How to Clean Makeup Brushes and Sponges, According to Professional Makeup Artists

November 14, 2022
Jordan Julian
By: Jordan Julian | by L'Oréal
Assortment of makeup brushes

Believe it or not, makeup brushes can wreak havoc on your skin. Because brushes are used and then re-used, they accumulate makeup, dirt and oil rather quickly. 

While it may seem like a time-consuming chore, the good news is that cleaning your makeup brushes is actually pretty easy and can be done quickly. Once you get into the habit of regularly cleaning your brushes, it will become a second nature part of your beauty routine and you’ll forget there was ever a time when you weren’t doing it. 

Keep reading to discover expert tips on how to clean makeup brushes easily, quickly and effectively.  

Why Should You Clean Your Makeup Brushes?

There are several reasons why it’s super important to regularly clean your makeup brushes. The main reason is, of course, to prevent bacteria and dirt from building up on your brushes. When not taken care of properly, makeup brushes can cause breakouts (and even worse, cause fungal infections). “If you have dirty brushes, then you are applying dirt and bacteria onto your face,” points out Flynn Pyykkonen, CEO and Founder of Makeup By Flynn Inc. No thanks! 

There are aesthetic benefits, too. Another plus of cleaning your makeup brushes often is that it will actually make your makeup look better. With clean brushes, your makeup will go on smoother and more evenly. 

Lastly, cleaning your makeup brushes and sponges will help extend their lives so you don’t have to buy new ones as often — a major win for your wallet!

What Should You Use to Clean Your Makeup Brushes?

As you may already know, there are specific products out there designed to thoroughly clean your brushes. Professional makeup artist Kasey Spickard suggests investing in a makeup brush cleaner like the Cinema Secrets Makeup Brush Cleaner or the Beautyblender Blendercleanser Solid

If you don’t have a makeup brush cleaner on hand, though, a gentle cleanser or a micellar water will work. The Garnier SkinActive Micellar Cleansing Water 2-in-1 Waterproof Makeup Remover is one of the best for this. The micelles in this water-based cleanser capture and lift away any dirt, makeup and oil.

garnier skinactive micellar cleansing water

Pyykkonen, meanwhile, uses dish soap on her brushes and sprays them with a disinfectant between clients. She finds that, when mixed with water, dish soap most effectively rids them of dirt. 

How to Clean Makeup Brushes at Home

Step 1: Rinse Off Residual Makeup

The American Academy of Dermatology Association (AAD) recommends beginning by rinsing your brushes underneath lukewarm, running water to remove residual makeup. Tip: Avoid submerging the whole brush under the water, as it can dissolve the glue that holds the brush together. 

No sink? No problem. You can saturate bristles with a few spritzes of a thermal water spray, like the La Roche-Posay Thermal Water Spray.

Step 2: Swipe, Spin, Swirl Your Brushes

“To clean, lightly dip your brush in the brush cleaner and then swipe back and forth in the direction the bristles are laid on a piece of paper towel,” says Spickard. “For round brushes, you can use a swirling motion (first clockwise, then counterclockwise).” Repeat this process until the brush is clean. 

Step 3: Use a Spray for Stubborn Stains

If the paper towel and brush cleaner combo isn’t doing the trick, Spickard suggests using 70% isopropyl alcohol in a spray bottle to remove stubborn stains and to disinfect especially dirty brushes. This is also a great way to clean your brushes any time you share them with friends. 

Step 4: Squeeze Out the Residual Makeup

Pyykkonen also recommends gently using your (clean!) fingers to squeeze the saturated brush head to get rid of any stubborn excess makeup and dirt.   

Step 5: Let Them Dry

Be sure to let your brushes thoroughly air dry before you use them again. The quickest way to dry them is by standing them upright in a cup, but you can also lay them out on a towel. 

How Often Should You Clean Makeup Brushes?

It’s recommended by the AAD to wash your makeup brushes every seven to 10 days in order to kill the harmful bacteria that lingers in your makeup brush fibers. “Makeup brushes are a breeding ground for bacteria, especially brushes used with cream products,” says Spickard. “It's important to clean your brushes to avoid getting breakouts on your skin.”

What Should You Use to Clean Your Makeup Sponges?

As you have probably concluded by now, regularly cleaning the makeup sponges that you use for foundation, concealer and contouring is also super important. In fact, frequent deep cleaning may even be more crucial with sponges.

“Because sponges are moist with water they are prone to bacterial growth, mold, etc.,” explains Spickard. “So you really do want to deep clean and sanitize your sponges.”

Since sponges absorb water in a way that brushes do not, you will need different supplies to thoroughly clean them. “To clean your makeup sponges you want to use a soap that is good at breaking down the oils from complexion products like foundation and concealer,” advises Spickard. 

As with makeup brushes, he likes the Beautyblender Blendercleanser Solid, which is a solid bar of soap specifically formulated for cleaning makeup sponges. The solid form of this cleanser makes it way more travel-friendly than a liquid soap since it won’t spill in your suitcase and it comes in three options — lavender, charcoal and unscented. 

Beauty Blender Blendercleanser Solid


In addition to the Blendercleanser Solid, Spickard uses dish soap. “Both of these are great at breaking down the makeup that gets absorbed by your makeup sponge.” To kill any bacteria that may be living in your sponge, Spickard also suggests spritzing them with 70% alcohol after cleaning. 

How to Clean Makeup Sponges at Home

Step 1: Wet Your Sponge

“Wet your sponge with the hottest water your hands can tolerate,” Spickard recommends. (Of course, be mindful that the water isn’t so hot that it burns your skin.) Make sure to fully saturate it.

Step 2: Add Soap

Next, you’ll want to saturate your wet sponge with plenty of the soap of your choice. Once you’ve added the soap, massage it into the sponge with your fingers, taking care to focus on spots where makeup has accumulated.

Step 3: Rinse and Squeeze

Hold the sponge under running hot water to rinse it and squeeze out the soapy makeup mixture. Repeat the process of rinsing and squeezing over and over, as many times as it takes for the sponge appears clean and the water runs clear. 

Step 4: Disinfect With Alcohol

Finish off by spritzing your newly cleaned sponges with 70% alcohol to kill any remaining bacteria and remember to squeeze after you’ve spritzed so that the spray penetrates into the sponges. Then, lay them out to dry on a paper towel. 

How Often Should You Clean Makeup Sponges?

Excessive though it may sound, Spickard cleans his makeup sponges after every use. After all, it’s better to be safe than sorry when it comes to hygiene. Your skin will thank you. He advises completely replacing them every few months. 

Photographer: Chaunte Vaughn

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