Here's exactly how to remove make-up from clothes, according to experts

Advice from the make-up artists and stylists who deal with this problem every single day

Liu Wen wears a white shirt, blue pants and olive green Chanel bag
(Image credit: Getty Images/Claudio Lavenia / Contributor)

If one thing unites beauty lovers worldwide, it is the how to remove make-up from clothes dilemma. No matter how much we try to prevent it, we always end up with at least a smidge of foundation on our clothes.

And to be honest, it's not just foundation. Whether it's your trusty winged liner or even your bronzer or mascara, there's really no product out there that's totally exempt from transfer onto clothes (unless you have a really good setting spray). I know I'm very guilty of hugging people, leaving them with a foundation stain on their shoulder and keeping it hush. And not to mention the struggle of fall-out from powder products and the spills from liquids during the application process.

But I say enough—I've seen too many pieces of clothing get ruined from make-up. So, I've set out to end our struggle once and for all by asking those in the know how we can stop it (and fix it when it does happen). I've asked make-up artists and stylists who deal with this problem every single day—if anyone knows how to remove make-up from clothes, it's these guys. 

7 expert tips on how to remove make-up from clothes

Megan Watkins, Head Stylist at SilkFred, shares her top tips on removing make-up from clothes and preventing it from happening in the first place. Plus, more tips from make-up artist and journalist Madeleine Spencer and celebrity make-up artist Buster Knight.

1. Identify the fabric and the type of make-up

When I ask the experts how to remove make-up from clothes, the first question they all come back with is, which fabric is it? And what make-up? Foundation or lipstick? 

"Before treating the stain, you need to identify what the stain is and what the fabric is," explains Watkins. "For example, if you are dealing with foundation or lipstick, this is likely an oil stain and should be treated with a simple washing-up liquid that you would use for household dishes," she explains. 

2. Pre-treat the stain and cold rinse first

"Apply a small amount of gentle liquid soap to the stain, and gently rub this into the fabric using your fingertips—but you must not scrub the fabric intensely as this may be counterproductive and spread the stain," explains Watkins.

"Next, I would rinse the garment under cold water—never warm or hot, as this only sets stains. Again, do not squeeze or rub the fabric; simply rinse under cold water and, if possible, leave the garment to soak for at least 30 minutes. This should help to remove the majority of the stain," she tells me.

3. Wash as usual and use a stain remover if needed

Stylist-approved tip: "After you've treated your stain and done a cold rinse, you can then wash the garment as you normally would. However, if the stain is still persistent after the cold rinse, I would recommend applying a stain remover pre-wash as well," says Watkins.

4. Use stain powder

Spencer says, "You need Biotex powder. Put it on damp around the collar before putting in the wash, and it does tend to lift a lot. Or stain stuff works too". Sadly, Biotex powder seems to have vanished from UK stockists, so we would try some Vanish Gold Oxi Action Fabric Stain Remover Pre-Wash

5. Get the hairspray out

This trick is great because if you are at home getting ready when the spill happens, you will likely have some hairspray to hand. "I spray hairspray on it, let it sit for a while and then rinse. That usually brings foundation or lipstick out," says Knight. 

"Bicarbonate of soda also helps," he adds. Wet the stain before putting some bicarbonate soda on it and leave it overnight before washing. Or you can mix the powder with water (to create a paste) and rub onto a dry stain and leave until you can see the stain lift. However, do make sure you're not working with a very delicate fabric—bicarbonate of soda doesn't mess around.

6. Blow powders away

As a powder foundation lover, I've found that when you get powder on anything, your best bet is to use a hairdryer. Trying to brush it off with your fingers will only push the foundation into clothes. Instead, use a hairdryer on a cold setting and hold it at an angle to blow it away.

7. Prevention is better than cure

If removing make-up from clothes before you step out for the day is an ongoing problem, then you need to focus on prevention. 

"I always put my clothes on before applying my make-up to avoid any make-up transferring when getting dressed," says Watkins. "However, you want to avoid any accidents whilst applying your make-up, too, so I would recommend wearing a robe over your clothes or putting a towel over your knees in case of any spillages."

Best products for dealing with make-up stains

Dionne Brighton

Dionne Brighton is a writer at Marie Claire UK, specialising in all things shopping, beauty and fashion. Born and raised in North London, she studied Literature at the University of East Anglia before taking the leap into journalism. These days, you can find her testing out the latest TikTok beauty trends or finding out what the next full Moon means.