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. Rachel

    Hi there! I love your blog, it’s really helping me start this water only journey. I was wondering what you would recommend for washing a BBB with bristles all the way around like a cylinder? I’m not sure how to give it a “bath” but keep the wooden handle our. There’s no cushion though. Thanks!

  2. Brandon

    I’m kind of afraid that the shampoo will be left on the bbb and get in my hair – taking me a step back in becoming WO. Any advice or experience with this?

  3. Jem

    I have curly hair, but I think I will buy both a wooden bristle and a BBB. I’m just wondering the amount of honey you use to clean the BBB?
    Also, I have a plastic detangling brush, do you think that a BBB and this detangling brush might be okay for helping my hair remain curly rather than a frizzy mess, or do you think I should just ditch the plastic and go for the wooden?

  4. Shelby

    I have been doing water only for around 4 months now. I have probably used my BBB maybe 2 times during the whole process until a couple of weeks ago. It’s still possible to have it work fine and not use the brush. That said, your hair does get greasy quicker. I tend to wash my hair every 3-5 days depending on activity level. However, in the last couple of weeks I have started to use my BBB. It does allow for longer periods between washes.
    On a slightly different note… you said you use raw honey as your “shampoo” to clean your brush with… Does that process change any? or just mix it up and do everything the same?
    Thanks in advance!

    1. Hi Shelby, Thanks for sharing your experience. Yes, the process of using honey to clean the brush is basically the same, but may require a bit of gentle scrubbing with fingers for some people. Also people who experience excessively oily hair might want to use a stronger cleanser like a sulfate-free shampoo to make sure they get all the excess oils off the brush, as honey is much gentler.