Why I Don’t Recommend Reusable Cotton Makeup Remover Pads

Why I Don’t Recommend Reusable Cotton Makeup Remover Pads

Like many people at the moment, I am always looking for more sustainable solutions. As someone pretty into makeup and skincare, I get through a fair amount of cotton pads each day, so it made sense for me to seek an alternative.

Posts about reusable cotton pads were doing the rounds on social media, so I decided to give them a go. While some people on Twitter and Instagram were buying packs of reusable cotton pads for only a few pounds, I really wanted this to be a long lasting solution, so chose something a little pricier so I could get better quality cotton.

However, while the concept is a great idea, ultimately, reusable cotton pads just haven’t worked for me

Using the Reusable Cotton Pads

The pads I chose were from Maca Valley, and described as Reusable Makeup Remover Pads, which also came with a Muslin Cloth.  The set comprises of 16 organic cotton and bamboo pads and one muslin cloth. The pads are double sided, with one side being a cotton cloth and the other side muslin.

Each pad is larger than your typical cotton pad, meaning that one of these reusable pads is about the equivalent of three disposable cotton pads. When it comes to getting your makeup off, these pads do a pretty good job.

The only thing to be careful with is pouring on the makeup remover liquid, as the pads aren’t the most absorbent, so anything you pour on it has a tendency of rolling off if you don’t let it settle for a few seconds. Other than that, using the cotton pads and muslin cloth is easy. Unfortunately, the cleaning process is a lot more difficult, and is the reason why I would not recommend these reusable cotton pads. 

Washing the Reusable Cotton Pads

The washing instructions for these cotton pads say to place the pads in the mesh bag and wash at 30-40 degrees Celsius. I had washed the first couple of cotton pads by hand in the sink right after using them, but they were never 100 percent clean, so I decided to wash all of the pads as described in the instructions.

However, after one round in the washing machine, none of the pads were clean. After a second go through the machine, I still wasn’t satisfied with the results. Some looked clean at first glance, but upon closer inspection were more grey than white, and clearly weren’t fully clean.

Couldn’t get them clean

Others were almost as dirty as when they went in the wash – particularly those which had lipstick or eyeliner on them. While I can understand that some makeup may be more likely to cause staining, these pads were advertised as makeup remover pads, so I would have expected them to be able to cope with makeup!

As the washing machine had not sufficiently cleaned them, I took to soaking the pads in the sink. I hand washed each of the pads with baby shampoo to try to shift some of the makeup, but this didn’t do a great deal. As a final attempt, I boiled the pads in a pan of water, so that they would at least be more sterile. 


As you can see, the amount of product that remains on the pads makes them pretty unusable. While a lot of the makeup has gone, the pads remain fairly grey and mucky looking, and some marks won’t shift at all.

Reusable Cotton Pads Before Washing


reusable cotton pads after washing

Reusable Cotton Pads After Washing

Drying the Reusable Cotton Pads

The next issue came from drying the pads. There are no instructions regarding how these pads should be dried on the packaging or online. I guessed that tumble drying would not work, so I only popped one pad in the dryer to test it. As I had anticipated, the Muslin side of the pad shrunk, making the cotton pad curl at the edges. It certainly didn’t become unusable, but it wouldn’t lie flat and you lost a fair amount of the Muslin size. 

I then left the rest of the pads to air dry, but after a day, they were just as damp as when I first put them out. Going away for the weekend, I left the pads out to dry around the house, but three days on, they were still a little damp. I popped the heating on for an hour or so to get them back to being usable. However, after four days lying around drying, some pads had collected a bit of dust, so were again unclean! How annoying!

Not easy to use

All in all, the cleaning and drying process was such a hassle, and I feel like I’ve wasted water and energy in the number of times I had to unsuccessfully wash them and have the heating on in June – neither of which really make these “reusable pads” environmentally friendly.

I’m sure these pads are good enough for some people, but I wanted an easy solution, and not to have to spend hours scrubbing these wipes. I’ll be putting these pads to some other use – probably re-purposed as a house cleaning cloth, but they simply aren’t clean enough to use on my face again! 


I’m still on the lookout for an eco-friendly makeup removing cloth now, so if you have any recommendations, please drop me a comment below! 


