How To Clean Your Hairbrush: Easy 3-Step Guide + Tips From Hairstylist
Here's a wake-up call if you need one: You need to clean your beauty tools. Every single beauty tool. Yes, this includes the more obvious ones like your facial towels, your makeup brushes, sponges, and facial massage tools—but it also extends to your hair products, like hot tools and brushes. See, when beauty tools of any kind are dirty or gunky, they not only transfer bacteria and other gross particulate matter back and forth, but they just don't work as well and will likely wear out faster.
So for your hairbrushes: Yes, you need to be cleaning them—this includes pulling out stray hairs from the bristles but also cleaning them with soaps, to rid the brushes of dirt, oil, and debris.
Here, our full guide.
Why do you need to clean your hairbrushes?
Your paddle brushes accumulate dirt, sebum from your scalp, stray hairs, dead skin cells, and bacteria when you run them through your strands. It's not pleasant to think about, but it happens. You can even see it, too, if you've gone long enough without cleaning. Your bristles may be coated in a waxy film (from product and oils), or you may even see lint-like clusters, which are actually a collection of dead skin cells, dirt, and environmental debris. Yep.
But it's simply the gross-out factor that should compel you to clean your hairbrush. To start, regularly cleaning your brush will prolong the life of your tool. (Some brushes can get pretty pricey, so this is no small reason.)
But more pressing: It's much better for your hair. "A clean brush means less damage to your hair and less bacteria on your brush," says Michael Bowman, hairstylist at Rob Peetoom in Brooklyn. Physical damage can lead to breakage, split ends, and frizz, so a clean brush can lead to overall hair health and manageability.
An easy 3-step how-to:
Here's exactly how to get your paddle brush clean, like brand-new clean. This simple method will remove hairs, gunk, oil, and dead skin cells if you are diligent. Now, there are slight variations to this routine based on type, so do be mindful to check out the additional sections below before you begin:
- Remove hair. First things first, you need to get the hairs out, all of them. You may be able to pull out all the hairs yourself, but you may need help with a thinner tool to help snake out the strands. "They make tools to remove hair from brushes that have been around for years. I'd recommend a wire one, they work the best, like this one from Amazon," says Bowman. Don't want to make a special purchase? You can use any of the following: The long tail of a comb, picks, a thin pen, scissors, or any long and sturdy object that you can weave through the bristles.
- Wet, apply soap, scrub, and rinse. "Use antibacterial soap; run under cold or hot water based on brush type; scrub with another brush, old toothbrush, hands, or brush-cleaning tool," says Dax Anderson, hairstylist and Davines education manager. For this, you'll want to make sure you're getting between each bristle, helping remove stubborn gunk that won't come off with just water. A lot of that buildup is actually oil- and silicone-based products, which repel water, so you'll really need to get in there with the soap and your hands or tools. Of course, be gentle enough not to break any bristles themselves. Whatever you do: "Never soak your brushes," says Bowman.
- Pat dry and let it air out. After fully rinsing, towel-dry immediately. (If the base of your brush is fabric, press and squeeze it to work out the excess water.) Lay out a clean, dry towel, and set the brush in a well-ventilated area until dry.
How often should you clean your brushes?
The short answer: Every single time you use it. "Hair should be removed from the brush after every use, for easy removal," says Bowman. This is pretty simple, and honestly not that big of an ask. Just pull out errant strands after you've run the brush through your hair. This will help keep the tool cleaner, too, so when you do deep clean it, it's not as much of a task.
Anderson recommends not only removing hair after every use but rinsing daily (just with water will do). "Remove hair after every use and rinse daily to remove product buildup," says Anderson. This is particularly important if you are one to use hair care and styling products, as your brush will pick up some of that in use.
But as for your deep clean, the one we outlined above? "You should be washing your brushes once a week, or once every other week, depending on how often you use it," says Bowman. So if you're not an everyday brusher (looking at you, curly-haired readers), you can likely swing every two weeks, but if brushing is a daily matter, then you really should be washing your hairbrush every week.
What sort of soap should you use?
Here, you don't need to be too picky, stylists agree. "They do have special brush soap to purchase, but any antibacterial soap or a shampoo you may have at home will work great," says Bowman.
But if you're looking for inspiration, here are a few options to consider:
- Antibacterial soaps: If you're looking for a good antibacterial soap of the natural variety try Beauty By Earth Body Wash or Dr. Bronner's Pure Castile Soap.
- Shampoos: You can also use shampoos to clean them, like any of these sulfate-free options that use gentle surfactants to help clean. Or, if you have one, use a clarifying shampoo, as they are formulated to cut through oil more effectively.
- DIY soaps: Love a DIY route? So do we. Here's a DIY clarifying shampoo that utilizes baking soda you can use to clean your brush as well.
Does the brush type make a difference?
The above method will work for every paddle brush in your collection. However, there are slight tweaks you'll want to make based on your exact type. Here, a simple breakdown.
- Plastic or metal brushes: Plastic bases generally have the most flexibility, as they tend to be more durable. Use warm water, which will help you cut through the oil faster.
- Fabric base: If you have a fabric base, consider dipping your bristles in water rather than holding the brush under the faucet. Fabric will take longer to dry and may get funky if left damp for too long, so it's best not to get that too wet to begin with. After, make sure it's drying off in a well-ventilated area, or even blast it with a hairdryer on the cool setting.
- Wood base: You shouldn't be soaking your brushes anyway, but especially not wood. Sitting in water, or just being wet, for too long can distort the wood and ruin the finish. Pat dry immediately following the wash, and you must let it sit in a well-ventilated area too (even in front of a fan might be better).
- Boar bristles: "Wash boar bristle brushes with soap and cold water to ensure you don't loosen the glue connecting the bristles to the handle," says Anderson.
You've got to clean your brushes—probably way more than you're doing at the moment, too. The good news is that it's super simple with these tips from hairstylists.
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Alexandra Engler is the Beauty Director at mindbodygreen. She received her journalism degree from Marquette University, graduating first in the department. She has worked at many top publications and brands including Harper's Bazaar, Marie Claire, SELF, and Cosmopolitan; her byline has appeared in Esquire, Sports Illustrated, and Allure.com. In her current role, she covers all the latest trends and updates in the clean and natural beauty space, as well as travel, financial wellness, and parenting. She has reported on the intricacies of product formulations, the diversification of the beauty industry, and and in-depth look on how to treat acne from the inside, out (after a decade-long struggle with the skin condition herself). She lives in Brooklyn, New York.