The key to understanding how to get mascara out of things on which you do not want mascara (so: everywhere except for your lashes!), is understanding what mascara is made of. Blessedly, the answer is not bat guano.

According to WebMD, “Mascara’s ingredients typically include a carbon black or iron oxide pigment to darken lashes; a polymer to form a film that coats lashes; a preservative; and thickening waxes or oils such as lanolin, mineral oil, paraffin, petrolatum, castor oil, carnauba wax, and candelilla wax.”

For our purposes today, we’ll focus on the bookends of that ingredients list — the pigment and the waxes and oils. In a way, mascara is similar to lipstick, though lipstick is more waxy than greasy and mascara is more greasy than waxy.

How Do I Clean Mascara Off My Clothes?

I love writing about mascara stains because I’m intensely weird and also because the secret weapon in the fight against them is one of my favorite products, mostly because it’s not typically thought of as something you’d use in the laundry: Lestoil, or its very close (and much more easily found) counterpart, Pine Sol.

I know! So weird and great, right?

Those two products are typically thought of as ones we use to clean our floors, but they do double duty as a laundry stain treatment—especiallywhen it comes to grease or oil stains. Remember this the next time you splatter salad dressing on your shirtfront!


How to Remove Lipstick Stains

How to Clean Hairbrushes & Combs

Should you accidentally get a swipe of mascara on your clothes, dab a bit of Lestoil or Pine Sol on the spot using a clean cloth or a cotton ball, and launder as quickly as possible. Be sure to check that the stain was fully removed in the wash before drying, as heat can cause a stain to set into a garment.

If you’re on the run and have limited product choices on hand, try the rubbing alcohol technique that we talked about when we reviewed what to do about lipstick staining.

How Do I Clean Mascara Off Pillowcases? 

Can you guess from whom I get the majority of the “How do I get mascara off of pillowcases?” questions? If you said, “Single men,” please step right up to collect your prize!

What I generally tell these men is that if the stain is fresh, to strip the case off the pillow and flush the soiled area with cold running water, then to massage a small amount of dish soap into the stain. Because mascara is grease-based, a good grease-cutting soap like Dawn or Palmolive is recommended for this task. (Also, just in general. Skimping on dish soap isn’t worth it — it’s sort of like toilet paper in that regard, well worth spending the extra dollar to get the good stuff!)

Hopefully most of the mascara will come out using this technique; any residual staining can be hit with a laundry pre-treatment product (the Shouts and Zouts and etc.s of the world). You can, of course, also use the Lestoil/Pine Sol technique.

How Do I Get Mascara Off Towels?

The main issue with getting mascara on towels, is that the pigment has a tendency to get into the nap, which makes it a little bit harder to get out. Given that, if you do get a bit of mascara on a towel, try flushing it with water—just do so from the back of the towel, which will allow the force of the water to push the stain away from the fabric rather than back through it. Then follow the same treatment instructions for clothes and pillowcases; either dish soap or Lestoil/Pine Sol will do the trick on those stains.

How Do I Clean Mascara Off My Glasses?

The good news here is that the mascara-removal instructions for eyeglasses is exactly the same as the instructions for cleaning your glasses just, like, in general.

While you may be tempted to use a glass cleaner like Windex or white vinegar to get your eyeglasses free of spots and gunk and perhaps even mascara, that’s a no-no. Those products can strip away the coating on the lenses. So skip those and stick with dish soap. It does more than just dishes! To use, massage a very small amount into the lenses under warm running water. That’s all! Super easy. Technically speaking, you should clean your glasses every day, but I live here in the real world with the rest of you and think that highly unlikely to actually happen. Once a week for regular glasses wearers/as needed for infrequent glasses wearers is probably a better rule of thumb.

While the washing is easy, when it comes to drying your lenses you want to be sure to only use a soft cotton, chamois or microfiber cloth — paper products, even very fine ones like tissues, can lead to scratching on the lenses.

How Do I Clean Mascara Build-up Off My Beautifying Tools?

I’m going to write a monster post on cleaning all kinds of makeup and haircare tools, but since we’re on the subject of mascara today, it feels right to mention that a small amount of rubbing alcohol applied to a cotton ball will take any mascara build-up off metal items like eyelash curlers. Even if there’s not build-up, it’s not a bad idea to clean anything you use near your eyes to ensure good eye health!

Pretty Clean is a weekly column dedicated to cleaning up the ugly messes made in pursuit of beauty. Jolie Kerr is a cleaning expert, advice columnist and author of My Boyfriend Barfed In My Handbag … And Other Things You Can’t Ask Martha. Got a topic you’d like her to address? Email her at [email protected].