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The 14 Best Makeup Brush Cleaners to Keep Your Tools in Prime Shape

The 14 Best Makeup Brush Cleaners to Keep Your Tools in Prime Shape

The 14 Best Makeup Brush Cleaners to Keep Your Tools in Prime Shape

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Keep your complexion clear, and extend the life of your brushes.

<p>InStyle / Alli Waataja</p>

InStyle / Alli Waataja

Your brushes and sponges are chock-full of product buildup, residue, dirt, and bacteria just waiting to irritate your skin if you don’t clean them properly. According to Dr. Howard Sobel, M.D., a dermatologist and clinical attending cosmetic dermatologic surgeon at Lenox Hill Hospital, it's important to make sure any germs and bacteria that may have accumulated on them are removed before using them on the skin. "Using dirty makeup brushes can cause rashes to develop and your skin to break out," he says. "Additionally, the buildup of oil and dirt on makeup brushes can cause harmful bacteria to develop, which would then get transferred to the skin." The good news is that if you clean your brushes properly, you can keep your complexion clear, and also extend the life of your tools. Our editors asked makeup artists to recommend their favorite makeup brush cleansers. Ahead, find our top picks to keep your tools so fresh and so clean.

Best Overall: Beautyblender Liquid Blendercleanser

$15 at

$20 at

What We Love: This can be used for both sponges and brushes.

What We Don't Love: Because it's made without sulfates, it doesn't lather up quickly.

Ideal for removing gunk from your beauty sponges and brushes, this best-selling liquid cleanser from Beautyblender is a true workhorse. It effectively lifts caked up liquid makeup and powder products from your tools with ease—no harsh swirling or rubbing required. The pour spout is just big enough to ensure you don't waste any product, and because it's made without sulfates, dyes, or fragrance, it's unlikely to irritate sensitive skin. We also love that because it doesn't leave behind a greasy residue, it won't affect the performance of your brushes post-cleansing.

Active Ingredients: Sodium chloride, potassium palm kernelate, glycerin | Size: 5 oz | Cruelty-Free: Yes

Best Splurge: Cinema Secrets Makeup Brush Cleaner

$24 at

$24 at

What We Love: It's made with vanilla bean plant extract and leaves behind a pleasant vanilla scent.

What We Don't Love: This may not be best for sensitive skin types.

A makeup artist favorite, the Cinema Secrets Makeup Brush Cleaner has been well-loved for years. The formula is a 99.99 percent antimicrobial disinfectant, so it's great for disinfecting your brushes in addition to keeping them perfectly clean. Not only does it have the ability to deep clean all types of brushes and sponges, including ones with heavy buildup of foundation or other cream products, but it's quick-drying, doesn't require rinsing, and allows you to clean multiple brushes in one go. Although it's the priciest on our list, it comes in several sizes to suit your needs, including a value size if you use your brushes often and a travel sized spray bottle to tote on your next vacation. Because it has a vanilla scent, it might not be suitable for those with sensitive skin, but this is a makeup artist’s favorite pick, so we had to include it on our list.

Active Ingredients: Isoparaffin hydrocarbon, hydrotreated heavy naptha | Size: 2, 8, 16, 32 oz | Cruelty-Free: Yes

Best Budget : Real Techniques Brush Cleansing Gel

$7 at

$7 at

What We Love: Even though it's a gel, it's easy to rinse out.

What We Don't Love: It contains alcohol, so it may dry out the bristles of your brush over time.

Slightly thicker than a liquid, this gel cleanser from Real Techniques really sets the bar high. Think of it like a face wash, but for your brushes, thoroughly removing dirt, impurities, and product buildup, all while sitting at an attractive under-$10 price point. This formula creates a generous lather that'll deep clean even the most stubborn residue, and doesn't require anything extra (like a brush mat) to fulfill the task. Plus, it can be used to cleanse all of your beauty tools—brushes and sponges included. What's not to love? Do note that this formula contains alcohol, which can be drying,  so it’s important to rinse thoroughly to preserve the integrity of your tools.

Active Ingredients: Sodium lauryl sulfoacetate, sodium chloride, alcohol | Size: 4 oz | Cruelty-Free: Yes

Best for Sponges: Beautyblender Blendercleanser Solid

$9 at

$18 at

What We Love: It comes with a built-in mat to allow for efficient drying.

What We Don't Love: At just one fluid ounce, it doesn't come with a ton of product, meaning you may run out of it quickly.