2020 UPDATE: I now use a makeup remover cloth I bought in B&M for £1.99 that effectively removes my makeup and the cloth does not stain after washing, even for mascara and lipstick. I would 100% recommend using a makeup remover cloth rather than these pads – it doesn’t have to be expensive.

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  1. 23rd July 2019 / 11:19 am

    Wow, I have a lot of respect for you – and this post! I’ve seen a lot of people on Instagram post about their reusable cotton pads – but I’m yet to see a review, which has put me off buying them.

    I’m so glad you posted this. The photo of them post-wash just shows how unhygienic it is to use them too. And that’s not even taking into account the germs we can’t see on the pads too!

    I think I might skip buying these altogether, and instead focus on other alternative methods of eco-friendly beauty i.e. buying reusable bottles of shampoo, conditioner and body care, which I can fill up at a local store.

  2. Joanna JOHNSON
    31st August 2019 / 7:15 pm

    Ive had exactly the same problem. I didnt even use mine for proper makeup but skincare and my the tint from my moisturiser/staining from my vitamin c serum and the actual dirt removed etc was enough to leave them unusable. Despite using a washing machine, a boil wash and even the ‘beauty blender’ microwave technique of using boiling water and cleanser/washing up liquid and heating for minutes…(with scrubbing) still left me with light staining (and now mishapped due to the scrubbing) after this first use! Imagine after weeks/months..

    For me part of the joy of wipes/pads is being able to know when your face is clean because the pad comes away from your face clean but if it is already completely stained there is no way to know if youre effectively removing all traces of products of your face.
    I feel that Ive actually done the environment a disservice by buying the product as I spent extra to get ones in a bamboo case etc for longevity but the amount of energy used to wash them when coupled with how few uses Im likely to get from them means Ive wasted more than if id stuck to disposable rounds. ?

    • ellennoir
      2nd September 2019 / 8:55 am

      Thanks for your comment! I feel exactly the same about the environmental concerns, I washed them and soaked them twice and the amount of water wasted makes me wish I had never bothered with them!!

  3. Lucy
    27th November 2019 / 11:22 pm

    This is the most relatable post ever, I had exactly the same problems! There’s so many posts saying “just pop them in the washing machine” but nothing seemed to get them clean.

  4. Sasha
    3rd February 2020 / 12:40 am

    Maybe the best solution would be to buy a cleansing foam to wash off the makeup in the sink and no cotton pads needed. I’ve just bought some cotton pads but not used yet so it’s good to hear your experience on them. Can only hope it’s not as much hassle for me also.

    • ellennoir
      3rd February 2020 / 4:44 pm

      Thanks for your comment! I have started using more cleansers for removing my makeup, but I find it’s never enough to get off my (quite heavy) eye makeup!! Since this post, I’ve taken to crocheting my own reusable pads to cut down on the amount of cotton pads I use.

      • Angie
        15th July 2020 / 12:45 pm

        Use any oil to get any mascara off your face. Works a treat ?

  5. Esra
    7th March 2020 / 7:32 am

    Wow you did write all my problems about how to use and how to clean this product is not so practical !!! The amount of water and energy I have used myself was crazy for those tiny pads .. trying to avoid plastic and getting plastic free pads and cotton pads becoming harder nowadays . But in the same time getting these pads trying to save plastic from oceans -seas , there wont be any water left as you need to use a lot of water to clean them … so no logic in those pads for me. I will use them for something else. Thank you for great writing ! Xxx

    • ellennoir
      9th March 2020 / 9:14 am

      Thanks for your comment! I agree about them not being as good for the environment as they are meant to be 🙂

  6. Amber
    7th March 2020 / 9:53 am

    I’ve found exactly the same problem! I expected them to just wash clean since they’re advertised as makeup remover pads, and I also rinsed all my ones right after using them as well, before machine washing them together in the bag. The stains just aren’t really coming out.

    • ellennoir
      9th March 2020 / 9:11 am

      Really glad it’s not just me! There have been so many rave reviews for them online I thought I was just being stupid with them, but nothing I have done has worked! Thanks for your comment 🙂

  7. Kate
    24th May 2020 / 10:52 am

    I feel like this issue is due to heavier make up wearing and may not be suitable for that.
    I wear light make up and wash with a little hot water and soap after and don’t have a problem.
    If I wear heavier makeup and dark eye makeup, I wash my face first with a rinse off face wash or I use face cloths (as in big flannels) and use the pads for my toning when my face is cleaner. They are so soft and a delight to use that I wouldn’t want people to be too put off.

