How often should you really be cleaning your makeup brushes? We learnt the top tips to keep your beauty tools in check

young teenager applying eyeliner in domestic bathroom
A guide on how to keep your beauty brushes clean Carol Yepes - Getty Images

Cleaning your makeup brushes is up there with booking a dentist appointment or returning your ASOS parcels when it comes to life admin. By that we mean, it’s so much effort.

We hate to be the one to tell you, but cleaning your tools is crucial. Not only does it keep away bacteria and germs, but it also means they’ll last longer and work more effectively. So, if you don’t want to have to keep investing in expensive brushes, this is the way to do it.

To make ticking that task off your to-do list that much easier, we’ve asked the experts on the least painful way to get the job done, and it turns out it’s not as much of a faff as we thought. Who knew?

We quizzed MAC’s Global Senior Makeup Artist, Dominic Skinner, on how he keeps all the beauty tools in his kit clean. Safe to say, we learnt a lot.

How do you clean makeup brushes?

The big question is: to fairy liquid, or not to fairy liquid?

While our go-to sink staple might be the most convenient option, it also may be worth considering a specific product designed for the job of cleaning makeup brushes.

“A brush cleanser will be formulated to remove excess makeup, grease and oil, plus bacteria while conditioning and maintaining the brush and its performance.” explains Dominic.

You can use regular household products if that’s the only way you're going to remember to get the job done, but Dominic warns the method might have some drawbacks,

“You can use soap but that can dry out the hair and make them split,” he explains. “Personally, with brushes used for liquid foundation or lipstick, I do use an antibacterial washing up liquid on them first, but I will always follow up with a brush cleanser as it's better for brush health”.

So if you’ve forked out a few pounds to invest in your tools, it might be worth the extra couple of pounds to get a pro brush cleanser to make them last longer.

To really get out all the grime that’s built up, we cannot rave about these little rubber cleansing mats enough. Not only are they as cheap as chips, but it also makes getting right to the core of the brush that much easier and requires minimal effort.

Just apply your brush cleaner, add a bit of water and swirl your foundation around the mat. You’ll see your foundation brush go from muddy to bright white in no time.

How to clean makeup sponges

Cleaning your brushes may be one thing, but your beauty blender and makeup sponges are a whole other level. Basically, they’re impossible to clean.

If (like us) you just end up swapping out the old one for a new model everytime they get a bit grubby, Dominic has the answer to how you can keep them ticking for longer.
“My tip for cleaning sponges is to soak them in soapy hot water until the water cools to lukewarm. This bath will help the soap and the antibacterial agents to get deep into the sponge and you’ll get more product out of the tool”.

Genius, if you ask us.

What’s the fastest way to clean your makeup brushes?

Time is valuable, so if you’re in a rush and don’t have time for a thorough clean, Dominic has some time-saving tips.

“Most cosmetic brush cleansers can be used neat on a tissue and sweep the makeup brush back and forth over it. This will remove excess makeup, sanitise the brush and it will dry quickly to then be able to be used on someone else.” advises Dominic.

You mean we don’t have to wait for them to dry? Sign us up.

How often should you clean your makeup brushes?

It’s a task that we all put off and leave as late as we can, but how regularly should we actually be cleaning our brushes and sponges?

“If you are using brushes on different people they must be washed and sanitised between each client,” says Dominic. “If the brushes are only being used on yourself then daily is still recommended but at least once a week will be fine. I won’t tell anyone, your secret is safe.”

That doesn’t sound too bad. Just think of it as your new weekly Sunday activity. Your brushes will thank you later.

Should I be replacing my makeup brushes after a few years?

There’s no denying the financial squeeze we’re all under right now and makeup brushes aren’t cheap.

There does come a time where our favourite tools do start looking a bit worse for wear, but how long should they realistically be lasting for before we have to trade them in for a newer model?

Turns out, a regular clean can lengthen the lifespan of your go-to brushes.

“A good makeup brush should last a lifetime,” he says. “They tend not to because people shove them in bags, use them to scrub on makeup instead of brushing it on, never clean them – or worse, clean them badly. I’ve even heard of people putting them in the dishwasher! If that’s you, please stop. The makeup gods are watching and they are unhappy with you!”.

Take notes, people.

“This is why if you look after your brushes, have a reasonable sized bag for them so they aren’t bent over double, wash them properly (meaning the water touching just the hair and going no further) they will look after you,” says Dominic.

If your brushes are looking a bit squidged in, there is the option of upgrading your makeup bag (we’re with you, ours is larger than life), but you can also do a purge…

Use your spare time out to do a spring clean

If your main issue with cleaning your stash is that it takes you an age, it might be a sign you have too much. I know, I know, it’s a sin to mention your beauty collection getting out of hand (read: overflowing), but a good declutter can be great for your space and your mind.

Now’s the time to slice the ends off any dirty-looking lipsticks (look out for discolouration or bumpiness), tap smashed, loose pigments into containers (or the bin, if they’re too far gone), clean your mirrors and reunite your lip liners and eyeliners with their lids.

If you’ve got time, give your make-up and other tools a spritz with The Beauty Hygiene Collection’s Plus Quick Dry Makeup Sanitising Mist, £2.50.

How to purge your beauty stash

You can’t spring clean without trimming the fat off of your cosmetics collection. If the thought of making those types of decisions fills you with dread, just imagine the peace of mind you’ll feel when you’ve downsized. Book out a couple of hours, stick on a podcast, and lay all of your make-up out before you. If you’re a hoarder, work through it section by section: palettes, lipsticks, bronzer, blusher and so on. We’re talking mostly makeup at the moment, but the same principles apply to the rest of your cosmetics, too.

Make three piles:

  1. Ride or dies - products you use at least three-four times per week, and repurchase when they run out.

  2. Occasional treats - things you use when you’re feeling particularly experimental or indulgent.

  3. Space wasters - mildly regrettable impulse purchases, gifted beauty you just don’t use, palettes you’re scared of and disappointing products that do nothing but make you mad.

Good news – piles one and two are safe, just check your expiry dates. Here are some tips to keep in mind...

First things first, if you’re dealing with skin treatments, SPF, hair colourants or other products with active ingredients, find the expiration or ‘best by’ date, and treat with the utmost respect, even if it’s unopened. If you ignore it, the best case scenario will be ineffective products, the worst, reactions or burnt skin due to lack of adequate SPF protection.

Getting rid

Is guilt getting in the way of a good clear-out? For the eco-conscious, this can prove difficult.

If you’re looking for a good home onto which to pass your beauty, there are tonnes of initiatives which will collect your lightly-used products and ensure they're put to good use - the easiest is the DropPoint app, which will connect you to a charity looking for cosmetic donations, and tell you where to drop it off / provide you with a reduced-price postage label.

And, if you’re looking for somewhere to drop cleaned, recyclable beauty containers, try Terracycle’s interactive map.

So there you have it - our complete guide to purging, cleaning and disinfecting your stash. Keep it clean, queens.

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