How to Properly Clean Your Makeup and Brushes
Step-by-step instructions, because germs are so last year.
Keeping your face healthy is hard work. There’s the special soaps and washes, of course, and then all the extra bottles (and effort) to exfoliate and moisturize, not to mention the mud masks and the toner. Face care is nearly an Olympic sport—which is why you’re not going to throw all that effort away with germy makeup and grimy brushes, right? Right?!
You might not like to think about it, but makeup can carry just as many germs and bacteria as anything else in your home. While we regularly go to great lengths to clean our bathrooms and kitchens, it’s easy to forget about our lipstick and curlers. Here’s the good news: it’s incredibly easy, takes little to no time at all, and there may even be vodka involved. But in all seriousness — in this day and age of 12-step skincare routines, don’t make it all for naught by putting grimy makeup on your perfectly moisturized face!
Below are our favorite tips and tricks for making sure your makeup stays fresh and clean.
The simple rules of makeup cleaning
- Clean it. Daily use makeup should be sanitized weekly or biweekly—especially if you’ve been sharing it, traveling, or feeling under the weather.
- Toss it. Throw out all expired makeup. If you’re not sure, toss it and buy yourself something new. Expired makeup can lead to infections. (Ever gotten an eye infection from expired mascara? Not fun.)
- Wash ‘em. Always wash your hands and face before putting on makeup.
- Use ‘em. Whenever possible, use applicators instead of your fingers. Even if you wash your hands (and you should), the more often you stick your paws into a bottle of concealer, or rub them into your foundation, the more germs and bacteria get a chance to grow in your makeup. Yuck.
- Clean the surface too. Before you begin cleaning your makeup and brushes, it’s a good idea to disinfect and sanitize your space—countertops, sinks, etc. Antibacterial wipes can work great, or we recommend a quick spray with Microban Multipurpose Cleaner, which you can apply to any nonporous surface. Just spray and walk away to keep surfaces sanitized against bacteria for up to 24 hours*.
How to clean your makeup
Trust us, you’ll spend less time cleaning your makeup than you do putting it on in the morning—but it’s still time well spent. Just think how many germs you won’t be applying to your face afterward. That’s a win. Find easy to follow, step-by-step instructions, below.
Makeup Cleaning Supplies
- Tissue or butter knife
- Clean spray bottle
- 70% isopropyl alcohol
- Cotton balls
- Vodka (optional)
Palettes and powders (blushes, eyeshadows and foundations)
- Gently take a tissue (or butter knife) and lightly wipe (or skim) off the top layer of the makeup, being careful not to break up the palette. You don’t need to dig too deep to do this well. No sense wasting makeup, you just want to remove the exposed, potentially germy top layer.
- Pour some of your 70% isopropyl alcohol into a clean spray bottle, and lightly spritz the palette surface. Too much alcohol can harm your delicate makeup, so don’t go crazy—spritz carefully and from at least 6 inches away. One or two light mists will do the trick.
- Allow the palette to air dry completely before closing the lid, then use a cotton ball soaked in rubbing alcohol to wipe down the exterior case.
- Using an alcohol-soaked cotton ball, clean the exterior of the bottle, and both the interior and the exterior of the lid. Allow to air dry before replacing the lid.
- The makeup itself can’t exactly be cleaned—which is why we recommend using sponges or brushes to apply it, instead of your (potentially) germy fingers. We’ll get to the how-to of cleaning makeup brushes shortly.
- Clean the exterior tube thoroughly using an alcohol-soaked cotton ball. Allow to air dry.
- Mascara applicators are much too tricky to clean and reuse, so don’t be shy about replacing them. If you feel like you’ve had the same mascare for a long time, you probably have. Toss it and splurge on a fresh one, because once it’s expired, it can do actual damage to your eyes—which is not cute.
- Using an alcohol-soaked cotton ball, wipe down all the surfaces. Allow it to completely air dry before using.
- When the rubber (or silicone) inserts begin to show wear, replace them. Even if they seem to be holding up well, you should consider replacing them every couple of months anyway, as these pieces come into the closest contact with your eyes.
- Use an alcohol-soaked cotton ball to thoroughly clean the exterior of the tube, and allow to air dry.
- Like mascara, what’s inside the tube can’t really be cleaned or sanitized. So it’s best to replace your lip gloss seasonally, or anytime you’ve felt sick.
