How to Clean Your Makeup Brushes Like a Pro

Two of Olivia’s trusted makeup artists weigh in on their foolproof methods, plus how often we should.

Beyond the products we use to highlight and paint our faces, makeup brushes are the strongest and perhaps the most frequently used tools in our kits. They ensure the smooth application of foundation or that makeup stays intact with setting powder, but investing time into their care can often fall by the wayside. Now more than ever though as cleanliness is an utmost priority, lathering up brushes and doing so more often is essential to prevent both bristle damage and bacteria buildup. Makeup artists are certainly experts at this process, and while each has preferences on the right way to do so, they promise that cleaning does not need to be a daunting task. Here, Sam Tsan of Charlotte Tilbury and Victor Alvarez share their tips for getting their tools squeaky clean and how you can get your own in tip-top shape, too.

How often do you recommend cleaning brushes?
"Keeping brushes clean is so important to a makeup artist. Always prioritize washing any brush that pairs with liquid or cream product first as bacteria grows easier there. I spray those every other day (if they have been in use) and then recommend doing a deep clean on all other brushes once a week," says Sam Tsan. Victor Alvarez also agrees with a weekly cleaning frequency, primarily if the brushes are used daily and are of high-quality. He says, "Focus on the foundation brush, concealer brush, or highlighter brushes and then move to powder brushes such as an eyeshadow brush or a loose powder brush."

What is the step-by-step process to clean?
Tsan explains her method: "First, I'll fill a glass with brush cleaner and dip the bristles in. Once wet, I'll use a tough tissue like a clean kitchen towel to swirl and rub the makeup off onto. If there is a lot of product, you may need to repeat this step. Once the brush is clean, I'll spray Isopropyl Alcohol, which you can order from any drug store [example linked here], to sanitize the brush completely. Mold the bristles back into their normal shape and leave the tools out to completely dry on a flat, clean tissue or paper towel."

Photo: Sam Tsan

Is brush cleaner or soap best?
Alvarez has a similar cleaning process to Tsan but switches his type of cleanser based on the bristle material. He shares, "For my natural fiber brushes, I'll lather in a mild cleanser like a shampoo and clean with warm water to eliminate bacteria and oil residue." The difference here is time. "I prefer gentle shampoo/soap for deep cleaning and brush cleaner for quick cleaning," says Alvarez. Tsan prefers a regular cleaner always and notes, "Brush cleanser tends to have an antibacterial agent that most generic soaps or shampoos won't have. The alcohol ingredient evaporates much faster so the overall dry time is quicker.”  

Brush cleaner of choice?
"I recommend the Dior brush cleaner as its perfect for cleaning brushes quickly and gently," says Alvarez, while Sephora's brush cleaner is Tsan's on-the-go pick.

Any tips for cleaning tricky products like a beauty blender or sponge?
"Clean these as often as you can as they are a cozy little home for bacteria!" warns Tsan, "For that reason, dipping one into a cleaner solution is key for the antibacterial properties." 

When is it time to part with a brush for good?
"If you take great care of your brushes, you'll have them for years," says Tsan, "Synthetic brushes will last longer. Natural brushes, like our hair, can shed and break faster." According to Alvarez, the best time to discard a brush is when the bristles weaken or start to fall off. Tsan agrees, "Yes, replace brushes when this starts to happen—no one wants extra, facial hair stuck to their makeup!"

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