Over the last year or so I’ve been working on all kinds of different waterproof makeup formulas—a gel eyeliner, in particular, is a big goal of mine, as is a long-wearing liquid lipstick. While the formulas still need work before they will stay on my face for ages, I very quickly reached a point where they would stay in my makeup brushes quite stubbornly and realized I would need a new, stronger makeup brush cleanser than the one I made last year. Here’s what I came up with—it kicks butt!

How to Make Even Better Makeup Brush Cleanser

The cleansing strategy for this formula is two-fold. Thing one is the surfactants—a sturdy blend of anionic Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLeS), non-ionic Caprylyl/Capryl Glucoside, and amphoteric Cocamidopropyl Betaine. Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLeS) in particular is a great cleanser, and the blend of three different charges gives us a fairly mild blend that cleanses beautifully.

How to Make Even Better Makeup Brush Cleanser

How to Make Even Better Makeup Brush Cleanser

Part two is the inclusion of some isododecane, which works to dissolve the things in waterproof makeup that make it waterproof. It works a treat. Additionally, because it is quite volatile it helps the brushes dry faster.

How to Make Even Better Makeup Brush Cleanser

I’ve rounded out the wash with some conditioning cetrimonium chloride and some glycerin and oat protein to help protect your brush bristles from drying out. I’ve provided some suggestions for mixing those things up if you don’t have them at the end of the recipe.

How to Make Even Better Makeup Brush Cleanser

How to Make Even Better Makeup Brush Cleanser

Because the isododecane is oil soluble you will need to give this cleanser a quick shake before use, but I haven’t found that to be problematic at all. I’ll dispense a small amount into my palm and swirl my wet brush it it. All the eyeliner/lipstick/whatever that’s in there will magically dissolve, leaving a sudsy red puddle in my hand and a wonderfully clean brush. Booyah!

Even Better Makeup Brush Cleanser

19.2g | 32% Sodium Laureth Sulfate (USA / Canada)
4.8g | 8% Caprylyl/Capryl Glucoside (USA / Canada)
6g | 10% Cocamidopropyl Betaine (USA / Canada)

0.6g | 1% hydrolyzed oat protein (USA / Canada)
1.2g | 2% vegetable glycerine (USA / Canada)
1.8g | 3% cetrimonium chloride (USA / Canada)
18g | 30% isododecane (USA / Canada)
0.3g | 0.50% Liquid Germall Plus™ (USA / Canada)

8.1g | 13.50% distilled water

Weigh the surfactants into a small heat-resistant glass measuring cup or beaker and stir to combine. Add the oat protein, glycerine, cetrimonium chloride, isododecane, and liquid germall plus as well, stirring gently between additions. Finish off with the water, stirring gently.

Transfer the mixture to a 60mL (2 fl oz) bottle. That’s it!

You’ll need to shake before use. To use, shake and then dispense a small amount into your palm or a small bowl. Swish your makeup brushes in the mixture and then rinse until clean. Re-shape the bristles and leave to dry before using again.

Shelf Life & Storage

Because this cleanser contains water, you must include a broad-spectrum preservative to ward off microbial growth. This is non-optional. Even with a preservative this project is likely to eventually spoil as our kitchens are not sterile laboratories, so in the event you notice any change in colour, scent, or texture, chuck it out and make a fresh batch.


As always, be aware that making substitutions will change the final product. While these swaps won’t break the recipe, you will get a different final product than I did.

  • As I’ve provided this recipe in percentages as well as grams you can easily calculate it to any size using a simple spreadsheet as I’ve explained in this post. As written in grams this recipe will make 60g.
  • To learn more about the ingredients used in this recipe, including why they’re included and what you can substitute them with, please visit the Humblebee & Me Encyclopedia. It doesn’t have everything in it yet, but there’s lots of good information there! If I have not given a specific substitution suggestion in this list please look up the ingredient in the encyclopedia before asking.
  • If you’d like to learn more about the surfactants used and compare them to ones you might already have so you can make substitutions, check out this page. You should also read this.
  • I did another version of this cleanser using 30% Stepan Mild LSB Surfactant and 10% Bio-Terge AS40 instead of the current blend of SLeS and Caprylyl/Capryl Glucoside, and that worked nicely as well. Feel free to do that instead if you have those surfactants.
  • You can used a different hydrolyzed protein in place of the oat protein. Panthenol will also work.
  • If you’re like to use a different preservative, please review this page.
  • You can try polyquaternium 7 or honeyquat in place of the cetrimonium chloride, but I would reduce the amount to 0.5–1% and make up the difference with more distilled water.
  • If you don’t have isododecane you can try cyclomethicone or high-proof isopropyl alcohol as an alternative.

How to Make Even Better Makeup Brush Cleanser

How to Make Even Better Makeup Brush Cleanser

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