How to clean a Boar Bristle Brush – like new!

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Hair Care, No Shampoo, Water Only Hair Washing
Close up before and after results of a dirty boar bristle brush versus clean brush

BEFORE: This is 1 week of brushing “water-only” hair. Note the sebum buildup.

AFTER: I gave my brush a quick bath, and it’s like new! Follow the steps below.

Using the boar bristle brush for no poo hair

One of the most essential ways to improve the quality of hair is to invest in a boar bristle hair brush, preferably one with 100% boar bristles. A boar bristle / nylon bristle blend is okay, just note that the higher concentration of boar bristles, the better. Affordable brushes can be found for $10 – $30 at Shoppers, Sally’s or other beauty supply stores. (See these links to brush/comb recommendations from one of our commenters.)

What does the boar bristle brush do?

A boar bristle brush (BBB) distributes the hair’s natural oils away from the roots and down to the ends of hair. It allows you to coat the length of your hair with hydrating & protective oils created naturally by the scalp. We can’t reap the benefits of these naturally-produced oils when we strip them from our hair by washing daily with sulfates and detergents found in most commercial shampoos. A major key to better quality hair is to wash it less often (or eliminate harsh sulfates/detergents all together), and use a BBB between washes/rinses to pull the oils away from the roots & distribute them down to the ends. This process keeps roots from looking oily, and it adds hydration to the ends of hair which can otherwise be susceptible to dryness.

If you suffer from an oily scalp, dry ends, and/or frizzy hair, a BBB can be a complete game changer. One of the first times I used one, I had just started no-shampoo / “no poo” and went seven days without washing or rinsing my hair. I let it become a greasy mess, but then I used a BBB to pull the oils down to my ends, put it up in a high bun, and went to bed. When I woke up, I promptly water-washed my hair, and it dried incredibly soft, hydrated, bouncy, and frizz was no where to be found. It’s like using a hair mask, except it’s free and works better than any hair mask I’ve ever used.

Boar bristle brushes need cleaning on no poo

Anyway, if you use a BBB, especially if you are “no poo” (no shampoo) or use the water-only hair washing method like me, you know your BBB can get pretty gross, pretty fast. After a week of using mine, there is a lot of sebum buildup (which is the oil naturally produced by our scalps), which looks grey and dusty when it builds up on a hair brush (pictured below), and also hair that needs to be removed. If you want your hair to look less oily-looking (especially during the oily transitional phase that occurs when you start no poo), cleaning your boar-bristle brush between uses is essential. Otherwise, your brush isn’t soaking up oils from your head, it’s just moving around last week’s oils (or whenever the the last time you washed it was) around on your head with this week’s oils.

Close up of boar bristle brush front and sides covered in dirty sebum

I give my brush a quick bath every week, and it cleans it like new every time. There are a few important steps I recommend that make it easy and help get the longest lifespan out of the brush.


What you’ll need to clean a boar bristle brush

Soap, comb, and container are needed to wash a boar bristle brush
  • boar-bristle brush
  • comb with regular or tight teeth
  • Liquid shampoo/soap — A sulfate-free shampoo or natural hair cleanser is preferred as it is gentler on the bristles. If you think your brush got in contact with products containing silicones, you can clarify it with a sulfate shampoo or body wash, shown here.
  • very warm water, and cold water
  • any kind of container that will properly fit your brush***

*** (Pictured Right): If your BBB has a wooden handle and/or a cushion-y padding where the bristles come out, it’s important that these don’t get submerged in water. This will avoid weakening the brush handle over time and allow it to dry quicker. Use a container that fits the brush so water touches only the bristles and just barely touches the cushion-y part of the brush.


How to clean a boar bristle brush

STEP 1: First things first, comb the hair and excess sebum off the brush.

Dragging comb across boar bristle brush to remove excess sebum

Starting at the edges, insert the comb at the roots of the bristles and pull the comb away from the brush to loosen up the hair. Do this around all of the edges of the brush. Then drag the comb through the brush (pictured right) to pull the hair off the brush. Keep doing this until all or most of the hair and excess sebum comes off the brush.

These pictures show what my brush looks like after I’ve pulled the comb through it a few times. I spared you some grossness. :) It’s already looking better, but there’s still a lot of dusty sebum buildup in there. (You can click this image to enlarge it / zoom in.)

STEP 2: Prepare the boar bristle brush bath.

Filling up a container with soap and water to clean boar bristle brush

Squirt a dollop of the liquid soap or shampoo in the container and fill it up with very warm water. We’re basically giving our brush a bath. Make sure the water is very warm as it will do a better job of cleaning oils off the brush than cold water.

