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.
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
- 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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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!
This is not my first time trying this but I’m not in the professional world anymore. I have the time to look greasy and hide it under tuque and such. Thanks for the additional information. I use tea tree oil to clean my brushes along with simple non toxic Dr Bronners soap. If that helps. BBB was always my mother’s favourite brush of choice growing up. It’s the only brush that doesn’t rip your hair out! Shampoo is a big sham just like bras! Thanks for putting it out there and having the guts to show the process verbally and visually!
Hi Julie, It’s great to hear you are able to give water-only a chance. Dr Bronner’s soap should be fine to wash your brushes with. My grandmother only had BBBs, too, and I never understood why until I started my no poo journey. It just makes so much sense now!
This is a great post, and is exactly how I have cleaned my brush (when I do clean it, lol). I am a guy, so as long as I rinse my hair in the shower every other day I can get away with the extra oil on the brush. I do usually clean it with a brush cleaner I bought a while ago, but I rarely wash it in water as I should. I never thought to use a little plastic tub, though, and that will make it easier to manage since using the sink is not really practical while rooming with three other people. When I do wash it the brush performs much better, and this post has inspired me to attempt regular cleaning again.
A few commenters have wondered about brushes, and that was definitely the hard part when I first started. I ended up buying several brushes from Amazon and found one that works great from Bass brushes. Watch out for “wave” or “soft” brushes and others that look like they have really dense and fine bristles, because they will not penetrate to your scalp, or even past the top layer of hair (they weren’t really designed to, so no fault of theirs). The one I got from Bass is truly 100% boar bristles, has an excellent finish on the wood, and, most importantly, is firm enough to get the job done (and is not as sparse as some cheaper brushes I have found at local stores). I’ve had mine for over a year and a half and it is holding up very well (you will lose some bristles now and then, but that is unavoidable). You can find this model from various sellers for $10-$15; this seller has it for $13. This was the most affordable brush that I could find that was of good quality and for sure 100% boar bristle, and it costs less than most shampoos:
Here is the brush cleaner that I use. I bought this and a metal one, but this one is cheaper and works better for boar bristles IMHO. It leaves my brush looking almost like I washed it, and in half the time it took me to use a comb. It’s also like $6:
Speaking of combs, if you do use a comb in your hair I highly recommend you get a Kent comb. They are expensive (for a comb, we’re talking $7 or so), but these are one of those “they don’t make them like they used to” type of product that inspires detailed and poetic Amazon reviews (and solid five-star reviews for most of their line). They actually start with a solid piece of plant-derived plastic and they cut and polish each tooth by hand. Normal combs are molded plastic and have sharp seams that snag and give you a bunch of static. A Kent comb painlessly glides over your scalp and through your hair, and doesn’t make nearly as much static. It is also much thicker/firmer than regular combs, and has a nice quality heft to it. I have three different combs from them (a larger one for home, a smaller one for carrying, and a medium-sized backup for work), and I would replace them instantly if I lost them or if they were to break. Here’s the one I carry every day:
Sorry if I sounded like a salesman there, but when you find something that works great it’s hard not to share it.
Hi Esperanto, Thank you so much for your hair brush product recommendations! I will actually include a link to this comment in the original post. :) Very much appreciated.
Thank you for these tutorials <3 I bought my first BBB last week and just finished the first cleaning ritual. So great that it actually works out EXACTLY like you describe: from the "grey and dusty" greasy stuff in the brush, up to the smell of the wet brush (eeks!). Not like so many other great ideas that look so nice on blogs, but just don't seem to work out when I try it myself :P
It's a hopeful start, because I expected that my head & hair would probably react differently or at least give me far more trouble. But my 'greasy stuff' appears to be normal. Such a relieve! :)
When you were going to the initial no-poo phase, and still brushing every (or every other) day, did you clean the brush more often or would once a week (or whenever the water-only wash is going to be) still do? I used my BBB each night over the last week and love how it avoids my scalp from being oily but I do feel there is kind of a sticky layer over my hair (especially near the scalp) even though it doesn't look oily. It feels a bit like the grey greasy stuff in the brush. Do you think it's better to clean the brush in between or is it actually better for my hair to get used to the natural oils?
Hi Yvonne, I’m so glad you got exactly the results you expected. :) During my no-poo transition, I definitely washed my brush more often. If you want the least oily transition as possible, you could wash your brush between every brushing session (daily or every other day). Just keep in mind that BBBs are made out of boar’s hairs which are actual hairs, so overwashing it with a harsh cleanser could be damaging to your brush hairs over time. If you’re going to be washing it daily, you could use a sulfate-free product (anything cheap is fine as long as it’s sulfate-free). Very little product is required for each brush wash since the brush is a lot smaller than your head + all of your hair, so it shouldn’t be an expensive upkeep. Keep in mind the transitional phase should be temporary, so you shouldn’t be washing your brush daily for the rest of its life. If your hair seems dry especially at the ends, just brush the oils from the brush onto where your hair is dry before washing it.
Hi, I recently bought a bbb off amazon and it stated it was 100% boar bristle, so I hope it is! The only issue I am having is that it doesn’t seem to brush well through my hair… it leaves knots in my hair and I have to use my old brush ( plastic, wet hair brush). Anyone else have this issue?
BBBs are great at distributing oils, but not so great at detangling. I recommend detangling first with either a wide-toothed comb or another brush– wooden brush (which has wider bristles and can distribute oils a little bit, but not as well as a bbb). Then once your hair is detangled, use the BBB.
I have BBB brush from a brand call Evolve for $5 at Walmart. I think I saw them at Target and Cvs too