- Pour a touch of vodka into a shallow dish (rubbing alcohol works fine for this too—but let’s be honest, booze is more fun).
- Submerge lipstick in the alcohol (vodka or isopropyl) for about 30 seconds.
- Let it air dry completely before using again and/or replacing the cap.
Pencils and sharpeners (eyeliner, lip liner, or brow pencil)
- Wipe down the entire thing with an alcohol-soaked cotton ball. Let it air dry.
- Sharpeners can be fully submerged in alcohol for up to five minutes, then wiped and dried clean with a fresh cleaning cloth or paper towel.
Beauty hack: always sharpen your pencil before using it, even if only slightly, to generate a fresh and clean surface before applying.
How to clean your brushes
Now that your makeup is clean, let’s get to those applicators. As a general rule, brushes can be cleaned regularly, but when they begin to fray or lose shape, you should think about replacing them. Sponges, on the other hand, are typically only meant for single-use applications, so if you’ve got used ones lying around, toss them and start fresh.
- Distilled water
- A small bowl or dish
- Antibacterial soap (like Dawn Dish Soap) OR your favorite face wash
- Clean towel or rag
- Antibacterial wipes or cotton balls
- 70% isopropyl alcohol
- Wet the bristles of your brush with warm water.
- In a small bowl (or even in the palm of your hand), mix together distilled water with a small drop of soap—Dawn, antibacterial hand soap, or whatever you use as an everyday face wash. (Just be sure not to use a face wash that contains exfoliants.)
- Swirl around and lightly massage the bristles of the brush into your palm or the bowl of soapy water for one minute. This will help break down any makeup, bacteria, dirt or oils that have been collecting on the bristles.
- Run the bristles under warm water thoroughly until the water runs clear, free of soap or debris.
- Gently squeeze out any excess moisture with a clean, absorptive towel or cleaning rag.
- Fluff the bristles back into their original shape, then set your brush down to dry with the bristles hanging off the edge of a counter or shelf. This will help them maintain their shape and integrity. Never leave brushes to dry on a towel as this could promote mildew growth.
- When the bristles are dry, clean all the handles by giving them a wipe down with an antibacterial wipe or an alcohol-soaked cotton ball.
Don’t forget those other self-care products
Your makeup and brushes aren’t the only self-care products that can harbor germs and bacteria. As you're cleaning and sanitizing, don’t forget these items—and the hacks that can help them stay cleaner, longer.
- Razors. As annoying as this sounds, it’s best to store your razors outside of the shower, so they can completely dry between uses. A dry razor is much less likely to run the risk of growing bacteria or getting rusty. We recommend hanging a stainless steel razor holder just outside the shower—but within reach—on a wall for easy access. Stainless steel is easy to clean and less likely to grow bacteria than plastic.
- Loofahs. These are bacteria magnets. You should plan to invest in a new one each month. If that seems wasteful (we get it), you can soak your loofah in a diluted bleach solution once-a-week for at least five minutes. Allow it to air dry for 24 hours before using it again. Or you could find a loofah alternative that more effectively dries out between uses or can be cleaned easier—exfoliating sponges, silicone, washable sponges, or a Japanese nylon washcloth (go Google it, we’ll wait) are all great options.
- Hair tools (blow dryer, curling iron and flat iron). Your hair tools can (and should) be wiped down with antibacterial wipes, or an alcohol-soaked cotton ball, biweekly. Make sure they’re no longer hot, or plugged in, when you do this.
- Makeup bags and cases. Completely empty your makeup bag once a month and wipe the inside with an antibacterial wipe. (This is also a great opportunity to toss expired makeup or trash, and to reassess your makeup stock.) If you’ve been traveling a lot, you may also want to wipe down the outside of the bag as well, as long as it’s made of durable material.
That’s it! Now that all your brushes and products are cleaned and sanitized, you can once more “beat your face for the gods,” as RuPaul would say. Enjoy your freshly sanitized products and happy germ-free beautifying!
Oh, and if those makeup smudges on the bathroom mirror are driving you crazy, we can help you there too.
*When used as directed, effective for 24 hours against Staphylococcus aureus & Enterobacter aerogenes bacteria. Microban 24 does not provide 24-hour residual virus protection.