  8. Jose
    26th May 2020 / 4:01 pm

    Thanks for your honesty

  9. 2nd June 2020 / 10:51 am

    Thank you so much for your honest post. I had the same thing as you and got all excited about reusable pads because of it being mentioned on Instagram a lot. But after one use, I can’t get the mascara out! And I really don’t use much make up. I am still going to search on for cleaning tips just a little while, because I made the pads myself and would be bummed out them being useless. I may just wash my face a bit more before using the pads or just use the pads for my toner. Thanks again for sharing your experience.

    • ellennoir
      5th June 2020 / 9:18 am

      Thanks for your comment! I think I will also just take to using these pads for the likes of toner and clear skincare product application, but it is a shame they don’t seem to be usable for makeup remover, which is what I would typically use cotton pads for!

  10. Martin
    3rd June 2020 / 10:53 pm

    These comments seem very one sided. Are they selected based on what you think are convenient for your blog?

    The truth is reusable pads are a massive help to the environment and one big step towards a better, plastic and waste free lifestyle. Disposal pads should not be an option and any alternatives should be used instead.

    In summary the use of reusable pads far outweigh the needless use of disposal cotton pads!

    • ellennoir
      5th June 2020 / 9:30 am

      I’m sorry you feel this way Martin, I post all (non-spam) comments that I receive to my blog, regardless of viewpoint. I know someone called Kate commented in May to say that these pads aren’t really intended for makeup remover, but should instead be used for things like toners, and said that she found them useful, so if people just want to use them for skincare application I think they will be fine and are obviously preferable to disposable!

      The problem I, and many of the people commenting here have found, is that they aren’t suitable for makeup removal, because the makeup stains them and they don’t seem clean enough to use on the face after that. The majority of people who find this blog post online find it through searching ‘How to Clean Reusable Cotton Pads’ or similar, so it is obviously something that a lot of people are struggling with.

      I am 1000% with you that disposable cotton pads are awful and that a great reusable option is needed (hence why I tried these pads to start with), but these particular pads just weren’t the answer for me. By saying I don’t recommend these for makeup removal, doesn’t mean I’m instead promoting regular cotton pads, I actually ended my post asking for other eco-friendly options. Since I wrote this post, I’ve taken advice given to me in these comments and use double cleansing and a toweling makeup remover cloth instead.

  11. Sophie L
    12th June 2020 / 7:39 am

    I agree with Martin, seems like it’s easier to be lazy, I guess… The whole theory on your recommendation it’s literally that you can’t get rid of the stains… and I quote: “Unfortunately, the cleaning process is a lot more difficult, and is the reason why I would not recommend these reusable cotton pads.”

    That’s the whole excuse around single use products, right? Why to put a little extra effort and find the way to clean them or reuse them if I can throw them. And even when you described on your post you tried different options, I reckon you have to hand-wash them immediately you use them and this will avoid the stains to sets in… Also you can try to find other brands and test them before giving such a strong statement as “Why I don’t recommend reusable cotton makeup remover pads”… Out there’re lot of people and companies doing huge efforts to create conscious around reuse – reduce – recycle; so in a world full of unconscious people using single use you are just one more 🙁

    If you are “influencer” try to use your “influence” to create conscious NOT EXCUSES. We need the planet more than the planet need us… PLEASE.

    • ellennoir
      14th June 2020 / 10:18 am

      I actually agree with what you are saying, and have mentioned in the end of the post and comments already that I’m looking for alternative eco friendly options. The review was for the specific makeup remover pads I used, not all eco friendly products in general. The pads I used had instructions that they could just be put in the washing machine straight away, but I did hand wash most beforehand anyway. This clearly didn’t work and I tried my best to clean them but they didn’t get clean. They haven’t gone to waste though, as I took to using these pads for other cleaning purposes. I have also not used disposable pads since writing this, I took to using a makeup remover cloth instead. I don’t think many people would have been as patient with trying to clean these as I was, and would have just binned them immediately, so by reviewing this product and saying I don’t recommend it, I’m saving that waste, and instead asked for people to leave better recommendations of what to use. From the bulk of other comments I receive on this post, I know a lot of other people have struggled with this product to.