Looking to get your beauty sponge in brand new condition again? We trust this solid cleanser wholeheartedly to get the job done (it does come from the highly coveted beauty sponge brand Beautyblender, afterall). The formula is made with cleansers that are powerful enough to pull out all the product buildup sitting in your tools. What's more: The built-in mat is great for giving your makeup brushes a wash or for serving as a drying bed for your beauty sponge once you're done cleaning. We love it so much, we don’t mind restocking more frequently than others on our list.

Active Ingredients: Sodium palmate, sodium palm kernelate, glycerin | Size: 1 oz | Cruelty-Free: Yes

Best Solid: Bdellium Tools Cosmetic Brush Cleanser

See at

What We Love: This is perfect for traveling since it comes with a brush pad.

What We Don't Love: This can be pricey considering the amount of product you get.

If your brushes are in need of a major deep clean, this solid cleanser from Bdellium Tools has you covered. The ingredient list reads more like a skincare product than brush cleaner, with superstars like avocado oil, jojoba oil, and green tea extract laced within. We love that the lemony citrus scent makes for a positive association with brush washing (helpful for inspiring future cleansing sessions). Plan on traveling? Since it's in solid form, you won't have to worry about TSA restrictions or it spilling in your carry-on. Although it’s a splurge for the size, we think the quality ingredient list makes the product worth every cent.

Active Ingredients: Sodium palmate, sodium palm kernelate, avocado oil, jojoba oil | Size: 2.45 oz | Cruelty-Free: Yes

Best Automatic: Plum Beauty Makeup Brush Cleaner

$20 at

$18 at

What We Love: This does all the swirling and cleansing for you, making it great for those with wrist or hand issues.

What We Don't Love: This only allows you to wash one brush at a time, so it may not be efficient for those with a large brush collection.

A battery-operated makeup brush cleaner is ideal for those who don't want to get their hands wet and pruny. We're fans of this one from Plum Beauty because it does all the hard work for you. To use, simply fill a tall glass with warm water, add some soap or your favorite brush cleansing solution, insert the makeup brush handle into the holder, and press the button to start the cleaning. The brush will begin quickly swishing around in the water until it's clean. When you're ready to dry, lift the brush up above the water line (but still within the walls of the glass) and the machine will shake off excess water. This is sized for brushes with a large handle, but it also comes with a sleeve to fit eyeshadow brushes. This option does require some effort, but if you’re a beauty enthusiast, we have a feeling you won’t mind the gratifying task.

Tool Type: Handheld device, batteries and soap not included | Material: Plastic wand and battery-operated motor | Size: 8.5 inches | Cruelty-Free: Yes

Best for Travel: Artis Brush Cleansing Wipes

$25 at

$2 at

What We Love: The wipe packaging has a click closure (versus a sticky closure) to ensure they don't dry out.

What We Don't Love: These wipes won't remove stubborn liquid products from your brush.

Liquid and gel cleansers run the risk of spilling in your suitcase, but brush cleaning wipes like this 30-count option from Artis help keep your tools clean anytime, anyplace. You'll still need to deep clean your brushes with something heftier later, but these handy wipes are great if you need to clean up in a hurry. (Pro tip: Pack them in your carry-on if you feel like giving your brushes a clean while onboard.) This pick might not be ideal for removing waterproof formulas, but for travel, their convenience makes them worth packing in your carry-on.

Active Ingredients: Alcohol, PEG-60 hydrogenated castor oil, dipropylene glycol | Size: 30 wipes | Cruelty-Free: Yes

Best for Spot Cleaning: Vera Mona The Original Color Switch Brush Cleaner

$14 at

See at

What We Love: Because this just relies on a sponge for cleaning, it won't leave a greasy residue on your brushes and you won't have to rinse it.

What We Don't Love: You can't use this to clean liquid residue off brushes.

If you don't own a lot of eye brushes but are committed to an eyeshadow look that involves switching between multiple colors, this spot cleaner is perfect. It allows you to use the same brush for multiple colors without the risk of any color residue from the previous step messing up your look. The travel-friendly metal tin houses nothing but a completely dry sponge (no liquids or gels are pre-soaked)—all that's required is massaging your brush into the sponge and the color will disappear. To clean the sponge, wash with soap and water. This pick is ideal for powder shadow, but won’t work on liquids.

Tool Type: Sponge housed tin case and lid; nothing additional is needed | Size: 2.75, 3.25 inches | Cruelty-Free: Yes

Best for Deep Cleaning: It Cosmetics Brushes for Ulta Brush Bath Purifying Solid Brush Cleanser

See at

What We Love: The solid brush cleanser comes with a holder for easy storage.

