This is how to clean your make-up brushes quickly at home – without ruining them

It’s the beauty chore we all dread but cleaning your make-up brushes needn’t take hours. We share the fast tricks that really work and those that… really don’t.

“I love washing my make-up brushes,” said no one ever. But if you’ve noticed you’re suffering from a sudden influx of spots – the kind of teeny under-the-skin blemishes that seem to appear out of nowhere – you can bet your best foundation brush that your toolkit is in need of a clean. 

With solutions like baby shampoo and brushes cleansers, and even a washing machine for your brushes, there’s no need for elbow grease and an hour-long session. Set aside just a few minutes to give your tools the TLC they deserve and your skin – and make-up application – will thank you for it. Promise. 

How often should you clean your make-up brushes?

Brace yourselves: a spring clean every season isn’t going to cut it. For tools used with powders, such as eye shadow brushes, you can get away with a monthly clean. But experts say you should be washing your base brushes, especially those used for cream and liquid formulas, on a weekly basis. Don’t panic, though, even Stylist’s own beauty team are guilty of pushing the boundaries. 

Start aiming for a deep clean at least every fortnight – combined with quick ‘spot cleans’ in between – and the visible improvement in your skin texture, blemishes and make-up finish will soon have you wanting to get scrubbing more often. 

How do I spot clean my make-up brushes at home?

’Spot cleaning’ refers to giving your brushes a speedy ‘once over,’ usually using a fast-drying solution. With no sink or water required, it’s a bit like dry shampoo for your make-up brushes although it’ll remove some of the dirt and disinfect, not just freshen them up. It’ll make those deep-cleaning sessions even easier as well as keeping things sanitary in between.

When we say it’s speedy – we mean it. Simply dampen some kitchen roll with your chosen cleaner then swipe your brush over, repeating until it stops leaving any make-up residue. Spot-cleaning solutions tend to have a high alcohol content which means your brushes will dry in a matter of seconds so you can use them again straight away. NYX Professional Makeup On The Spot Makeup Brush Cleanser Spray, £9, works a treat.

What should I deep clean my make-up brushes with?

This is where the real magic happens – if you haven’t cleaned your tools in a while (or – yikes – forever) prepare to see a pretty horrendous level of grime come off them. For your weekly (or fortnightly) deep clean, you’ll need warm water and some kind of ‘soap’ to really banish the bacteria, left-over make-up and oils deep down. 

Baby shampoo is popular for good reason – it’s as cheap as it is gentle. In fact, even A-list make-up artist Mario Dedivanovic, who’s worked with Naomie Harris (below) has been known to use Johnson’s Baby Shampoo, £1.50 – mixed with antibacterial tea tree oil – to de-grime his own tools. 

If you use long-wear cream or liquid products, you’ll need something that’s better able to cut through the heavy-duty leftovers. Good old washing up liquid can do the trick although you risk damaging the bristles. Instead, opt for a targeted formula that’ll both polish up and protect.

Like hair shampoos, there are all kinds to choose from and, ultimately, it all comes down to personal preference. BeautyBlender Liquid BlenderCleanser, £16, is a great all-rounder and, despite the name, doesn’t just work on sponges. It’s one of the most effective brush cleansers we’ve tried, erasing every hint of nastiness without stripping the bristles thanks to a low-foaming formula.

Bobbi Brown Conditioning Brush Cleanser, £10.80, is another smart investment that even promises to ‘extend the life’ of brushes. It’s a great one if you like your bristles feeling super-soft and a little goes a very long way.

Wet the bristles with warm (not hot) water, pop a drop of your chosen cleaner into your hand then gently massage before rinsing. Repeat until the water runs clear then squeeze out the excess moisture – we find ultra-absorbent kitchen roll is most effective. Reshape the bristles then leave to air dry by hanging them off the edge of a table or hard surface.

Make sure you’re keeping the water away from the area where your bristles meet the base as it can cause the glue to disintegrate – as can drying with a radiator or hairdryer – leading to shedding.

Solid balm cleaners can feel a little less sanitary as you’re supposed to swirl your brushes straight on top before rinsing. If you’re on-the-go, though, they work a treat and are another good option for keeping bristles feeling conditioned. You’ll spot Japonesque Solid Brush Cleanser, £16, in many a make-up artist kit while Revolution Pro Hygiene Sanitising Solid Brush Cleaner, £4.99, is an excellent choice if you’re on a budget. 

Do I need a make-up brush cleaning mat or glove?

While they’re not essential, if you want to turbo-charge your clean-up session – and save a bit of legwork – than a make-up brush cleaning mat or glove is a smart buy. Made from plastic, these boast a textured surface that helps manually loosen dirt and make-up, while saving sensitive hands. 

Real Techniques Brush Cleansing Palette, £12.99, promises to clean brushes 55% more effectively when used with Real Techniques Deep Cleansing Gel, £6.15, versus hand-cleaning with water alone.

Sigma Spa Brush Cleaning Glove, £32.15, works in a similar way although the silicone nodules are even more raised for maximum sloughing powers. It’s great for getting deep into the base of dense foundation brushes or kabuki brushes. 

Do I need a brush cleaning machine and dryer?

Just when you thought make-up tool cleaning couldn’t get any more new-gen, meet the washing machine and tumble dryer for your brushes. Masterminded by The Apprentice winner Tom Pellereau, StylPro Makeup Brush Cleaner and Dryer, £39.99, uses a battery-operated spinning device to transform your brushes in seconds. 

For oil-based products like liquid foundations, eye liner and lipstick, you’ll need the matching StylPro Makeup Brush Cleanser Solution, £8.99, but for powders, liquid soap does the job. While the actual ‘spin and dry’ process happens faster than you can say ‘clean brushes, please,’ it’s a little bit of a faff to set up. But for the manual scrubbing saved – if not the sheer novelty – it’s worth checking out. 

Do other make-up brush cleaning methods like vinegar, olive oil or baby oil really work?

You’ve probably heard all kinds of bizarre hacks when it comes to brush cleaning. Mixing olive oil or baby oil with washing up liquid can help to clean and soften as can a blend of warm water and vinegar. 

But for the sake of your make-up tool kit (and to avoid your brushes smelling like a chippie) we’d recommend opting for a targeted make-up brush cleaning solution. If it’s the green credentials you’re after, check out Dr Bronner’s Liquid Soap, £12.39, that’s made with organic and certified fair trade ingredients. Fans like Drew Barrymore and Lady Gaga rate the multi-tasker that also doubles up as a body wash and hair shampoo.

Images: Courtesy of brands

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