  12. Caitlin Klueter
    21st June 2020 / 12:41 am

    I can understand the frustration for sure. I have to admit I may not be the best person to make a comment because my makeup routine is more on the minimal side. I was trying to find a more environmentally friendly solution and ended up making a batch of reusable cotton pads for my face routine. To avoid potential discoloration, I did go with a very dark cotton. Per the water, I also have many other reusables that replace disposables so I wash them all together on a sanitize cycle. I know this is not a solution for everyone, but thought I’d share what worked for me! Best 🙂

    • ellennoir
      21st June 2020 / 1:23 am

      Thanks for your comment! Making them yourself sounds cool and I’d be up for giving that a go! Since I wrote this post I’ve been doing similar, but with a microfibre cloth instead.

  13. Angie
    15th July 2020 / 12:42 pm

    Why not just use a flannel? I have bamboo reusable pads but only use them for my toner after I wash with natural soap and flannel (oil cleanse first if wearing mascara…doesn’t matter the type of oil but i use olive usually)

    • April
      30th July 2020 / 12:40 am

      What do you mean by “a flannel”? Just a basic washcloth or is it something else?

      • ellennoir
        5th August 2020 / 1:48 pm

        Yes, like a washcloth!

  14. Danielle
    12th August 2020 / 10:05 am

    I started off with re-usable cotton pads, but i had the same issue. I’ve now found an amazing alternative called face halo! Look them up.

    I can literally use water to remove makeup from my face and I just clean with soap and water STRAIGHT after use (as I’m at the sink anyway!). They last for absolutely ages and I will only use in the washing machine once in a while to give it that extra clean.

    I am very much into zero waste and sustainability so these are a win for me!

    Not sure what to do about toner etc, as I wont apply with my fingers. May just get black ones for that!!

    Great post!

    • ellennoir
      17th August 2020 / 9:45 am

      Thank you for your comment, I’ll be sure to check this out! I’ve taken to using a microfibre wash cloth for applying things like toner now.

  15. Emma
    24th August 2020 / 9:56 pm

    I’ve had exactly the same problem. Just contacted the company I bought mine from to see if they have any advice on how to clean them. It’s disappointing but a quick scan of the other comments suggests that it is a common issue.

    • ellennoir
      26th August 2020 / 9:04 am

      Thank you for your comment! It’s a shame they’re often advertised as makeup remover pads when it seems clear from everyone’s experiences that they should really just be used for applying things like toner and serum!

  16. Hannah
    5th September 2020 / 6:07 pm

    Thank you for your honest review! With all “eco-friendly” products there’s always a trade off. It seems that if you want to use reusable cotton pads, then you have to accept that they act more as reusable rags than makeup brushes (as far as cleaning goes). It’s important to keep in mind that just because something is stained, it doesn’t mean it isn’t sanitary! Western culture has an obsession with bleach cleaning, but pigment can be left behind while bacteria, dirt, or other pathogens are killed/removed through proper sanitization. In terms of sustainability, it’s ok for things to look a little grungy!
    I think I will still try the reusable cotton rounds, but now I know what to expect!

  17. Chantel Hayes
    19th September 2020 / 4:51 am

    Are you kidding me! I’m just blown away by this WHOLE POST! You don’t think they are “clean”? It’s makeup, mascara (probably water proof) and lipstick! All of those things STAIN MATERIAL! It’s not that they “aren’t clean”… It’s that they are stained! Duh ?! I’m shocked that you can’t seem to grasp this concept! If you were to take your tshirt and use it to clean your face, then wash it… It would be stained too! You seem to not understand what “clean” means. Something can be “clean” (free from dirt, germs, etc) yet still have stains. If you REALLY free that they need to look EXACTLY as they were when they were new… Just use bleach or something along those lines! But don’t go writing a whole post to discourage the general “sheaple” that read things off the internet and follow your every word, to stop using them. We are trying to make our planet better, less waste! And here you are, doing the opposite cause you seem to lack common sense!
    On behalf of mother nature… Thanks ? (said sarcastically)

