Here's How to Clean Hair Brushes the Right Way

When was the last time you did this?

Hair Brush

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Stop what you're doing right now and take a good look at your hairbrush. Does it look like there are dust bunnies in there? Does it look more like a bird's nest more than anything else? If you just nodded your head, it's time for a cleaning.

How to clean our hair brushes is something we should all know how to do. Believe it or not, your gunky brush could be the reason your waves look more bed-head than beachy. Excess hair and product buildup can actually compromise your style since the bristles in your brush aren't able to do their thing. Plus, it could affect your hair health.

Luckily, giving your hairbrush a thorough cleaning is actually a whole lot simpler than it sounds. "It's very similar to how you clean makeup brushes," says Josie Sanchez, a Manhattan-based hairstylist at Dop Dop Salon.

Below, we asked a few experts to share their hairbrush cleaning techniques, and why it's so important.

Why do we have to clean our hairbrush?

When it comes to cleaning your hair tools, it can be very easy to forget about the hairbrush you use practically every day. Even if you just have a few strands of hair intertwined between the bristles, Anne Maza, owner of leading hair tool company, Olivia Garden, confirms it does need cleaning. "It's important to clean your hairbrush for a few reasons," she begins. "One of the most important reasons is good hygiene. Cleaning your hairbrush regularly helps to avoid bacteria, mold, or other organisms that can grow on your brush and be transferred onto your hair."

Hairbrushes tend to be one of the ickier items in bathroom drawers. Old, matted hair, sebum, dead skin cells, and residue from hair products accumulate between the bristles. "When you start to notice a gray or white film on the brush, you know it is definitely time to clean it," says Dr. Snehal Amin, MD: Co-Founder and Surgical Director of MDCS Dermatology. "The gray clumpy areas are dirt, skin cells, and hair product residue."

There are important health reasons to maintain clean hairbrushes says Dr. Amin. "Microbes and critters making a home in the hairbrush lead to scalp infections. For example, tinea capitis is a scalp fungal infection which is typically spread by contaminated hairbrushes and combs," he explains. "Scabies and staph bacterial infections may also occur and manifest as scalp itchiness. These conditions are contagious, spreading between people sharing hairbrushes and combs."

A hairbrush is there to help our hair stay in good condition, so it's important to keep the brush in good condition too. Think about it, if your hairbrush is dirty, all the debris and product residue is going right back on your hair. Hairbrushes that are not clean can make your hair greasier and dirty. "If your hairbrush isn't clean, its performance and effectiveness can be reduced so it might not dry your hair as fast, it might not detangle your hair as well, it might not tame your flyaways, and your style might not last as long," says Maza.

How often should you clean your hairbrush?

How often you clean your hairbrush really depends on the brush type, how frequently you use it, and your hair type. If you see any type of buildup on your brush, whether it be product, dandruff or hair, it needs a wash.

A clean brush doesn't just style your hair better, it also helps the brush to last longer. But fear not — taking care of your hairbrush is far from a full-time job. Maza recommends washing your hairbrush at least once a month, but if you have long hair or hair that sheds a lot, you should aim to clean it once a week.

That said, if your brush is in a near-constant state of ick, it might also be time to reassess your hair habits. "If you're seeing a lot of buildup on the brush, it may mean you're using too much product," says Sanchez.

How to clean a hairbrush:

  1. Remove buildup. With any brush, the first step is always the same, remove the buildup. Extricate trapped hair by working a medium-tooth comb between the bristles, or by using a tool like the Olivia Garden Brush Cleaner.
  2. Cleanse the bristles. Wash the brush with water and a gentle shampoo or antibacterial soap to remove any buildup — this step is optional, but if your brush is very dirty, it's recommended. And remember, always scrub with care. "If your hairbrush has a ceramic coating, do not scrub the barrel aggressively as this could damage the ceramic coating," says Maza. Now, if you have a brush with boar bristles, try to minimize cleaning it with soap and water as the bristles tend to smell while they are wet. Once the bristles dry completely, the smell should go away.
  3. Scrub, if necessary. Every now and then hairbrushes need a little extra help to get squeaky clean. You can use your favorite scalp scrub for this or DIY it with baking scrub and an old toothbrush.
  4. Rinse. Before all is said and done, make sure all product has been rinsed away to prevent product buildup and bacteria growth. Hold your hairbrush under warm, running water for a few seconds to make sure it all washes away.
  5. Let it dry. Place it bristle-side down on a towel in order for any remaining water to escape and allow the hairbrush to dry overnight. "If you're in a rush, you can even blow-dry it on a low heat," says Sanchez.

When should you replace your hairbrush?

A good hairbrush that is looked after properly should last you a long time but there are a few signs that are a clear indication that it's time for the brush to replaced.

If you have a round brush that you use extensively with heat to blow-dry your hair, look for wear and tear on the bristles. "If the bristles are bent and no longer perpendicular to the barrel but instead laying on the barrel, or the bristles are much shorter, the brush needs to be replaced," says Maza.

For boar brushes (round or paddles), every hole holds a bundle of boar bristles. If a large portion of those bundles are completely flattened out, the brush has lived its full lifespan and it's time to put it to rest.

If the cushion of your paddle brush is cracked or broken in anyway, it's time to replace your brush as this can lead to mold building up behind the cushion and your hair getting caught in the cracks.

"If your paddle brush is missing its ball tip bristles, it is also a sign that the brush needs to be replaced," says Maza. "Using the hairbrush without its ball tip bristles could be painful on the scalp."

If any part of your brush is broken or cracked (handle, middle section, ring, brush head) sorry, but it's time to let go — it needs to be replaced.

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