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. Rain

    Hi. Is there another option for those of us who don’t want to use a brush that contains animals parts (vegan), but has a similar effect as a BBB? Thanks!

    1. dans

      I have heard wood combs and brushes work really well also. Maybe do a Google search to see if there are different types of woods, I think you would want one that is slightly porous to help move those scalp oils. Wood is also a good choice for curly hair.

    2. Yes! You can certainly use a vegan wooden brush (with wooden bristles– the bristles are the most important part). Bamboo brushes seem to be highly recommended by others with great results. You can find them at your local health foods stores. I found a 100% bamboo brush at Whole Foods for ~$12 USD (by BASS) and I’m happy with it.

      There are some noticeable differences though. My wooden bristled brush doesn’t distribute the oils through my hair as well as the boar-bristled one, mostly because there are less bristles and they are further apart from one another, so it would take a lot of brush strokes to distribute oils as well as a BBB. It still does distribute oils, just not quite as well. However, I find the wooden bristled brush to detangle my hair much easier and be nicer on my hair, and generally be a perfect daily brush for styling / brushing it in the mornings, while distributing oils at the same time. It’s also great to use a wooden bristled brush if you have a lot of hair or thick hair, since it seems to get down to the scalp a lot easier than a BBB (which seems to stay on the surface of strands). Wooden bristled brushes also don’t cause static like the BBBs can. If you want a vegan option, I’d say try to find a wooden bristled brush that has a lot of bristles and find one with as dense of bristles as you can.

  2. If you can’t afford to buy a BBB right now, I would imagine that ‘preening’ would do a similar job in the short term. After you scratch, split you hair into sections and take a single section, maybe an inch or two wide, depending on how long your fingers are, between two fingers, and draw your fingers down from root to tip. This should help with moving the sebum down the hair shaft.

  3. Olive

    Great tutorial! (Also loved the ultimate water only one! So helpful) I have been shampoo free for a year, water only for 6 months. I have a square boar bristle brush as well as a round cushiony one -with some plastic bristles as well. I like to wet my brushes in warm water, take a bar of castile soap, and rub it in between the bristles. I then rinse it and set it bristle side down to dry. This seems to work pretty well for me, I usually do it while I’m showering. Also, I use Dr bronners soap as i find some other castile bars (like kirks) are too strong and strip too much oil. I feel like Dr bronners is probably similar to using honey (but I haven’t tried that since I’m vegan :)) I will be trying this container method for my cushiony brush though, I worry about all the water that gets in there and definitely don’t want my brush to fall apart!

  4. Thank you. I have been doing no poo for about 3 years – alternating between light cream rinse or baking soda w vinegar rinse, sometime soap with vinegar rinse .. basically staying as far away from SLS as possible and still tending to my professional hair needs (i.e. looking soft and nicely groomed for trainings). I went water only two weeks ago, determined to stay the course for 3 months and see what happens. I really love your suggestions for the pre-water rinse – scratching and preening (funny and really helpful), I started tending to my BBB and so far livable. Mostly I pull my hair back now (it is just longer than shoulder length.) From what I see most of the no poo pics I come across are light brown to dark hair. I would love to pointers to successful blond and grey no poos. We seem to show our oils a bit more and our hair can tend to be a bit thinner – unless of course, you are one of those rare thick haired blonds.

    Thank you for your post. Looking forward to exploring your site for me experiments and different ways of tending to my health and beauty.

  5. I use a body brush that I got from whole foods. My hair doesn’t benefit as much from medium and soft bristles (maybe because I have afro hair?) But the brand brush I use is bass and it’s definitely 100 percent boar bristle