    • ellennoir
      27th September 2020 / 10:10 pm

      Hi Chantel, this was a review for makeup remover pads that I wasn’t too happy with because they didn’t become clean (to my standards) in the washing machine as they claimed to. From the comments I have received, this is a common problem for many. Just like you, I don’t want unnecessary waste, which is why I wouldn’t recommend a product that I know many people would throw away after using because they don’t look clean enough. I have since started using makeup remover cloths, which cost me £2 (rather than the £20 that these cotton pads cost) and they wash very well and do not stain, regardless of the makeup I use, showing that the problem is with the cotton pads, not the makeup. This blog was to highlight that this particular product did not work for me and to ask for better suggestions for eco-friendly makeup removal, which I now use.

    • Emily
      4th October 2020 / 6:01 am

      to remove my eye makeup, I soak a pad with eye makeup remover, stick it on my eyelid, and wait. after 20 seconds, I look at the pad to tell how much makeup has been removed and then repeat until I don’t see any more eye makeup coming off. if the cotton pads are already stained, how can I tell if/when my makeup is off?

  18. Eleanor
    30th September 2020 / 5:13 pm

    Brilliant article. Totally agree.
    I only wear light make-up but there was still way more staining on the make-up pads than
    I find desirble. I’d even soaked them before putting them in the washing machine. Also, I feel like 30-40°C isn’t a high enough temperature to kill germs.
    I also find the same thing with reusable menstrual pads. The instructions say to just chuck them in the washing machine but sometimes I have to rewash them. Gross!
    Such a waste of water, energy and money.

  19. Janet Barker
    17th October 2020 / 3:33 pm

    I am making makeup remover pads using microfibre cloth on one side. My tester said that they worked well and did not say anything negative about cleaning. From your comments about your makeup remover cloth, I hope that this is a viable option. I currently use plush fabric on side 2, but am open to other suggestions.

  20. helen vantol
    9th November 2020 / 7:52 pm

    Probably the best solution would be to cut up an old towel that you are going to throw out anyway, and use that for removing makeup, then discard. I don’t know about you, but I’ve got a pile of ugly towels that I’m hesitant to send to the landfill.

  21. Kyunghea Choi
    12th March 2021 / 12:43 pm

    I totally agree with your article. Why do ladies take the change it could be some residue on the reusable pads and not clean enough to use it for face.
    Thank you for sharing!

  22. Miki
    18th April 2021 / 10:05 am

    I’m late to the party but I came across your review after deciding to make the change for myself.

    My understanding is that how you wash these pads is what can make the difference.

    Hot water sets stains. Using bicarbonate of soda is a good stain remover and it’s safe to use on anything that touches your skin.

    The same is also suggested when you use reusable sanitary pads – cold water rinse as soon as possible and bicarbonate of soda to help reduce staining. Then a 30-40° cool wash every couple of days in your usual wash.

    If you’re rinsing/washing/cleansing them after each use, being sanitary should not be an issue.

    Keep them to dry in sunlight where possible – UV can actually Kill any bacteria on the pads.

    Hope this helps anyone who’s decided to make the change.

  23. Gold
    18th July 2021 / 8:17 am

    My problem with these pads are that they are hard to fully sanitize. Washing them in the washing machine does not necessarily mean that they are clean enough to remove eyeliner and mascara from your eye/eyelashes. It has gotten to the point where when I used these, I get a stye on my eye.

  24. Lisa
    1st January 2022 / 9:57 pm

    I’ve been using reusable make up remover pads for probably around 30 years now. I still have and use the same ones…. Yes they look a bit grey now (actually very grey) but they still do the job of removing my makeup at the end of the day regardless of how ‘grubby’ they look. I’m afraid if you’re looking to keep them pristine white like a fresh cotton ball then that’s not going to happen but I quite like the fact that I haven’t bought or used cotton balls for years now.

    A while ago I had to purchase some disposable makeup remover wipes (you know the ones) to use while on a work trip away from home. Couldn’t bring myself to throw them in the bin so after I used them I washed them just to see If they could be washed and reused and how long it would take before they disintegrated. Some of those I still have and use some 10 years later…. The material they’re made out of can withstand quite a number of 60c washes!! When they become really unusable I pop them in the rag bag recyling.