Foxalicious Fundamentals: How to Clean Your Brushes

How to Clean Your Brushes

Chaos just asked on the Wall about cleaning brushes, and I thought that would be a good thing to address in a post. Since I’ve told you all to go buy brushes, I should probably tell you how to clean them, huh?

I clean my brushes about once a week; sometimes more frequently, sometimes less. Some brushes I clean every day or two. I’m trying to accumulate more backup brushes of these types so that I don’t have to wash them so often. From start to finish it takes me about 15 minutes depending on how many brushes I’m cleaning (usually around 12-15).

Using a plain old drinking glass (a short one, like a rocks glass, 12 oz. or so), I first put in 3-5 drops of tea tree oil (which is a natural antibacterial agent), then about three pumps of cleanser. You can use almost any gentle cleanser; I use facial cleansers that for one reason or another I didn’t like on my face. If it takes makeup off your face, it will take makeup off your brush. Hand soaps are not as good and can dry out your brush bristles. Liquid dish detergent is OK in a pinch; shampoos (especially baby shampoos) are fine; facial cleansers are fine. Right now I’m using a pHisoderm cleanser that I accidentally bought in the wrong form (cream instead of gel).

I then put about an inch of warm water in the glass and swirl it around using one of the brushes I intend to clean until the cleanser and tea tree oil are mixed in. I plop in as many other brushes as I can reasonably fit in there, and I let them sit for a minute or two. While you are waiting, this is a good time to collect and sharpen any cosmetic pencils you might need for the week. It takes just the right amount of time. If your brushes are really dirty or you have been using them in a lot of cream products, you might want to try a brief “wash” with olive oil first to help loosen some of the oily bits. Wipe well with a paper towel and then clean as usual.

After they have soaked for just a minute or two, I turn the faucet on a tiny bit (warm water). I put another drop of cleanser into my left palm, pull out a brush, and swirl it around in the cleanser until all the color comes out of it. If in doubt, rinse off your hand and try it with another drop; eventually you will not get any more color out of the brush. Rinse under warm water. Be careful not to get water where the metal ferrule of the brush meets the brush handle — eventually this can loosen and the brush head can come off.

I usually take a paper towel and press the brush loosely to get out some of the water. Then I gently reshape it (most of the time you do not have to be super-precise) and lay it down to dry, either horizontal or (better) tilting downwards so that the water runs down the hair and out of the brush, not up the hair into the ferrule. Again, this can weaken the glue and then brush hairs will start to come out more easily. I usually take a roll of grippy shelf liner and put it on the counter; I can balance brushes on it with the brush heads pointing downward and they don’t slip off. Or you could just do a rubber band around a clump of brushes and push the hook of a coat hanger through it and hang them upside down.

For big puffy brushes or ones that you really want to be sure come out the same shape as they went in, you can use a length of toilet tissue wrapped gently but firmly around the brush head, or, if your brush is really big, the tube from the inside of a roll of toilet tissue or a roll of paper towels (you can cut these and get several drying sheaths out of one paper towel roll). They take a little longer to dry this way, but you maintain the shape. The bath tissue and the cardboard do also absorb some water, which helps.

Other tips and tricks? Do you have a favorite way of cleaning brushes or a favorite product to use? Leave your ideas in the comments!

Review: Sigma Brushes

Before I even get started, let me make it clear that there are some drugstore brands of brushes that I really like, especially Ecotools and Essence of Beauty. That being said, sometimes you can’t find the brush you want in those lines, you want to expand the quantity or types of brushes you own, or you’d like to trade up to something that’s a little more professional. You could easily spend a week’s salary on brushes if you go truly high-end, but a really good-quality line of brushes that can be had for something less than a week’s salary is the Sigma line. They’re a great step up that won’t blow your budget.

Sigma brushes are well-made, with solid, weighty handles and good craftsmanship. I haven’t had any problem with shedding, and the fibers are soft and hold their shape well after cleaning. The two pictured here are the SS 188 skunk brush and the SS 275 angled contour eyeshadow brush; I also own the SS 190 foundation brush but didn’t photograph it for some reason. The skunk brush, in case you are wondering, is used to place product diffusely onto the skin. It’s particularly good for highly pigmented blushes or bronzers. The white hairs are longer than the black hairs; the white hairs pick up product and the black hairs provide the bulk and support for the brush head, which you use by tapping it against your skin. Because only the white hairs have product on them, and the white hairs are not densely packed, you get a more diffuse application, which can be really important when you’re working with very pigmented products or want to make a smooth gradation of color.

If you’re interested in trying out some new brushes, maybe some new shapes or some different fibers, then I really recommend looking into Sigmas. (The brand is also starting to put out makeup, so I’ll be interested to see how their non-brush products are.)

Sigma brushes can be bought directly from the Sigma website, but it’s always worth a spin by to see if they have the one you want in stock and if it’s cheaper. Some Sigma brushes are only available from the Sigma website as part of a set, but can be purchased piecemeal on AllCosmeticsWholesale, so it’s worth checking.

(Have you used these brushes? Love ’em? Hate ’em? Want ’em? Give a holler in the comments!)

