DIY: 3-Ingredient Makeup Brush Spot Cleaning Spray + Video!

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single person in possession of a dirty makeup brush, must be in want of a way to clean it easily. Read more to find out how to make a DIY spot cleaning brush spray that only requires 3 ingredients!


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I was talking to one of my friends about cleaning makeup brushes and we came to the following conclusion: It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single person in possession of a dirty makeup brush, must be in want of a way to clean it easily.

I tend to deep clean my brushes at least once a week, but depending on how much I use them, it can be every 3-4 days.  I don’t think this is normal – I’m pretty sure I have some kind of unhealthy (or maybe this one is healthy?) obsession with cleaning my brushes, even though it’s, quite frankly, a pain in the ass.

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Me, whenever I realize I should clean my brushes.

In between the deep cleaning, I tend to spot clean my brushes by just rubbing them on a makeup wipe.  This doesn’t really do much other than remove the pigment from the brush, so I don’t really feel like they’re clean because they’re not disinfected or anything.

I’ve always been interested in brush cleaning sprays, but they can be pretty expensive, especially if it’s something you’re using every time you pick up a makeup brush.  After looking at some online, I noticed that most of them contain alcohol, some kind of fragrance, and sometimes, a little bit of soap.

Take this Bare Minerals Quick Change Brush Cleaner, for instance.  This 3.7oz bottle will run you $18, and the ingredient list is nothing special:

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The first ingredient, SD Alcohol 39-C, is denatured alcohol that’s permitted by the TTB (Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau) to be used in cosmetics.  Denatured alcohol is basically just alcohol with something called a “denaturant” added to it to make it taste bad – aka so nobody will drink it (source).

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The other ingredients don’t seem like they’re doing much either – water is water (duh), and glycerin is usually used to prevent things from drying out (source). Dimethicone copolyol seems like it can serve a lot of different purposes – I’m guessing that in this case, it’s being used as a conditioning agent/cleansing agent (source), but don’t take my word for it. Panthenol acts as a lubricant (source), and fragrance is just… fragrance.

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I’m not paying $18 for this mess!!

In my humble opinion, $18 sounds like a lot of money to spend on alcohol, water, fragrance, and a few other ingredients that just sound fancy, but might also irritate the skin.  Instead of buying a spray, I thought I might as well make my own!

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You will need:

  • Tea tree oil
  • Witch hazel
  • 70% ethyl rubbing alcohol
  • A spray bottle (I’m repurposing this NYX one!)
  • Something to measure with
  • Something to pour with

Why did I choose these three ingredients, you ask?

Tea Tree Oil
Tea tree oil has many uses, many of which include some kind of healing.  It also has antiseptic properties and is used in many household cleaning products (source).  You can also find this ingredient in the Sephora Daily Brush Cleaner!

Witch Hazel
Witch hazel is a natural astringent, so it does a good job at removing excess oils and cleaning the skin (source).  I figured if it’s a good skin cleaner, it’ll be a good brush cleaner as well! I use this Thayers Rose Petal Witch Hazel as a toner every day – the rose petal scent is an extra bonus for this spray.

70% Ethyl Rubbing Alcohol
Apparently, 70% of ethyl (sometimes called “ethanol”) is the most effective in killing microbes, and while higher concentrations might evaporate quicker, the fast evaporation could lead to it being less effective (source).  This ingredient is used to try and keep the nasty stuff at bay until I can get around to deep cleaning my brushes!

As for ethyl vs. isopropyl for the rubbing alcohol, I tried to see if there were any differences.  They apparently are both used for disinfecting, but ethyl is found in alcohol beverages, while is not.  Ethyl disinfects by “denaturing proteins and dissolving lipids, effectively destroying many types of bacterial and viral cells” (this sounds way too science-y for me), but is “ineffective against spores.” It’s typically found in soaps and hand wipes, but since it’s drying, it should be mixed with other agents. Isopropyl alcohol is similar to ethyl, but it isn’t as effective at dehydrating living tissue, making it better for disinfecting skin.  Apparently, “For disinfecting surfaces, ethanol and isopropyl alcohol are nearly equally efficient” (source).

Since we’re not spraying this directly on the face and we’re counting on it to evaporate from the brushes anyway, I’d say that either is fine.  I think the main important thing I’ve gotten from all this is that the solutions should be at 70% since lower ones aren’t as effective and higher ones evaporate too quickly.

Before I go into the process, let me throw some disclaimers in here:

Disclaimer #1: I am not a scientist or expert of any sort – I chose these ingredients based on seeing them in brush cleaning sprays & based on common use around the household!

Disclaimer #2: All my brushes are synthetic, so I don’t have to be too careful with them.  If you have natural hair brushes, you might want to go another route here.  I’m not sure if the alcohol or any of the other ingredients might be too drying for the bristles, so make sure to do your research before trying this!

Alright, now that that’s over with, here’s the “recipe,” along with a video I made to show you how I did it!

  • 2 parts rubbing alcohol
  • 1 part witch hazel
  • 4-5 drops tea tree oil

To measure everything out, I used this little cup that usually comes with liquid medicines:
DSC00591I basically filled it up to the 3 TSP line twice with the rubbing alcohol, and then once with the witch hazel.

I put the 4-5 drops of tea tree oil straight into this Pyrex cup.  You could probably forego this completely if you have a funnel and just put it directly into the spray bottle, but I didn’t have a funnel on hand, so the little spout makes pouring it into the bottle without spilling much easier!

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How to use:
Make sure to shake before each use! Tea tree oil is, well, an oil, so it’ll separate in the other liquids.

After shaking, I take a paper towel and dry-swirl my brushes to try to remove any excess before spraying the bristles directly with the spray.  They don’t need to be completely saturated or anything – just wet at the surface.

After spraying, I swirl the brush on the paper towel until there’s no more transfer.  In the video, I test an eyeshadow brush that was dipped in black eyeshadow, as well as a larger, denser brush caked with concealer.  It took about 2 goes to get them clean enough to where they didn’t transfer any more product:

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It’s important to note that this is a spot cleaner, so the brushes aren’t meant to be 100% squeaky clean! My main objective here when spot cleaning is to make sure there’s no product transfer so if I wanted to use that eyeshadow brush with another color, it won’t mix with the next shadow.  These cleaner is great because combined with the rubbing on the paper towel, it dries super fast, so I can basically use the brush right after cleaning if I wanted to!

And that’s it – super easy, and it only takes 3 ingredients (which you probably have lying around somewhere anyway).  Thanks for reading and let me know if you try this out!


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