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Cleaning my makeup brushes is one of those chores I have a love/hate relationship with. On the one hand, I love having soft, clean, fresh-smelling brushes that I know aren’t going to be spreading micro-ickies all over my face (Ew.); pretty sure my skin is grateful for that, too. On the other hand, I hate the idea of paying $10 for a tiny bottle of glorified watery shampoo (after all, makeup brushes are hair, even if it’s synthetic). Necessity may be the mother of invention, but cheapness is the lazy sister of “finding something that someone else has already invented so I don’t have to invent it myself to save $$$ on something that actually works.” πŸ˜‰

So a few years ago I looked on the interwebs to see if I could borrow someone else’s genius instead of having to waste a lot of time and money on the trial and error of coming up with something brilliant myself. Success! There are SCADS of homemade brush cleanser formulations out there. πŸ™‚ Then I discovered I had a new problem: there are SCADS of homemade brush cleanser formulations out there (oh, the irony! πŸ˜› ) — how would I figure out which one I wanted to use? After much eenie meenie miney mo thoughtful deliberation, I ultimately resorted to the completely unscientific method of, “Oh hey, this guy’s a professional makeup artist! How does he clean his brushes?”

EnKore is a veritable treasure trove of information about all things cosmetics, including the proper care and cleaning of makeup brushes. Since his brushes are MUCH nicer than mine (I honestly don’t care about brand name; I don’t own a single MAC brush, probably never will), I figured his formula would work fine for my cheapie brushes. (As it turns out, I figured right, wahoo!) Here’s my variation on EnKore’s formula, using what I had on hand:

DIY makeup brush cleaner

1 c purified water (1)
1/4 c isopropyl alcohol (70% is fine)
1/2 Tbsp dish detergent (2)
1/2 Tbsp shampoo (3)
1 Tbsp leave-in hair conditioner (4)

Combine all ingredients in a small glass jar. GENTLY stir (to prevent the solution from foaming up) with a non-reactive (non-metal) utensil, making sure the mixture is evenly combined (no blobs of shampoo, etc.). Store in the closed jar.

To use, pour a small amount into a glass prep bowl (I picked up several of these little bowls at the dollar store since I also use them in the kitchen all the time). Dip the brush into the cleanser, being careful not to get cleanser in the ferule (the metal part of the brush that connects the bristles to the handle; over time, water and cleanser can dissolve the glue holding the ferule on the brush handle), then stroke the brush back and forth across your fingers until the cleanser begins to suds up. Gently massage the bristles, working the cleanser into the bristles to break up oil and makeup deposits. Holding the brush at a downward angle, rinse the bristles under lukewarm water, gently working the water through the bristles until the water runs clear. For particularly dirty brushes, repeat the process 1 – 2 times until the rinse water runs clear after only a few seconds of rinsing. Let the brush air dry; fluff before use.

If desired, pour some of the brush cleanser into a fingertip sprayer for daily quick cleaning. Lightly mist the bristle tips of a brush, then gently stroke the brush back and forth across clean facial tissue to release oil and makeup buildup from the bristles. Repeat until brush strokes are clean (no colour deposited on the facial tissue). Let the brush air dry (this should only take a few minutes after a quick cleaning; if it takes a long time for the brush to dry, use less cleanser so the bristles aren’t saturated).


(1) It was 10pm when I got a wild hair about cleaning my brushes (what is it with me and middle of the night compulsions? Yeesh). Not having any distilled/purified water in the house — and refusing to get dressed and drive to a store for <$1 worth of water late at night — I solved the problem with a time-tested, low-tech solution: I simply boiled tap water on the stove and then let it sit and cool to room temperature.

(2) I typically use blue Dawn (original, non-ultra), since I always have it on hand for other things — everything from cleaning metal jewellery components to making miracle stain remover for laundry (that will have to be another post soon!).

(3) My shampoo is Aveda madder root shampoo, which I’m not about to use to clean my brushes (Do I need to “enhance the non-existent red tones” in my brushes? I don’t think so.), so I helped myself to some of Glam’sΒ Suave Naturals Daily Clarifying Shampoo instead. I’ve also had good results in the past using Aveda’s shampure (TM) shampoo, but I don’t happen to have any right now.

(4) EnKore says specifically NOT to use a cream leave-in conditioner or other thick product, and since that’s what I use (Aveda color conserve (TM) daily color protect), I raided Glam’s bathroom again: we’ve used Influx33 leave-in conditionerΒ on her hair for YEARS; it may still be available locally from Sally Beauty, but they no longer carry it online. Any sprayable leave-in conditioner should work.

I mix my brush cleanser in a glass measuring cup, then store the cleanser in a 1/2-pint canning jar. The formula actually makes too much cleanser to fit in a 1/2-pint jar, but after I’ve filled my jar and my 2-oz fingertip sprayer, I have enough cleanser left in the measuring cup to clean 3 medium brushes (my flat-top foundation brush, my fluffy face brush, and my rouge brush), plus my concealer brush and a couple of eyeshadow brushes. So I end up with clean brushes and a full batch of cleanser to boot! πŸ™‚

How do you clean your makeup brushes? Will you try DIY brush cleanser?