STEP 3: Soak the boar bristle brush.

Soaking boar bristles in soapy water and swishing it to remove sebum

Swish the brush around in the warm, soapy water. Be careful to keep the water just on the bristles and avoid submerging the brush, especially if it has a squishy bristle padding or a wooden handle. It’s important to keep the brush bristle-side down while it’s wet for the duration of this process, so the water doesn’t seep into the cushion-y part.

STEP 4: Let the boar bristle brush soak for about 10 minutes!

Brush sitting in warm soapy water for ten minutes

After some good swishing, wipe off any water that got on the handle (if it’s wooden), and set it nicely on the container so only the bristles stay submerged in the water.

Now leave it alone for about 10 mins. Seriously! Don’t touch it. :)

STEP 5: Rinse the boar bristle brush with clean water.

Rinsing the boar bristle brush in clean water to remove soap

After 10 mins, take the brush out of the bath, keeping it bristle side down. Rinse out the container and fill it back up with clean, cold water. Swish the brush around in the cold water, still avoiding submerging the brush or getting the wooden handle wet.

STEP 6: Let the boar bristle brush dry!

A boar bristle brush drying bristle side down on a towel for ten minutes

Take the brush out of the cold water rinse, and keeping it bristle-side down, run your finger across the bristles a few times to flick away any excess water.

Set the brush bristle-side down on a clean towel. Wipe any excess water off the wooden handle and let it dry completely. It might take a couple of hours or all day to dry, depending on how much water got inside the cushion-y part of the brush.

NOTE: Many people have said their new boar bristle brush smells like… well… a boar when it’s wet. If this happens to you, don’t worry, the brush should not smell like anything when it is dry. And the way it smells while it’s wet should go away after a month or two of use and washing. So for the first month or two, just let it dry completely before using it on your hair!

DONE. Enjoy your clean boar bristle brush!

Close up of front and sides of boar bristle brush with no excess sebum
Ultra close up in between bristles of boar hair brush showing it is like new after cleaning

Thanks for reading! Please leave a comment if you tried this method, and let us know how it worked out for you! c:


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91 comments

  1. Matt

    Hey, thanks for the post.

    If you find that that brush is a good quality one, can you let me know where you got it?

    1. I got my brush at Sally’s Beauty Supply for ~ $12 CAD a while ago, and it’s my first and only BBB (at the time of this post), so it’s hard for me to compare its quality to others. It is a “porcupine” version with some boar’s hairs and some nylon bristles. I have had a positive experience with it, but it’s a little rough on my hair since it’s not all boar’s bristles.

      1. Usually when you see a brush that says 100% boar bristle, it means the bristles that are boar are 100% boar… which is silly :P If you see any strands that have blunt ends with uniform black color throughought, they are probably nylon. If you pluck that bristle and burn it, it will burn like plastic, not like a real hair. Which if it works for you, great! Every BBB I’ve seen at Sally’s has always been a mix of boar and nylon though.

    2. Lauren

      Hey guys :) Brands of BBB are Widu(they also make wooden bristle brushes and combs), Morocco Method, and Mason Pearson(THE MOTHER OF BBB). I hope this helps. I have the same brush that you’re using. ..the brand is by brush strokes. It’s a good brush but not pure boar.

    3. hailee r matheny

      I got my BBB on etsy from BrushKing, and it’s wonderful!! Decent price too. $15 after shipping. I think it’s 100% boar bristles and no nylon. It’s soft and has a good pull too it. I totally recommend it!
      Elegant 100 percent pure boar bristles hair brush by BRUSHKING on Etsy http://etsy.me/1MqFBbO

    4. Jesse

      I’m very happy with my Denman BBB. While researching the brush before I bought it, I found most people labeling it as second only to Mason Pearson. I’ve never owned a MP, so I can’t say. But, all of the bristles are boar bristles and only a few have fallen out over the past year or so. I think I paid around $40 for it, so it isn’t the cheapest. However, it may well be the cheapest quality BBB you’ll find.

    5. Michelle

      Could you please advise which shampoo/body wash to use when cleaning the boar bristle brush. I purchased raw honey to use but I’m uncertain as to whether it 100% raw honey. On the ingredients it states 100% pure honey but I’m reluctant to use it in case it damages my BBB. Do you know whether that’d be the case? If it’s okay to use the honey, I’ll try that. However, if not, I’m stuck as to which shampoo/body wash to use and I don’t have access to all American products (I live in Asia). Thank you for your help and amazing blog!

