Real Simple May 18, 2022

Real Simple


How to Clean a Hairbrush


A properly cleaned and maintained hairbrush will keep your hair shiny and healthy.

If cleaning your hairbrush isn't necessarily at the top of your to-do list, we don't blame you. But here's the thing: It really is a beauty chore worth doing. "Cleaning your hairbrush regularly will get rid of dirt, product residue, and oils from the scalp that build up on the bristles over time," explains Alex Brown, a Chicago-based celebrity hairstylist. After all, the last thing you want is for that gunk and grime to end up back on your clean hair, she adds.

Plus, spending a little time cleaning your brush will also help ensure it works better. The hair that gets stuck in the bristles can get in the way of allowing the brush to perform at its highest level and serve its intended purpose, notes Shelly Aguirre, a stylist at Maxine Salon in Chicago. The good news? Cleaning your hairbrush, no matter what kind it is, doesn't have to be a complicated or time-consuming process. Here's how to clean a hairbrush (or a comb) quickly and efficiently.

How Often to Clean a Hairbrush

A thorough monthly cleaning is sufficient for most hairbrushes and combs. If you have very long hair or use lots of styling products, you may need to clean the tools every two weeks. It's a good idea to remove the tangled hair around the bristles regularly, even if you don't do a thorough cleaning.

What You'll Need:

  • Pintail comb
  • Tweezers
  • Toothbrush
  • Gentle shampoo without added conditioners
  • Isopropyl alcohol (rubbing alcohol)
  • Disinfecting spray
  • Baking soda
  • Sink or bowl
  • Towel

How to Clean a Hairbrush

The steps for cleaning a hairbrush depend on what type of brush you are cleaning. Brushes with synthetic (plastic) bristles and handles are the easiest to clean, while natural-bristle or wooden-handled brushes require more careful attention.

Hairbrushes With Synthetic Bristles and Handles

These steps work well with all types of synthetic bristles and handles, including cushioned and paddle brushes.

  1. Remove the hair. Begin by removing as much hair as possible from the bristles using the end of a pintail comb, your fingers, or tweezers.
  2. Wash the brush. Fill the bathroom sink or a large bowl with warm water. Add a generous squeeze (about two teaspoons) of shampoo and swish the brush in the solution to create some suds.
  3. Let it soak. You can let the brush soak for 10 minutes or tackle the grime right away. Use a clean toothbrush to scrub between the rows of bristles and around the handle.
  4. Scrub with baking soda. If there is an excess buildup of hair products, dip the damp toothbrush in some dry baking soda and continue scrubbing. The baking soda will act as a gentle abrasive to remove the gunk.
  5. Rinse thoroughly. Rinse the brush well with warm water and shake out the excess water. Place it on a towel with the bristles down to dry.
  6. Sanitize the brush. Mix equal parts isopropyl alcohol and water. Dip the brush in the solution and place it on a towel, bristles facing down, to air-dry.

Natural-Bristle Hairbrushes

Natural-bristle hairbrushes are more expensive and promise to leave hair smoother and shinier than synthetic bristles. Boar bristles are generally considered the best quality, and are usually mounted on a wooden handle.

  1. Remove the hair. Begin by removing as much hair as possible from the bristles using the end of a pintail comb, your fingers, or tweezers.
  2. Wash the bristles. In a shallow bowl that is wide enough to submerge the bristles but not the handle, mix warm water and about one teaspoon of gentle shampoo. Place the hairbrush over the bowl so that only the bristles are submerged. Allow the bristles to soak for 10 minutes. Remove the brush and use your hands to work the sudsy mixture between the rows of bristles, making sure you get down to the base.
  3. Rinse the brush. Quickly rinse the brush under warm running water and place the brush bristles-down on a towel to dry overnight.
  4. Sanitize the brush (optional). If you feel the brush needs to be sanitized, lightly spray with a disinfecting spray like Lysol to kill bacteria. Do not use isopropyl alcohol, because it can dry out the natural bristles.

Hairbrushes With a Wooden Handle

Wooden-handled hairbrushes can have synthetic, natural, or a mixture of bristles. Unlike plastic handles, wooden hairbrushes should never be allowed to soak in water. The water can cause the wood to deteriorate and the bristles to loosen. If your wooden hairbrush has gotten wet, never dry with high heat from a hairdryer. Use cool air if you must, or allow the wood to air-dry.

If the handle has excessive hair product buildup, dip a toothbrush in soapy water and lightly scrub to remove any residue. Wipe the handle with a clean towel and place it on a towel with the bristles down to air-dry.

How to Clean a Hairbrush With Lint

After you remove the tangled hair from the bristles, you may notice lots of lint or dust stuck to the base of the brush. This can be more difficult to remove than the hair because it is mixed with scalp oils and hair product residue.

If any lint remains after cleaning the type of bristles your hairbrush has, as recommended above, use a toothbrush to sweep out the lint from the base. This may take a bit of work, but move both horizontally and vertically through the rows of bristles.

Rinse well and allow the brush to air dry with the bristles down.

How to Clean a Hairbrush if You Have Dandruff

Dandruff is a skin condition where the skin on your scalp flakes off, leaving visible flakes on your hair and clothing. Fortunately, it is usually easy to control with medicated shampoos and is not contagious. However, it can leave your hairbrush looking unsightly.

If you have dandruff, clean your hairbrush weekly to help prevent skin flakes from redepositing into your hair. Follow the simple cleaning regimen recommended for your type of hairbrush, above.

How to Clean a Comb

When you're cleaning your hairbrush, don't forget your combs.

  1. Let them soak. To clean combs made from synthetic materials, fill the sink with warm water and a squirt of shampoo. Add the combs and let them soak for at least 10 minutes.
  2. Scrub. Use a toothbrush to scrub away any residue caught between the teeth. For tough stains or stuck-on debris, dip the toothbrush in some dry baking soda and scrub away.
  3. Rinse thoroughly. Rinse the combs well in warm water and place on a towel to air-dry.
  4. Sanitize. Dip a cloth or cotton swab in 70-percent isopropyl alcohol, then wipe the surface of the comb. Do not rinse; allow to air-dry.

Wooden combs should not be placed in water. Instead, dip a toothbrush in a warm, soapy water solution and gently scrub between the teeth. Wipe the comb with a clean towel and allow it to dry. To sanitize a wooden comb, spray lightly with a disinfecting spray.

5 Mistakes to Avoid When Cleaning Hairbrushes

  1. Skipping regular cleanings. Every hairbrush should be cleaned at least monthly and more frequently if you have long hair, use lots of hair products, or have dandruff or other scalp conditions.
  2. Soaking a wooden hairbrush. Soaking a wooden-handled hairbrush can cause the wood to split and the bristles to loosen. Never soak a wooden comb either!
  3. Using high temperatures. Do not use excessively hot water or heat when cleaning and drying a hairbrush. Synthetic bristles can become misshapen or melt, and high heat destroys the oils in natural bristles.
  4. Sanitizing natural bristles with alcohol. Isopropyl alcohol can dry the natural oils in boar bristles.
  5. Ignoring the handle. Don't forget to clean the handle as well as the brush head. The handle is subjected to all the bacteria on your hands!