Tips For Cleaning Hair Brushes And Combs

A lovely reader wrote in with this question:
"I was wondering if you have any tips on how to keep hair brushes/combs clean? Ever since I switched to sulfate/silicon-free shampoos and conditioners my brushes have become very "dusty" for lack of a better word. It seems that after I brush my dry hair, a very fine coating of sticky residue (from the shampoo? dead skin?) is left on the brush or comb. Then dust gets stuck to the residue and the result is a very gross looking brush. I've been cleaning my brush with a toothbrush every week, but it's difficult to get to the base of the bristles. My primary brush is a paddle brush with plastic, evenly spaced bristles. I also have a wide-toothed comb that gets quite dirty."

   In case anyone is going eeew that's disgusting, quick where is my SLS, I'd like to point out that products on our faces and bodies attract dust and other stuff as well, and at the end of the day we have a nice layer of dead skin and hair cells, oils, dust and everything else all over us. Brushes clean our hair and redistribute the natural oils from root to tip, that's why the hair shines a bit after brushing. So brushes getting dirty is pretty much inevitable. But it's quite important to clean them regularly. Here are some tips related to cleaning, storing and pre-treating combs and brushes:

How to clean hair brushes

   My secret weapon wonderful little rake like this one to keep my brush clean. It is really great at getting the hair and bigger pieces and dust out, because the prongs a long, thin, dense and curved. 

    I got it in the Muller Drogerie. There are many available on Amazon and Ebay for really cheap. I like that mine is made of wood and has this curvy shape -- I tied a jute string around it and hang it. If you really can't get your hands on one, an alternative would a a fine-toothed comb. But this little rake really does the job well and leaves my brush almost clean.

   The next step is washing the brush, and what you do depends upon what is your brush made out of.  
   Natural bristles are delicate and should be washed with shampoo or a gentle soap or body wash.  Although if you have been using a lot of styling products you might want to use something stronger to get rid of the buildup, like shampoo with SLS or dish washing liquid. Artificial bristles can withstand harsher chemicals.  
    You can soak the brush in warm water and cleansing product for a few minutes, but not too long. If the brush is made of wood, don't get the base wet. Fill a deeper plate with the water and cleanser and put the brush in bristles down, so that the wooden base is on the top and out of the water. 
   Clean the bristles with your fingers, a toothbrush or a nail brush. Or try gently rubbing two soft-bristled brushes together. Natural bristles should be towel dried,  and the brush should be placed bristles-down to dry so that the water doesn't soak into the base.

How to clean hair combs

   If the material is synthetic and waterproof, soak them in warm, soapy water to loosen up the dirt.  Then, clean it with a wet and soapy microfiber cloth.  I fold it several times so that it barely fits in the gap between the teeth, and pull it between the teeth. A toothbrush is another option -- I find the soft ones clean better than the hard ones.

Storing Your Bushes And Combs

   A lot of the dirt on the brush doesn't come from the hair, but from the bathroom. You know that weird dust that you see on the edges of the bathtub? That mixture of skin and hair cells and lint clings onto the brush. So keeping it inside a drawer or a box would keep your hair brushes and combs cleaner.

Pre-treating wooden combs and brushes:

   You can treat most of your unvarnished wooden combs and the base of wooden brushes to make them resistant against stains and dirt and to make them less prone to water damage (and thus easier to wash). I use this method on my furniture, cooking spoons, Ikea organisers, body and hair brushes, basically any untreated wood that enters my house. 
   Linseed (flax) oil is the best, since it works differently. It actually crystallises within the wood, unlike other oils. You need raw linseed oil without any additives --  you can get the one from a grocery store, but in case you want bigger quantities try a DIY store but then makes sure it has absolutely no drying agents or any other additives which are toxic and unnecessary. I get my flax seed oil from Kremer Pigmente (their store in Munich is a really magical place). The rest of the flax seed oil can go on your hair (it's my favourite hair oil) and into your salad (tons of Omega-3!)
   Warm up the oil slightly. Take the clean and dry comb and coat it with a thin coat of oil with a paintbrush. If you are treating a hair or body brush, avoid the bristles. Let it dry, best would be in sunlight. After an hour or two do another coat. (Thin layers are key here, the first time we did this we got a thick sticky layer that took two years to dry properly.) After 30 minutes wipe off  and admire the grain of the wood, and enjoy the fact that your wooden item will last you a lot longer.

  One last tip: if you are cleaning a really dirty comb or brush, alcohol cuts through grease really fast. I wouldn't recommend it for regular cleaning though since it might damage the material over time.

  How do you keep your combs and brushes clean? Do share your methods in the comments.

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