You're Cleaning Your Makeup Tools Wrong—Here's How to Do it Right! - QC Makeup Academy

It takes more than just passion, skill, and practice to be a professional makeup artist. Your makeup tools are your best friend—with you for all your makeup trials and tribulations. But you have to take proper care of them so they’ll last longer (quality tools are expensive!) and perform better.

While cleaning your tools isn’t the most glamorous part of the job, it’s definitely one of the most important. Cleaning your tools regularly helps prevent the buildup of oils, dead skin cells, and bacteria that could wreak havoc on your client’s face. You can be more lax with your own personal cleaning routine, but you absolutely must clean all your professional tools after each client.

Just because you can’t see something with your naked eye, doesn’t mean there’s nothing menacing lurking underneath. Here’s a guide on cleaning your most used makeup tools in time for your next appointment.


Your brushes are your most-used tools, so they should receive the majority of your attention. Your cleaning routine will change depending on what the brushes are made of. You can use a brush cleaner to clean these, but with so many brushes in your arsenal, it might be easier on your wallet to consider other options. Here’s a quick run-down.


If your brushes are made with animal hair bristles, you’ll need clean them extra gently. Animal hairs are fine and can easily break.

  • Use baby shampoo or unscented bar soap. Both these options are gentle on natural hair, and going fragrance-free can help those who have sensitive skin.
  • If you use bar soap, you can swirl the domed or rounded brushes right onto the bar. For flat brushes, brushes back and forth on the surface of the soap to maintain hair placement.
  • Disinfect using a solution of 2 parts water and 1 part vinegar, or some tea tree oil, which has antiseptic properties.
  • You can use hair conditioner on coarse hairs to keep them soft for the face.

Brushes may also have bristles made from synthetic fibers, which are tougher than natural hair. These brushes are usually used for creamy or liquid makeup. Typically your lip and concealer brushes are made with synthetic fibers.

  • Use a mixture of dish soap and water to clean. The dish soap breaks down the oils, silicones, and glitters so they can easily wash away.
  • Use a cleaning glove or a towel with the soap to get the tough cosmetic oils and pigment residues out.


If your brushes have wood handles, don’t submerge them in water! Wood can expand and crack or split, ruining your favorite brushes. If possible, dry wood-handled brushes upside down or on an angle with the water dripping downwards. Use a paper towel and rubbing alcohol to disinfect the handle.

Plastic is simple. Use a paper towel and rubbing alcohol to disinfect a plastic handle.

Brush Cleaning Pro Tips

  • Use warm water, not hot, to wash your brushes.
  • When rinsing the bristles of a brush, point them downwards into the sink, and don’t let the water soak the handle or the ferrule (the metal part holding the hairs to the handle). The metal can rust, and the water can loosen the glue holding it all together.
  • Squeeze residual water out of the brushes instead of rubbing them into a towel.
  • Use a lint-free towel to dry the brushes instead of tissues or paper towels which can leave bits of fiber in the hairs of the brushes.
  • Reshape the hairs when you’re gently patting them dry
  • Hang your brushes upside-down if you can so the water doesn’t get into the glue or lay flat on top of a towel if that’s not possible.

Powder / Foundation Puffs

If the puff is used solely for powder, some soapy warm water (wet, lather, rinse) or a cleansing mist is enough to clean the puff. But if you’re using liquid foundation and are in a hurry, some professional makeup artists toss a whole laundry bag of puffs and sponges with some mild detergent into the washing machine.

Makeup Bags

If you have a makeup bag with plastic-lined interiors, flip it inside out and use a disinfectant wipe. If you have a soft-cloth bag, just toss it in with your laundry—wash it with the darks, just to be safe.

Sponges / Beauty Blender

Disposable sponges are a makeup artist’s tool of choice, but they don’t rival the smooth application of a Beauty Blender. If you choose to use a reusable sponge, here are three ways to clean it:

  1. beautyblender’s beautycleanser solid: A cult-favorite cleanser designed for cleaning the beauty blender. It’s portable and can clean makeup brushes, too!
  2. Warm water + baby shampoo:Wet, lather, rinse, and repeat (sponges can hold A LOT of product).
  3. Extra virgin olive oil + dish washing detergent: Use a mixture of both to lather the sponge. Note: this formula may irritate sensitive skin.

Pro Tips

  • Roll the Beauty Blender back and forth to work the soap all the way through the sponge.
  • Dry the sponge in an open space (not inside a sealed bag) as bacteria love moisture.

Eyeliner Sharpener

These sharpeners are versatile and can sharpen eyeshadow pencils, lip pencils, and eye pencils, so it’s important to clean them regularly. Soak a cotton swab in rubbing alcohol, and run it in and around the sharpener, concentrating on the blades.

Mascara Wands

If you want to clean a professional spoolie that’s part of a brush kit, first rub off excess product from the wand onto a towel. The towel will increase the drag on the spoolie to pull out the product. Then, boil some water, and toss in the wand for 5 minutes. Take it out, spray with an alcohol solution, and let it dry.

Mascara is one of the biggest breeding grounds for bacteria. Whether it’s for brows or lashes, always use disposable spoolies on a client and never double dip (it defeats the purpose).

Eyelash Curlers

You can either use eye makeup remover to clean off the mascara buildup, or just water and soap. Then, move on to disinfecting it with an alcohol-soaked cotton ball.

Powder Eyeshadow Palettes

Spray the powders with rubbing alcohol and wait for them to dry. The alcohol won’t disturb or ruin the eyeshadows, it’ll just help you disinfect your products!

Did you know? You can also use rubbing alcohol to help you repair shattered eyeshadows!

Tweezers + Lash Combs

A simple combination of a cotton ball and alcohol can do wonders.

Mixing Palettes

Used to keep original containers of products contamination-free, and to mix custom colors for liquid makeup, these palettes are easy to clean. Simply use soap and water to wash off the excess product before wiping it down with some alcohol.

On a roll and want to do more than just cleansing your tools? Check out this infographic for a 5 step makeup spring cleaning routine.

Author Celina Feng

More posts by Celina Feng

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