Years ago, a friend told me that she is utterly revolted by loose strands of hair left in a hairbrush. It’s one of those funny things that stuck in my mind, probably in part because other people’s cleaning neuroses are fascinating to me, and ever since she mentioned it, I’ve also become diligent about cleaning hair out of my brushes after every use.

That probably sounds nuts. Maybe it is nuts, but at this point, it’s such a matter of habit that I don’t even think about it. Brush hair, remove strands, throw hair in trash.

All of this makes for a good lead into this week’s Pretty Clean topic of how, when and why to clean your hairbrush — way beyond loose strand management.

How to Know It’s Time to Clean Them

So let’s say that you’re diligent about regularly removing dead hair from your brush. You may notice, as you’re doing so, that there’s some built-up gunk lurking in the space where the bristles meet the cushion. At the risk of grossing you out, allow me to explain what that build-up consists of: hair grease/oil, styling products, dead skin (from your scalp!) and dust.

As gross as that may sound, it’s actually very easy and not-at-all gross to clean it out. Technically speaking, this is something you should do once a month. I also know that pretty much no one is actually going to follow that, mostly because I don’t even follow it and I’m a cleaning expert. A more realistic timeframe is probably every three months; another option is to clean your brush when you get your hair cut — for no other reason than it establishes a little schedule that’s easy to remember.


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Two Ways to Wash a Brush or Comb

Depending on the material your brush or comb is made of, your cleaning options are to hand wash it or putting it in the dishwasher. Plastic and metal brushes and combs can go in the dishwasher; just be sure to clean stray hairs out well so that they don’t dislodge and become tangled in the dishwasher’s parts. Brushes with wooden handles should be hand washed, as the heat from a dishwasher can cause the wood to dry out and split.

To hand wash, dissolve a small amount of a mild shampoo or soap, like baby shampoo or Dr. Bronner’s Castile Liquid Soap, in warm water and swirl the brush around a bit in the sudsy water. A soft-bristled toothbrush can be used to scrub the cushion in between the bristles to remove stubborn build-up. Once the brush is free of gunk, rinse it well in clean water and place it bristle-side down on a towel to dry.

But What of Those Pesky Round Brushes?

Getting the hair out of a round styling brush is a thing that drove me nuts for years! I would try to get the hair out by using a comb, but it would never work as well as I wanted it to, then I’d get frustrated and give up. I knew there had to be some trick I didn’t know and, indeed, there is. Actually, there are two tricks. Double the pleasure!

The trick to successfully using a comb for round brush hair removal is to use a pick comb. The reason is that pick combs have thin, widely spaced tines that make them much better at the job than other comb styles.

The other trick, which I learned about by asking my hairdresser, is to cut the matted hair out with a pair of scissors.

I can’t tell you how foolish I felt when that was explained to me. It’s so simple! It’s also kind of cool and gross — just snip straight up through a section of bristles and then use your hands to essentially peel the hair off the brush in a sheet. Go try it now! It’s weirdly fun.

Pretty Clean is a weekly column dedicated to cleaning up the ugly messes made in pursuit of beauty. Jolie Kerr is a cleaning expert, advice columnist and author of My Boyfriend Barfed In My Handbag … And Other Things You Can’t Ask Martha. Got a topic you’d like her to address? Email her at [email protected]