How to

How to Clean Makeup Brushes With Vinegar—Steps and Results

I’ll be real here. I use whatever dish soap I have lying around to clean my brushes.

That means you’re in for a ride with me as I clean my brushes, for the first time, with vinegar. I’ll give you a full report on how to do so, the upsides and downsides, and how it compares to my dish soap method.

Ready to clean? Me too.

A collection of fanned out brushes
Some brushes that could use a cleaning.

Steps to Cleaning Your Brushes With Vinegar

After trying all sorts of different proportions, here’s how I did the best I could cleaning my brushes with vinegar.

Step 1: Collect Ingredients

You’ll need the following:

  • A tablespoon measurer
  • A shallow bowl
  • Hot water
  • White distilled vinegar
  • Dirty brushes!
A picture with vinegar, a tablespoon measurer, and a bowl.
Some of the things you’ll need.

Step 2: Combine 3 Tablespoons Vinegar and 1 Tablespoon Water

Pour three tablespoons of vinegar and one tablespoon of hot water into your shallow dish. I got the best results from this high concentration.

Step 3: Swirl Your Brush Around in the Solution

Being careful not to submerge the ferrule (the metal part that holds your bristles in with glue), swirl your brush around in the vinegar and water mixture for maybe 30 seconds.

The reason you don’t want your ferrule submerged is because, over time, getting cleaning mixtures and moisture under the ferrule can loosen the glue there and shorten your brush’s lifespan. That goes for rinsing, too.

A collage with one brush underwater ("nope"), one brush facing up during tap flow ("nope") and face down during tap flow ("yep")
The dos and don’ts of getting your brush wet.

Step 4: Rinse and Dry

Now, you’ll want to run your brush under a flowing tap and remove as much of that vinegar scent as possible. To dry, squeeze the brush in a cloth. Then, put it brush-side down into a cup to avoid moisture getting into the ferrule and softening the glue.

My Results: Terrible

To be honest, every combination of vinegar and water (and I tried a LOT of combinations) worked horribly for me. Even the recipe I shared here didn’t do nearly the job my dish soap does.

Sure, vinegar is a disinfectant and degreaser, so the brushes probably were cleaner coming out than going in.

But what was missing was those telltale signs of the built-up product on the brush being washed away—the solution was clear as a spring when I finished swirling. Plus, my bristles were still the color of my last-used blush.

Before is on the left. You can see a lot of pink on the bristles. After is on the right. Some was removed, but there's still plenty of pink at the tip.
Before is on the left. You can see a lot of pink on the bristles. After is on the right. There’s still plenty of pink at the tip.

Vinegar + Soap: How I Made Cleaning With Vinegar Work for Me

First, I tried adding baking soda to the mix. (Fail.)

On the left, there's a brush with some red on it that needs cleaning. On the right, you see the results of using baking soda and vinegar—a crunchy, not quite clean brush.
On the left, there’s a brush with some red on it that needs cleaning. On the right, you see the results of using baking soda and vinegar—a crunchy, not quite clean brush.

But then I finally landed on a recipe that worked.

It was to add my old friend dish soap to the solution. I call this the vinegar + soap concoction.

To clean your brushes this way, you’d mostly follow the steps above. But instead of three tablespoons of vinegar and one tablespoon of water, you use this solution:

  • 2 tablespoon vinegar
  • 2 tablespoon hot water
  • 1/2 teaspoon dish soap

I found this to make all the difference. And—bonus—the brushes didn’t come out smelling like vinegar!

Eye brush that's clean as can be after using vinegar + soap + water
That’s the clean I want to see!

The Upsides of Cleaning With Vinegar

While regular soap, be it bar soap or dish soap or shampoo, you’re degreasing but you’re not necessarily disinfecting. Vinegar disinfects and gives you that missing piece.

Um. That’s really it.

The Downsides of Cleaning With Vinegar

There are a few reasons I’d say you might want to stick with more traditional methods or the soap + vinegar method I talked about here.

First off, vinegar alone doesn’t work to get product off. This is the dealbreaker for me.

Next, while lots of things can wear away at the glue that holds your bristles in place, I’d give an extra warning about vinegar. It’s commonly used to break down sticker residue (i.e., glue).

Then there’s the thing you’ve probably been wondering about: the smell. Do the brushes I cleaned with vinegar have a lingering, ammonia-like scent?

Answer: oh yeah. When I used just vinegar, my brushes stunk.

Picture of skunk
Source: @djlazz3 on Unsplash

The people at say you can rub your brushes against a lemon to get rid of the scent. I didn’t try that (1) because I don’t want to add the fragrance and oils from a lemon rind to my brush and possibly cause sensitization, a bad reaction, or a breakout, and (2) honestly, I didn’t have a lemon lying around. Feel free to try it if you’ve got lemons in the fridge and don’t mind the lemon oil left on the brush!

Alternatives to Vinegar for Brush Cleaning

If these downsides are too much for you, as they were for me, try the vinegar + soap method or some other ways of cleaning brushes, like the following:

Concluding Thoughts

Sure, you could wash your brushes with vinegar if you want to. You have the steps laid out in this post. But while it’s good for getting oils out and disinfecting, it’s not good at actually removing the product.

If you want to get an all-around clean, I suggest the vinegar + soap method described above. Your brushes will be disinfected, degreased, and product-free as a result!

If you were just searching for how to clean makeup brushes with vinegar, I know you got more than you bargained for here.

But I couldn’t help but tell you my results and try to give you other options, even while sharing exactly what you wanted to know.

Now you don’t have to have the same science experiment in your kitchen that I did!

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