      1. Raw honey shouldn’t damage the brush. Getting water on the wooden part of the brush could damage it though, depending on the wood and if it was treated to withstand water or not. Raw honey is a gentle cleanser, but if you are having issues with excessively oily hair (and thus have a lot of excess oils on your BBB that you need to get off), I recommend using a stronger cleanser for your BBB. Any sulfate-free shampoo or gentle shampoo should do the trick without ruining the bristles.

      2. Raquel

        Pure or natural honey is not the same as Raw honey. Pure or natural honey has been processed while raw honey has not and will contain more of the beneficial ingredients. Either or the honeys will not hurt your brush but the raw one may work better since is has more of these anti-bacterial properties.

    6. Tory

      I got my boar bristle brush from Desert Breeze Distributing, and it is the best one I’ve ever owned. It’s better than a Mason Pearson brush. I got the 100% Pure Boar bristle brush, but they also have the option to have synthetic bristles mixed in. The price is well worth it.

    7. Susanna

      I have used many different kinds if boarbristle brushes and found the best ines are called ECO V and you can order online. The come from latvia I believe. All my grandkids love this one particularly. We have thick hair. But they also have bristle brushes for fine or thinning or childrens hair

  2. Matilda

    I did my first WO-wash today, after about 4 days of brushing with my new BBB! My hair was oily, a mess, really. But it actually worked alright, my hair isn’t 100% clean but feels voluminous and looks shiny (where it’s not still oily).. Guess it takes some getting used to! I’ll absolutely try your technique for washing my BBB, and I won’t do the mistake of forgetting that I washed my brush and trying to use it while it was still wet.. My hair smelled of boar! X)

    1. Congrats! I hope it continues to go well for you. The natural bristles of the BBB pick up the oils from your hair and help you distribute them away from your roots to the ends of your hair. But the bristles also hold on to those oils unless you wash them off. So if your scalp is still transitioning (and still producing a lot of oils), you may find that washing your BBB between uses (and using it daily) will help keep your hair from looking overly oily. Otherwise, you’ll just be brushing last week’s hair oils through this week’s already oily hair!

  3. Josephine

    Hi,
    I just purchased a BBB today, its stated 100% Natural Bristles for Fine to Normal Hair. Do you think that is 100% Boar Bristle? And also, do you think the BBB will make the hair fall out more?
    Thank you.

    1. A BBB shouldn’t make your hair fall out more. Just be gentle with your brush strokes and detangle with a wider-toothed comb/brush before using the BBB, since BBB’s are not great at detangling, but they work great on detangled hair.

  4. Kelly

    When you say “a boar bristle hair brush, preferably one with 100% boar bristles (no nylon bristles),” I assume you are discouraging the “porcupine” variety that are predominantly boar bristle with some nylon bristles? Why is that? I have the Mason Pearson “popular” brush that is maybe 95% boar bristle + some longer nylon bristles to aid with stimulating the scalp and detangling; when I bought this several years ago, I specifically wanted one with the longer nylon bristles because I’d found that pure boar bristle did not detangle my hair or penetrate all the way to the scalp (even though I do not have especially thick hair). The MP is a fantastic brush – I completely adore it and consider it well worth the cost. However, now I am in the midst of transitioning to water only, and I’m trying to figure out whether I ALSO need a 100% boar bristle brush… Do the nylon bristles do some harm?

    1. Alex

      I’m curious about this, too. I have the same brush you do.

      I’ve been doing WO for a little over a month and have seen great results with the BBB with a few nylon bristles. I think the nylon bristles act as an extra stimulant as you said- like a post-scritching scritch.

      Love this post, BTW. This is how I get my brush squeaky-clean. Haven’t tried the honey yet but I plan on picking some raw stuff up soon. I’ve pretty much just been co-washing my brush and it works fine.

      1. dans

        The nylon bristles will do no harm to your hair, so if your brush has some it will be totally fine. They will actually help, as the stronger bristles of nylon will be able to “dig” deeper into your hair strands as you brush. Quite often 100% boar hair is too weak to push through thicker hair, which only means it takes longer to thoroughly brush (not that it can’t be done!) Also remember that the boars hair is what is actually spreading your oils through your hair, as they are absorbant. Nylon is not, so they aren’t helping move the oils down the hair shafts as easily, and most likely not at all to the ends if you have medium to long length hair. My brush right now is mostly nylon, with maybe 25% boars hair, I would like to find one that is maybe 75% boars hair, with 25% nylon. My hair is a little past my shoulders, straight and thick, and a softer brush just takes toooooooo looonnnngggg to get all done. I need those stiffer bristles! Hope this helps!

