Yes, You Need to Clean Your Hairbrush —Here's How

A clean hairbrush is crucial for scalp health and hair growth. Here's why and how to do it, according to experts.

How to Clean Your Hair Brush
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From thick, luscious locks to shiny, swoon-worthy curls, healthy hair is most commonly associated with a hair-care routine full of products that suit your hair type and any specific concerns you may have. Yet aside from products, it’s equally important to maintain and cleanse your hair tools as well. So yes, you need to wash your favorite hairbrush just as much as your tresses if you want to maintain the healthiest environment for your hair and scalp.

With a few simple steps, you can eliminate the potential breeding ground of dirt and bacteria on your favorite hairbrush and be on your way to healthier hair. Here's exactly what to know about the best practices for cleaning hairbrushes and maintaining a healthy scalp, so that you can achieve healthier hair from root to tip.

Why It's Important to Clean Your Hairbrush

Finding the perfect hairbrush for your hair type or styling needs is like striking gold. Your beloved round brush doesn't snag and helps achieve the best blowouts, and your detangling brush runs through your curls like butter.

If you've ever had an itchy scalp, you might not have considered your dirty hairbrush as a possible cause. But more than 100,000 follicles exist on the scalp, along with sweat and sebaceous glands that secrete oil and sebum daily — and all of that can get trapped on the bristles with daily brushing, says Penny James, certified trichologist and founder of Penny James salon.

Furthermore, if you're slathering gel on your brushes to create the perfect slicked-back bun or spritzing hair spray to tame flyaways. Your brushes are also accumulating product buildup, shed hair, and dead skin cells from your scalp, and you’re essentially depositing these things right back into your hair and scalp if you’re not cleansing your tools regularly.

Your scalp is the most important factor in growing and maintaining healthy hair because it’s the foundation from which your hair grows. "You must be sure to keep the scalp microbiome healthy and in balance to prevent scalp conditions, such as dandruff and Demodex, as well as to prevent hair loss," explains William Gaunitz, FWTS trichologist and founder of Advanced Trichology. ICDYK, Demodex is a scalp condition in which mites live on the hair follicle and cause itching, irritation, and inflammation.

"If you have chronic dandruff and are not cleaning your brush, you are constantly re-infecting the scalp again due to the Malassezia that has been caught up in the brush over time without being cleaned," explains James. Malassezia, FYI, is a yeast that naturally forms in the body, but when the scalp and accompanying hair tools are not clean, this can cause an overgrowth of this yeast that can lead to an itchy, irritated scalp. Furthermore, depending upon your overall scalp health, there could be all sorts of miscellaneous things trapped in your hair and built up in your brush, such as fungus, according to Gaunitz.

It’s also important to note that an average person sheds 50 to 100 hairs a day, and if you’re not cleaning your brushes weekly or even monthly, that’s thousands of dead hairs, along with the accumulated dirt that you’re brushing through your hair daily. Using brushes that are not clean can certainly lead to signs of an unhealthy scalp such as itching, burning, flaking, dry hair, excessive scalp oil, and even hair loss, according to Gaunitz.

How Often Should You Clean Your Brushes? 

Cleaning your hairbrushes is simple, and quick, and should be done roughly once a week, says James. Aside from helping to keep your scalp healthy, keeping your hairbrush clean will prolong the life of the brush itself, keep your hairstyle intact by not weighing it down with old product build-up and oils, and prevent recurring environmental build-up on your hair and scalp, according to James. Taking about 10 to 15 minutes once a week to cleanse your brushes can literally transform the health of your hair and scalp, and the best part is everything you need is already right at home.

You’ll first want to become more diligent about removing the shed hair every time you use your hairbrushes. Removing the excess hair buildup helps prevent unnecessary tugging or snagging on shed hair that's been left in the bristles, says James. Weekly brush cleaning is especially a necessity if you're experiencing an itchy, red inflamed scalp; that way, you ensure you're not causing any additional irritation.

How to Clean Your Hairbrush

Ready to take your hair health to the next level? Here’s a step-by-step process for properly cleaning your hairbrushes, whether you use a plastic brush with synthetic bristles or a wooden brush with natural bristles.

1. Remove the hair.

No matter what type of brush you use, start the cleaning process by first removing all of the shed hair that’s stuck in the bristles of your brush. You can use your fingers, a wide-tooth comb, or a rat-tail comb to remove the hair from the brush bristles. You'll want to carefully remove the hair as to not damage the brush's bristles, especially if you have long hair or curly, coiled hair that can get tightly intertwined in the bristles. Be sure to slowly slide the shed hair upwards from the base of the brush through the bristles to remove it. Take special caution with wooden brushes to avoid pulling up the adhesive that keeps the bristles in place.

2. Soak or scrub away the debris. 

For plastic brushes with synthetic bristles: Fill a large bowl with warm water. Squeeze a few drops of mild soap or your favorite shampoo into the water and let the brush soak for about 10 to 15 minutes, then use your hand to remove any debris that comes off the brush, according to Gaunitz.

Alternatively, you can run the brush under the hot water, apply the shampoo directly to the brush, and use a small, stiff-bristled paintbrush or toothbrush to scrub between the bristles, recommends James.

For wooden brushes and brushes with natural bristles: Do not soak them in water, as this can lead to the brush deteriorating over time and loosening the bristles. Water trapped in these types of brushes can loosen the adhesive and cause the wood to weaken. Scrub between the bristles with a toothbrush to loosen any debris, then rinse off the excess soap and dirt.

3. Rinse and let the brush air dry.

Find a well-ventilated area in your home, grab a clean towel or cloth, and place the brush — bristles down — on the towel to air dry. FYI, it’s important to leave the brush facing down so that any excess water can run out.

If you’re having a hard time getting the gunk out of your brush, or you find that patches of bristles are coming out of your brush (especially if you’ve had it for a long time), it may be time to get a new brush.

Healthy hair is much more than finding the perfect products for your hair's needs; it’s equally important to regularly cleanse and maintain the tools that are frequently rotating in your routine to provide the best environment on your scalp so your hair can continue to grow.

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