Tuesday, November 29, 2016

How I Wash My Makeup Brushes

Almost every time I discuss makeup brushes someone asks about brush cleaning. It used to surprise me a little. After all, don't we all wash our brushes and have our own long-set preferences about tools and products? However, I've realized that my own routine has changed and evolved over the years, and now I have a system in place that makes the process quicker and easier (for me). This is how I get through a big pile of brushes (several weeks of laziness) relatively quickly and painlessly.

Detergents and Cleansers:

  • A bar of Shea Moisture Black African Soap (available at Ulta and Amazon, usually well under $10). This one cleans about 95% of gunk and goop from every brush.
  • Hakuhodo brush soap (available from hakuhodousa.com, under "Accessories", $8-$18, depending on size). I use it on my most delicate and expensive brushes, not that the black soap isn't good enough for them, but still.
  • A good face cleansing oil. Whatever's on hand. This is especially effective for foundation and concealer brushes, and a good oil can actually restore tired old goat hair brushes and make them look new again.
  • Daiso Detergent Cleaning for Makeup Puff and Sponge (about $6 on Amazon). Very effective for foundation sponges. I alternate between this one and the Beauty Blender cleansers (liquid and bar). They all work well.
  • An anti-bacterial soap to clean the various tools once I'm done.


  • Sigma cleaning mat (available at Nordstrom and Ulta, among others, $25 well-spent). It curves around the drain and has suction cups that hold onto the inside of the sink.
  • A full set of Sigma Dry'n Shape Tower. I don't put it together to full height, because it makes sticking the brushes into the loops harder. I split the levels according to the brushes on hand. I also don't always use the elastic part. I find the Brush Guards to be more effective and easier to navigate.
  • Benjabelle brush trees, both the large original and the mini (for thin and narrow brushes). About $25 each on Amazon. My original is several years old (from around the time they launched), yet reliable and sturdy. The mini feels more rickety and requires a firmer hand and some cursing. Or perhaps mine is just defective.
  • Brush Guards (those are the stretchy plastic net things you can see in the second photo). I have about five packs of every size (there are four sizes).  I buy them on Amazon, and with proper care they last for at least a couple of years.

  • I collect my dirty brushes in the metallic utensil holder you see above. I try not to accumulate too many, even though I can (see: I have many brushes), because otherwise the task seems too daunting, and then I procrastinate (because I can. See above), and it becomes a Situation. What you see here is a larger than should be number of brushes, but it wasn't dire.
  • First, I assemble the various drying tools, arrange everything like so, plop the Sigma mat in the sink, carefully place my iPad in the medicine cabinet and go to Lisa Eldridge's channel (she's soothing and I prefer rewatching videos I've already seen, so I don't have to focus too hard). I  adjust the water temperature to reasonably warm and start.
  • Holding the brushes with the hairy head down I wet them, soap and lather, gently rub them against various areas of the mat and rinse clear, all the while making sure not to saturate and no get water directly into the ferrule (we don't want to loosen the glue that holds the hair together). That's why double-ended brushes are a pain. Foundation and concealer brush usually need a repeat, and sometimes a combination of cleansers. Artis brushes and their like also require a prayer.
  • Once clean, I gently (GENTLY) squeeze (not wring!) the water out of the brush, and arrange it for drying. When only washing a handful of brushes at one go I usually put the brush guards on right away, and stick the brush (hair down, again) in one of the drying tools, where it fits best depending on size and length. This time I was dealing with a few too many brushes, so I first placed them in the racks and only when done, dressed them up in the brush guards (sliding from the handle down). It's a matter of preference, not a rule. 

Speaking of rules, when it comes to brush guards (I have the originals as well as various Asian ones), there's just one: Use the smallest size you can for any given brush. You'll be amazed how far they stretch, and the whole point is to keep your brushes as tight as possible and prevent splaying. The first time you see the shadow/liner guard it looks very narrow, but as you'll see, it fits the largest and fluffiest blending brush easily. I even use it for the smallest Yachiyo brushes though the other ones require the blush brush size. Now someone please make brush guards for fan brushes of every size. I'll love you forever.

Double-ended brushes need to be laid flat (another reason I dislike them), as do massive Kabuki brushes (on their side). I put sponges to dry on towels, but a friend has shown me a photo of a sponge drying rack, so I'll probably get one soon enough (Amazon). Once all is clean and drying I wash the mat with an antibacterial soap, hang it to dry,  thank Lisa, and put everything away. Then  close the bathroom door (because cats) and wait. Thick and dense synthetic brushes take forever. Artis takes even longer. But within 12-24 hours it's all dry and I can put the brushes back in their various holders and drawers.

This time I also discovered that my medium Yachiyo, a much-loved and oft used brush, was left behind, and I washed it afterwards, and hung it to dry with some sticky tack, as seen on my Instagram. Whatever works, right?

That's it. I hope it was helpful. If you have more tips, tricks, or favorite products please share them.


  1. Good post, Gaia. I do exactly the same as you except I have the Benjabelle trees. But I never thought to use brush guards after washing. Excellent tip. Off to round all of mine up for the next washing.

  2. I totally agree with your sentiments re those double-ended brushes. I dislike them for many reasons (that they constantly need to lay down on their sides, washing is a pain, drying is a pain... well, they're a pain, in general). I'm glad to know I'm not the only one who feels that way.

  3. Truth time: is it really possible to keep water out of the ferrule, and if so, how do you do?? Even when using the tiniest amount of running water on the mat, my brushes wick the moisture up the bristles to the metal band in no time. Do I just keep pointing the bristles downward and pray?


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