What We Don't Love: It may take a lot of rinsing to get the product out.

Brushes filled with stubborn residue require a heavy-duty cleanser like this from It Cosmetics. It dissolves leftover makeup in just a few passes, yet the formula is gentle enough where it won't affect the integrity or softness of your brushes or beauty sponge. Another thing we love? There's enough product to cleanse up to 35 brushes, and the holder is helpful for keeping it neatly stored away. Do note, it’s important to rinse thoroughly after each use.

Active Ingredients: Sodium palmate, sodium palm kernelate, sodium gluconate | Size: 1 oz | Cruelty-Free: Yes

Best No-Rinse: Make Up For Ever Instant Brush Cleanser

See at

See at

What We Love: It's in spray form, which makes it less messy to work with.

What We Don't Love: We'd like to see this offered in a travel size.

Don't have time to rinse your makeup brushes post-wash? This cleaner from Make Up For Ever doesn't allow for any time to be wasted. The alcohol-free formula dries in record time without having to be rinsed, making it great for washing on the go. It's also ideal if you plan on using several different eyeshadow colors for one look, as it can be sprayed on the same brush after each color for immediate use afterward. We love this product so much, we wish it came in a TSA-friendly travel size.

Active Ingredients: Mint oil | Size: 4.7 oz | Cruelty-Free: Yes

Best for Sensitive Skin: EcoTools Daily Makeup Brush Cleaner Spray

See at

See at

What We Love: This is an affordable drugstore brush cleaner that won't break the bank.

What We Don't Love: This is only offered in a small travel size.

The EcoTools Daily Makeup Brush Cleaner Spray can be used for cleaning both your makeup brushes and sponges—just spritz it on, wipe the tool on a cloth or towel to get rid of residue, and let it air-dry. While it won't give your brushes a major deep clean, it'll get the job done if you're in between eyeshadow colors. Plus, the dermatologist-tested ingredient list is free of fragrance and alcohol so it's less likely to break out your skin. We love this product so much, we don’t mind restocking it more frequently than others on our list.

Active Ingredients: C10-12 isoparaffin, jojoba seed oil | Size: 3 oz | Cruelty-Free: Yes

Best Quick-Drying: MAC Cosmetics Brush Cleanser

$28 at

$20 at

What We Love: It leaves behind a slightly floral scent and dry brushes within minutes.

What We Don't Love: This is pricey compared to other cleansers.

Mac is a trusted brand when it comes to makeup brushes, so it's no wonder their brush cleaner is found in the kits of makeup artists. The classic formula cleanses and conditions your brushes, effectively lengthening their lifespan. As for the bottle, it's a hefty size that'll last a while, especially considering you don't need a ton to get your brushes like new again. The cleanser is expensive compared with others on our list, but the fast-acting formula (that does contain alcohol) makes it worth the spend.

Active Ingredients: Alcohol, sodium trideceth sulfate | Size: 7.9 oz | Cruelty-Free: No

Best Cleaning Mat: Sigma Spa Express Brush Cleaning Mat

$30 at

See at

What We Love: This has a wide surface, which makes it easy to clean multiple brushes at the same time.

What We Don't Love: It may not fit into some sinks.

A cleansing mat like this one from Sigma Beauty is great for really targeting caked up product buildup and residue. The silicone mat does all the work for you thanks to its wide surface and the seven different textures that dig deep into those hard-to-reach areas of your bristles. To use,  suction cup the mat into your sink's interior and pair it with your favorite cleanser—your brushes will be brand new in no time. Be sure to measure your sink prior to adding to cart, to make sure the product is compatible with your vanity.

Material: BPA-free silicone | Size: 8.89 in x 6.5 in | Cruelty-Free: Yes

Best Spray: Anisa Beauty Quick Dry 2.0

See at

What We Love: This is a quick solution to keeping brushes clean in between deep cleans.

What We Don't Love: Aerosol products aren’t the most eco-conscious.

Great for using in between your deep cleaning sessions, the Anisa Beauty Quick Dry 2.0 keeps your brushes residue-free in the meantime. The aerosol can makes it easy to disperse (it also keeps you from using wasteful amounts of product). But most of all, the formula is quick-drying, which means you can get back to blending, packing, and shading with your brushes immediately after spraying. It’s alcohol-free, so it won’t dry out your skin, or your brushes. Note, that aerosol canisters need to be disposed of properly to avoid being stockpiled in landfills.

