moffat and founder of Omorfia Make-Up Sharan Dhillon provide tips on how to make your makeup tool-cleaning process simple, how often you should do it (clue: it’s more often than annually, sorry) and which cleansing products are the best ones to use.

 

Set of brushes in a row on white background with scattered face powder

Image – Lightfieldstudios/Adobe

 

“Dirty brushes and blenders harbour dirt, grime, oil and accumulated product build-up, as well as skin-irritating bacteria such as acne-causing Propionibacterium acnes (P.acnes),” says Moffat. “What’s the point in your favourite blemish-busting products if you’re only going to apply foundation with a dirty brush?”

Good point. So, here’s to cleaner tools and as a result, healthier skin and a sparkling performance from your makeup.

 


How often should you clean your makeup brushes?

Ah, the million dollar question. Well ideally, after every use with a quick spritz of makeup brush cleansing spray, before deep cleansing them two to three times a month, according to Moffat.

Of course, this is all in an ideal world. So, if cleaning brushes after every use is unrealistic given your daily schedule, “we suggest cleaning your brushes once a week or, if possible, after every other use,” he adds. 

 


What about your makeup sponges?

“Sponges need cleaning just as much as bristles,” says Moffat, which means a quick cleanse ideally after every use- or at least every other use or once a week- and a deep cleanse two to three times a month.

Sponges are the biggest culprits when it comes to harbouring dirt, he explains. “A key finding from a study carried out by Aston University in Birmingham (October 2019) revealed that makeup sponges were the worst offenders and the most fungus-laden products, with 96% of the 79 sponges containing fungus, 93% of makeup sponges had never been cleansed and 64% of those had been dropped on the floor,” warns Moffat. Clean your sponges people!

He recommends trying the Isoclean Cosmetic Sponge Cleaner (£8 from Look Fantastic UK /$11.10 from Look Fantastic US). 

 


What should you use to clean them?

Whilst some social media influencers do their research and recommend the right things, others often don’t, and I’ve seen everything from washing up liquid to micellar water recommend for cleaning makeup brushes and sponges. But what do the experts say we should use?

“When it comes to cleaning makeup brushes, it’s important to use products specifically designed for that purpose,” warns Dhillon

Image – Beauty Blender

 

And her views on the hacks you’ll see all over TikTok and Instagram?

“While some common household items like hand sanitiser, shampoo, rubbing alcohol, vinegar, washing up liquid, and micellar water may seem like convenient options, they are NOT recommended for cleaning brushes. These products can be too harsh, leave residue, or damage the bristles of the brushes,” she explains.

 


How to clean your makeup brushes and sponges

Image – Alexander/Adobe

How to quick cleanse after every use (or at least once a week):

“Just a few sprays or dips of Isoclean’s Makeup Brush Cleaner (£17 from Look Fantastic UK /$23.50 from Look Fantastic US) will remove bacteria, dust, dirt, makeup and dead skin in just 60 seconds. No rinsing required,” explains Moffat. Well that certainly makes life easier. 

I also love MAC’s Brush Cleaner (£15 from Look Fantastic UK /$20 from Macy’s US), which also a rinse-free cleanser for cleaning brushes and sponges quickly. I’ve always found it remarkably good at removing visible dirt from brushes and sponges quickly while leaving bristles really soft.  It also smells lovely.

The downside? Annoyingly MAC’s cleanser comes with a twist top, not a spray, which means I have to add my own spray top to it for quick cleansing.

 

How to deep cleanse 2-3 times per month:

Using a makeup brush soap, “simply swirl the bristles in a figure of eight rotation around a scrubbing mat until the soap lathers up and really gets into the nooks and crannies of the bristles, loosening product and grime,” says Moffat. “Then rinse, gently squeeze out the excess, wipe and leave to dry.” 

The same technique works for your sponges, and you can also use the palm of your hand if you don’t have a scrubbing mat.

For cleansers, Dhillon recommends Isoclean’s Carbon Brush Soap (£10 from Beauty Bay UK /$20.10 from Look Fantastic US) and Beauty Blender’s Solid Cleanser (£15 from Sephora UK /$18 from Sephora US) for both brushes and sponges. “It’s specifically designed for cleaning makeup tools and does a great job of removing product build up and bacteria,” she says. 

When washing your brushes with water, “be gentle and avoid applying too much pressure on the bristles,” Dhillon explains. “Rinse the brushes with lukewarm water, making sure to keep the water away from the ferrule (the metal part) of the brush.”

Dhillon adds, “Remember to rinse them thoroughly,” ie, until the water runs clear, to make sure no soap or product is left in your brushes or sponges.

 


How to dry them

After washing, gently pat brushes or sponges with a clean towel to remove excess water, then, for brushes, “gently reshape the bristles with your fingers to restore their original shape,” says Dhillon.

She recommends then using, “a brush drying rack or tower allows your brushes to dry upside down, which helps maintain their shape.” If you don’t have a drying rack, let your brushes dry flat on a clean towel.

For sponges you can then simply let them air dry on a clean towel or a drying rack.

 


And the pro tips for best results

  • Use a silicone mat for a deep clean:

If your brushes or sponges are stained, “a silicone brush cleaning mat or glove can be great for deep cleaning the bristles,” Dhillon says. 

  • Use dedicated brushes for fast drying:

If you need your brushes dry in a hurry, Dhillon recommends the Omorfia Makeup Brushes. “They wash and dry within 60 seconds so you don’t have any more hassle or waiting around!”

  • Store your tools properly to reduce bacteria buildup:

You need to work out a way of storing your makeup tools so that it’s convenient for you, but also so that they’re harbouring the least bacteria possible. “Use a brush holder or organiser that keeps your brushes upright and separated,” Dhillon suggests. 

“Another option is to use a makeup bag or case with individual compartments for each brush. This allows for easy transport and keeps your brushes protected.”

 


The takeaway

From Moffat’s stats, particularly when it comes to makeup sponges, it is clear that cleaning your makeup tools is pretty sensible. You wouldn’t rub fungus on your skin, so why let it build up on your face tools?

A quick-drying cleaning spray is the best choice for brushes. It would be a good idea to get into the habit of spritzing each brush, preferably after every use. If you don’t have the time though, the experts say to do it at least every week. 

A brush soap is a great option for a deeper clean, either every one to two weeks, or up to three times a month. Use your fingers to reshape the bristles of your brushes after washing with water and store them in an organised place where there is plenty of space for them to air.  

 

Meet the experts

Benjamin Moffat is Managing Director of ISOCLEAN. Experts in cosmetic hygiene, the MUA-favourite brand develops fast-working formulas that clean your make-up brushes of dirt, dust and acne-causing bacteria in just 60 seconds – no rinsing required.  

 

Sharan Dhillon is founder of Omorfia Make-Up. Sharan has been working in the beauty industry for over 15 years. She started her training under Mario Dedivanovic (internationally acclaimed make-up artist of Kim Kardashian) and went on to run her own business where she has built up a long list of clients from the world of fashion and entertainment.

 

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Beauty Editor

The former Beauty Editor of Glamour UK, Philippa has been a beauty and lifestyle journalist for over 16 years, picking up countless tips and tricks from makeup artists, hair stylists, dermatologists and celebrities. In that time she’s written for names like Cosmopolitan, The Sunday Times Style, The Telegraph, Grazia, Refinery 29 and Byrdie. Philippa lives in the UK with her husband, two children and their hyperactive cockapoo, Paddy.

Expertise: Makeup, hair care
Education: Oxford Brookes University
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