Brush Cleaning

I tend to avoid sites that explain how to clean make-up brushes. Not because they’re inaccurate but because I can’t bear the shame: I’m more of a do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do type when it comes to cleaning habits.

And honestly, when I braved a Google Search to put together this post, the information I found wasn’t much more helpful than that. For every cautionary tale about skin irritations or potential infections, several more blogs maintained a cavalier attitude. The first link I saw asserted that once a month was probably fine. I’m going to say that once every two months is probably fine too, depending on how much your brushes get used. I’ve conducted the experiments myself.

The first time I ever thought about cleaning make-up brushes was when I purchased my first powder brush: the MAC 129. The brush is made from real goat hair and requires a gentle product for cleaning. The MAC associate warned me that I could only use shampoo to wash and care for the brush.

And that’s it. Ever since, I’ve kept a bottle of Johnson’s Baby Shampoo under the sink specifically for my brushes.

I have dabbled with other methods for curiosity’s sake. Pinterest recommends the dish soap and olive oil method; I found it left a residue on my brushes or dried them out. I bought brush shampoo when it was on sale, but the smell was cloying and lingered on the brushes even after the bristles dried. I’ve also tried the dip-and-dab, when you dip the bristles in sudsy water and then dab them on paper towel, but I’m impatient, and this blog is about practicality.

Practically, some shampoo, warm water, and your hand are all you need to effectively clean brushes. True, you want to avoid scrubbing shampoo deeply into the brush to avoid loosening the glue holding it together. You also don’t want to damage the bristles. That said, a good make-up brush can stand up to a solid cleaning. I say this having owned and cleaned my brushes the same way over the years and losing not a one to my cleaning methods.

Take a little bit of shampoo into your hand, rub the end of the brush into the shampoo, and rinse. There are special mats you can buy or make that help create a lather. These might be helpful for more stubborn products, but for basic powders and creams, a little shampoo, water, and friction is enough to get your brush looking like new again. Lay brushes to dry on a hand towel. I have, in the past, rolled up one edge of the towel so that the brushes lay on a slight angle, allowing the water to flow down and away from the bristles. However, I haven’t noticed any effect on brushes left to dry on a flat surface. If anything, leaving them on an angle increases the risk that the bristles with dry misshapen and won’t work as well for applying make-up.

Now, I can say that there is a benefit to washing your brushes more regularly than once a month. Aside for curbing bacteria growth in the bristles and ensuring that you always have a clean tool with which to apply make-up, brushes clean better when there’s less product on them. That might not mean much for an eyeshadow brush, but for a foundation or a powder brush, which tend to go longer between washings and therefore accumulate more product, a good wash every two weeks or every week can save you time.

Is this my practice? As much as possible, yes, but as I mentioned above, I struggle to maintain a regular cleaning schedule. Years ago, my make-up was more adventurous. I had to wash some of my brushes daily so that I had them clean for the next morning. Lately, I maintain a (bi-)monthly washing that seems to work just fine for me. This is based on a number of factors including the number of brushes I own, the number of brushes I regularly use (I’ve been told it’s excessive), and the number of products I use. The numbers fluctuate depending on what I’m doing with my make-up, so I can go weeks using the same five brushes for the same five products or I can get to the end of a week and struggle to find an unsullied brush left in my collection.

If I can offer one piece of advice: don’t turn cleaning brushes into a production. The very fact that I own a separate bottle of shampoo for my brushes may be an extravagance you do not need in your life, in which case, whatever you use on your hair is fine. Find brushes for a reasonable price that do not require extra work from you, that are strong enough to withstand forgetfulness and a slapdash cleaning routine. Goodness knows, it might be a month or two before they get cleaned again.

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