Active Ingredients: Surfactants | Size: 2 oz | Cruelty-Free: Yes

What to Keep in Mind

Type: There are several types of brush cleaners available, each of them offering their own set benefits and uses. Cleansers that come in a solid bar form lather up when they come into contact with water. These cleansers are "ideal for deep cleaning your makeup brushes and should be used after each client if you're a makeup artist or weekly for your personal brushes," says Natalie Dresher, a Miami-based makeup artist. While this type of brush cleaner requires more time and effort, they're great for dense brushes as well as brushes you'd use for thick, creamy products, says Lori Taylor Davis, Smashbox Cosmetics Global Pro Lead Artist. "They work well for beauty sponges, too, because you can directly rub the sponge against the bar, which helps to lift product." Spray cleansers are a great on-the-go cleaner if you're looking to spot clean or to quickly switch eyeshadow colors in between application. These don't have a drying time, but Davis says they're not a replacement for deep cleaning and may be drying to your brushes over time. There are also brush cleaning wipes, which don't require water and are a convenient and portable option for on-the-go cleaning, just like spray cleaners, says Davis. That being said, they're not effective for deep cleaning and Davis says they can be wasteful and more expensive in the long run.

Ease of Use: Spray cleaners and brush cleaning wipes are definitely easier to use than a solid bar cleanser or liquid cleanser because they're portable, don't require water, and are less messy. That being said, they won't give you a deep clean. Davis recommends using a solid bar cleanser for beauty sponges since it allows for a more thorough cleaning. This is necessary for sponges because they absorb foundation and concealer.

Formula: Davis says to look for mild surfactants to help break down oils and powders as well as conditioning agents (like glycerin) to keep bristles soft. Avoid harsh detergents (like SLS and SLES), as they can be drying and damaging to the bristles. Also, anything with artificial fragrance can irritate your skin, especially if you're sensitive, says Dr. Sobel. Finally, alcohol, especially in high concentrations, can quickly dry out and damage bristles, says Davis.

Your Questions, Answered

How do I deep clean my makeup brushes?

"Deep cleaning makeup brushes is essential for maintaining their performance and ensuring they are free from bacteria and product buildup," says Davis. Using your specialized brush cleaner of choice, mix a small amount with lukewarm water in a bowl or directly on a cleaning mat (these work well to remove stubborn pigments, says Davis).

Here's how to clean your brushes, according to Davis: "Run the bristles under lukewarm water, making sure to avoid getting water on the handle or the ferrule (the metal part that connects the bristles to the handle) to prevent loosening the glue. Then, dip the bristles into the cleaning solution or apply the solution directly to the brush. Swirl the brush on your palm, a brush cleaning mat, or a textured surface to create a lather. Continue until the bristles are thoroughly clean, then rinse the bristles under lukewarm water until all soap residue is gone and the water runs clear. Finally, gently squeeze out excess water with your fingers or a clean towel and lay the brush flat on a clean towel to dry. Do not dry brushes upright, as water can seep into the ferrule and loosen the glue."

"Powder brushes are generally easier to clean as powders don’t leave as much residue," says Davis. But if you're cleaning brushes used for liquid or cream products, you may notice more residue that requires more thorough cleaning. "Double-cleaning might be necessary—after the initial cleaning, repeat the process if residue remains," says Davis.

Should I soak makeup brushes before washing?

Soaking your brushes before washing isn't necessary. In fact, Dresher recommends against it. "I don’t believe in soaking brushes as it can damage the bristles and loosen the glue in the ferrule," she said. A good brush cleanser should be enough for eliminating stubborn product buildup.

How often should you wash your makeup brushes and sponges?

No matter what brush material, shape, or type you choose, keeping them well-mainted is key for preventing bacteria buildup, skin irritation, and eye infections. Not to mention, properly caring for your brushes helps them maintain performance, as product buildup on a brush can make for streaky, patchy application. Dresher recommends cleaning your personal makeup brushes and sponges once a week. If you're a makeup artist, clean and sanitize after each client.

How should you dry makeup brushes?

After washing, your brushes should be dried "laying flat so the water does not damage the structure of the brush or glue in the handle," says Dresher. Lay them face down on a towel, or use a wire cooling rack.

Why Shop With Us

Michelle Rostamian is a freelance writer with over a decade of experience covering all things beauty, makeup, and skincare. As a skincare lover, she knows the importance of keeping your brushes clean for the health of your skin and eyes. For this story, she researched the best makeup brush cleansers of all types. She also interviewed Dr. Howard Sobel, a dermatologist, Natalie Dresher, a Miami-based makeup artist, and Lori Taylor Davis, Smashbox Cosmetics Global Pro Lead Artist.

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