5 DIY Makeup Brush Cleaners Using Ingredients You Have at Home

Featuring household ingredients like olive oil, vinegar, and baking soda.

woman rubs makeup brush in green makeup blush container next to beauty products

Treehugger / Sanja Kostic

If not cared for properly, makeup brushes can become hotbeds of bacteria. In fact, the American Academy of Dermatology Association recommends cleaning them every seven to 10 days to avoid nasty skin infections. Thankfully, you can sanitize your grubby bristles with simple ingredients from your kitchen, including vinegar, olive oil, baking soda, and lemon.

Making a DIY makeup brush cleaner is much easier, cheaper, and eco-friendlier than buying cosmetic cleaning agents from the store. Conventional versions often feature soaps and chemicals that disrupt ecosystems after they're discarded and can wreak havoc on sensitive skin types. Plus, there's no plastic packaging involved with whipping up a fresh vinegar cleaner at home.

Here are five recipes to try using only common, clean, mostly food-grade ingredients.

How to Properly Clean a Makeup Brush

Contrary to instinct, you should never use hot water to clean your makeup brushes. The heat can weaken the glue that connects the bristles to the handle, ultimately shortening the lifespan of your brush.

When cleaning your brush, it might be helpful to agitate the bristles to loosen up gunk. But instead of pulling at them, dab the brush in your cleaning solution and swirl it gently against your palm or a clean textured surface. Try not to get the cleaning solution on wooden handles.

Reshape your brush while it's still wet and lay flat on a clean towel or, better yet, prop it up in a cup to dry overnight.

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White Vinegar and Lemon

Lemon slices, bowl of lemon juice, and brushes on tray

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Vinegar is one of the most widely used and adored nontoxic cleaning ingredients available. You can use it to scrub toilets, polish mirrors and windows, descruff hardwood floors, and yes, even sanitize makeup brushes.

To make this natural cleaner, combine 2 tablespoons of white vinegar with a cup of warm water.

Whirl the bristles in the mixture, rinse, dip in fresh lemon juice, rinse again, and repeat as needed until the water runs clean.

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Baking Soda

Baking soda jar and spoon on wooden table


This one-ingredient wonder uses the dissolving power of alkali to break down dirt and bad oils in your brushes. Sodium bicarbonate—better known by its street name, baking soda—has a pH of 8.3. Alkalinity is the antidote to bacteria that thrive in neutral or acidic conditions, which is why the common kitchen ingredient is so commonly used as a deep cleaning agent.

Just add a teaspoon of baking soda to a glass of room-temperature water and let your brushes soak in the mixture for 20 minutes (don't worry: baking soda is not corrosive). Rinse and repeat with a fresh batch of baking soda-spiked water as needed until the water runs clear.

With the average box of baking soda costing only about $1, this is probably the most economical method of brush-cleaning out there.  

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Castile Soap and Jojoba Oil

Person washing makeup brush with soap in hand over sink

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Whereas store-bought brush cleaners contain harsh soaps, this recipe uses a gentle (i.e., skin-friendly) Castile soap, which is made of vegetables instead of chemicals and animal fat.

Besides being vegan and better for your skin, Castile soap also biodegrades faster because it doesn't contain synthetic ingredients. Although Castile soap is sulfate-free and shouldn't dry brushes out, you can keep brush bristles extra soft by adding a gentle oil such as jojoba to the mix.

Combine a tablespoon of liquid Castile soap, half a tablespoon of jojoba oil, and about a cup and a half of warm water in a bowl.

Submerge the bristles in the solution and agitate to loosen up gunk. Rinse and repeat until the water runs clean.

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Witch Hazel and Grapeseed Oil

Mini bottles of oils with split grapes in glass dishes

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Witch hazel, an astringent extracted from the bark and leaves of the witch hazel plant, is another natural product commonly used in DIY skin care. The ingredient contains 14% alcohol, which makes it great for sanitizing brushes but could also dry them out. You can counteract its drying effects with a nourishing oil like grapeseed.

Mix 2 tablespoons of witch hazel and a tablespoon of grapeseed oil. Work the mixture into the bristles, rinse, and repeat until the water runs clean. Let dry overnight and you should have a soft, sparkling clean brush by morning.

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Tea Tree Oil

Vile of tea tree oil on a wooden surface

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Tea tree oil is an ingredient that agrees with most skin types and leaves behind a refreshing earthy scent.

To make a tea tree oil cosmetic brush cleaner, dilute 5 drops of the essential oil (in pure form) in a cup of lukewarm water. Add another 5 drops of coconut oil to keep bristles soft, then massage, rinse, and repeat as needed.

View Article Sources
  1. "How to Clean Your Makeup Brushes." American Academy of Dermatology Association.

  2. "Sodium Bicarbonate." National Library of Medicine.

  3. "Acidophilic Bacteria and Archaea: Acid Stable Biocatalysts and Their Potential Applications." Extremophiles, vol. 16, 2012, pp. 1-19., doi:10.1007/s00792-011-0402-3

  4. "Safety Assessment of Hamamelis virginiana (Witch Hazel)-Derived Ingredients as Used in Cosmetics." Cosmetic Ingredient Review, 2017.