Review: Smashbox Iconic Eyes Kit


Dear Smashbox, I was *so* not going to get this kit. Really. Wasn’t gonna do it. Then you sucked me in with that gorgeous, gorgeous picture of the blue-and-brown smoky eye. And I admit it, I was tempted. Mostly because of the blue. That’s a really nice shade of blue. And then unfortunately I happened to stop by ULTA to pick up some facial cleanser (my brand of which they no longer appear to carry, WTF?) and there was the display/tester setup of the products in this kit. And because I was annoyed about not being able to get my facial cleanser, I decided that I would just test out that blue shadow, you know, just to see. Because the trip shouldn’t have been for nothing, right? And dammit AGAIN, that blue was a really nice shade on my hand. And the other colors in that palette were nice too. Crap. Smashbox, you suck.

Of course I bought it. What do you think I am made of, stone?

So. This little wonder-in-a-box contains the following: a mirrored eyeshadow quad (the shades seem, oddly, to be unnamed, but there’s a blue, a chocolate brown, and two highlighter shades, one peachy, one pinkish), a dual cream liner pot in “Infamous” (blue/brown), a deluxe sample size of Smashbox’s Photo Finish eyelid primer, a full-size Bionic Mascara, and two brushes (one shadow, one flat liner). Really, it’s quite a lot of product for $47, and it comes with instructions on how to create the various looks shown on the front of the box.

The four shades in the shadow quad are all quite nice; the darker shades are well-pigmented and the blue maintains its blue color and doesn’t go grey on skin (a pet peeve of mine about blue shadows). The highlighter colors are very light; it’s possible to blend the shadows to get a nice gradient from light to dark but you will need a bit of patience since they’re so far apart to start with.

I was excited to try the Photo Finish lid primer, and I used it instead of my regular TFSI. Unfortunately, this wasn’t a win for me, since I had some creasing and some color loss in the shadow as the day went on.

I haven’t had a huge amount of luck with Smashbox creme eyeliners; on me they have tended to smudge and fade. But, as with another recent review product, I haven’t tried them since I started wearing MAC paint pots as eyeshadow bases. So I’ll be trying them again, hopefully with better results. The brown half of the liner is a nice rich color; the blue half looks great in the pot but does that thing that I hate and turns to blue-grey on my skin. (I’ll be sticking with my MAC Petrol Blue Pearlglide eyeliner pencil for a blue liner.)

I haven’t broken out the mascara yet, only because I already have a mascara open and since they go bad more quickly than other cosmetics I like to only have one going at a time. In case you are curious, the “Bionic”-ness of it is explained by Smashbox as follows: “BIONIC is the first-ever ionic formula mascara. The primary ingredient in BIONIC is a chain molecule with a positive charge. The friction caused by sweeping the mascara brush across lashes causes a negative charge. Since opposites attract, the positively charged formula adheres to the negatively charged lashes for a dramatic effect that lasts all day.” (We will ignore the fact that the first listed ingredient in the mascara is, er, water.) Since the Bionic mascara is also sold on its own, I may review it when I get around to changing mascaras.

I like Smashbox brushes a lot, though I’d have preferred a slanted liner brush to a squared-off one, since I find these easier to use in applying cream liners. The shadow brush is nice: not too large, grabs product well, blends well, no prickly bristles on sensitive eyelid skin.

Products and swatches:

Liner shades on left, shadow on right. You can hardly even see the two highlighter shades on my skin; that’s how light they are.


Smashbox Iconic Eyes Kit: $47

Provenance: Purchased.

Price/Value Ratio (high-end: poor/fair/good/excellent): Good. If all of the products were as good as the shadow, it’d be Excellent.

Purchase again? Yes; in general I like their kits though I rarely have 100% success with all the products in them.

(Have you used these products? Love ’em? Hate ’em? Want ’em? Give a holler in the comments!)

Review: Ecotools Retractable Kabuki Brush

Short and sweet: If you are looking for a kabuki brush, buy this one now.

Oh. Huh. Maybe I should have saved that bit for the end. The problem is that I don’t have much to say about this brush because it is pretty much perfect, and you know the saying: If you can’t say anything not-nice, don’t say anything at all.

Whaddya mean, that’s not how it goes?

This is a great kabuki for a couple of reasons: 1) price, b) quality, and iii) retractability. Ecotools are available online and at some retailers, although selection will vary; my Target doesn’t have this brush, for example, but my ULTA did. Secret tip: Ecotools brushes are packaged in firm plastic sleeves with ziptop closures, which you can actually open in-store and feel the brush head. After some costly disappointments some years ago, I no longer buy any brushes I can’t at least grope ahead of time.

The brush head is smooth and exceptionally soft, the bristles are densely packed but not stiff, and the retracting mechanism seems pretty reliable, at least once you realize it’s a simple plunger mechanism and you stop trying to twist it. (See? I just saved you 10 minutes in your morning routine!)

Seriously, if you’re in the market for a kabuki for the application of mineral foundation, blush, or finishing powder, you can’t go wrong with this one, and it’s travel-friendly to boot. You will want to be sure to dry it upside down and fully extended after washing — which you would do anyway, right? — since you want to be really sure that water doesn’t sit at the base of the bristles and loosen the glue in there.


Ecotools Retractable Kabuki Brush: $10.99 at ULTA (I used my 20% off coupon and so I got it for about $8.79; you may also be able to pick it up for less via a drugstore sale or BOGO)

Provenance: Purchased.

Price/Value Ratio (drugstore: poor/fair/good/excellent): Excellent.

Purchase again? Yes, absolutely.

(Have you used this product? Love it? Hate it? Want it? Let us know in the comments!)