        1. Hi Kelly, I 100% agree with dans’ comment. It’s important to remember that a brush with more boar’s hair bristles than nylon is the ideal brush since the boar’s hairs are the ones that actually absorb your scalp’s oils and help you distribute them through your hair. The nylon bristles don’t do this, but as dans said, some nylon bristles throughout the brush can be helpful to “dig” deeper through your hair. Some BBBs aren’t very sturdy and only brush the surface of a section of hair, and it’s hard to get the bristles to reach deeper to all of the hair underneath. If this happens, you may have to part your hair a lot and work in sections if you have thick hair or a lot of hair. If your current brush works well for you, I don’t see a need to go out and buy a new one. It is good to know though that many brushes in stores are labeled “100% boar bristles” but they are actually full of a lot of nylon bristles and a lot less boar bristles than you’d think. So if you’re having a hard time distributing oils through your hair, a high content of nylon bristles could be causing it without you knowing it.

  5. chasity

    So what if I’m a poor person and I can only afford a nylon brush….. Does the BBB really matter that much??? I’m a single mom and I can’t really afford to spend $10-$15 on a BBB brush…. Will the nylon brush work jus the same or just as well… I wanna switch to no poo but the brush is really the only thing holding me back…..

    1. Ms R

      Hi chasity,
      My experience is that a bbb is really important. I got mine for only 7 euro (in Holland, in the shop ‘kruitvat’). If you think the BBB is too expensive, think about the money you will save when you never use shampoo again.
      In my opinion the BBB is a one time investigation, and it is absolutely worth it. On the other hand, i have no experience with a nylon one, do maybe you could try that. Also you can buy a BBB the next time you should go shopping for hair products and buy the BBB in stead and you go only-water from that moment.
      I hope my comment was useful

      X

    2. caro

      the boar bristle brush is about brushing the oils from your scalp to the ends of your hair. This is not necessary but it helps with the process. The thing is, bbb’s tend to do this very well. but i’m sure that there are other brushes who take the oils to the ends of you hair. So summarized: A bbb is not necesarry, if you can afford it, it can come out handy to buy something that is similar to it. good luck!

    3. Disclaimer: I am only beginning this process, so my advice is based on budgetary rather than hair experience.

      If you are able to switch to water-only washing you will definitely save enough money not buying hair products to buy a $15 BBB in a fairly short amount of time. If your budget is tight enough that you can’t “front” yourself a BBB now and save the money/pay for it later (no shame in that–I have certainly been there), I should think you would be able to get by with a cheaper brush but expect to need to water wash more often until you can save up the $15. When I was that poor I stayed within my meager budget by using an envelope system. In that scenario I would have started a “BBB $15” envelope and put whatever was still left in my “Toiletries” envelope into it at the beginning of each new pay period until I had saved up enough to go purchase my fancy brush.
      [I apologize if this was way too specific budgeting info–just remembering what I did back in the day.]

      If your single-mom status makes you feel guilty for spending

    4. Anonymous

      I found a BBB at Walmart for under 4 dollars. It’s not as wide as the one pictured above, but, hey, under 4 dollars!!!

    5. Bluer140

      CVS has started selling $6-$15 “100% Natural boars brushes.” Mine was about $6-$7 after tax, I’ve been looking for an affordable one myself. Though I do note that I wasn’t sure of the authenticity of mine and this article makes sense – I think the ones sold at cvs might have a heavy mix of nylon bristles with the boar which may be why they’re selling it for so cheap. If anything I’m going to be comparing mine to ones sold at Ulta and Sally’s today.

    6. Bluer140

      Also, Chasity, it might help to just start of with a detabgling brush if you’re going “no poo.” My hair has gone through a certain amount of bleach damage and I typically wash my hair at the very end of the week – so it mostly goes 5 days without any rinsing or washing, just water, leave-in conditioner/diy leave in conditioner. I waited about 3 years before I could buy a bbb myself (the $6 cvs brush) and basically stuck to combs and my detangling brush for use on my previously natural fairly fine, wispy, black Asian hair.

      1. Pilar

        Thank you for all of this! My boyfriend uses a BBB/comb and I realized today that he hadn’t cleaned the brush in forever. Yuck. I used tweezers to get out most of the loose beard/head hairs and saw how gray it was still looking. I mistakenly took a sniff and that sebum smell was DEFINITELY there lol. I’ll be trying this with honey!