There is an “old wives tale” that a shave brush is durable enough to last for generations. Luckily that idea seems to have been fading over the last few years. The shave brush is a tool, nothing more. That said, there are strategies you can use to keep that brush viable for as long as possible.
Why Use A Shave Brush?
If you are a regular Sharpologist reader I probably don’t have to explain why you want to use a shaving brush. If you are newer to the “old school shave” and want to know more about the why and the how of shave brushes, take a look at Why Would You Use A Shaving Brush? How Do You Choose One? for more information.
The Key Concept
If you take one thing away from this article it is this: the key to a shaving brush’s life is to not treat it too roughly. You don’t need think of it as a delicate flower but neither should you abuse the thing.
Never press the brush all the way down, spreading the hairs out as far as they will go. Doing so will eventually collapse the center of the brush, where the lather gets mixed (you’ll sometimes see this referred to as “crushing the breach”). It’s pretty easy to spot, especially on a badger hair shaving brush: when dry there will be a “dimple” on top and relatively unused hair bristles around the outer circumference.
Image Courtesy Of Classic Shaving
“Breaking In” A Shave Brush
Animal hair (badger, boar, horse) shave brushes can benefit from a “break-in” period to both reduce the wet animal smell (the “funk’) that can accompany a new brush and to prepare the brush for more efficient use. Before its first use a shave brush can often benefit from a shampooing, preferably with a product made for animals (a pet shampoo). The shampooing action with the hands should resemble a massage rather than a vigorous scrubbing. Be sure to thoroughly rinse the brush with warm water and let it dry before using (more on rinsing and drying below…).
Some have suggested that boar hair brushes may perform better after a cycle of soaking followed by a vigorous towel drying. Personally I found some benefit in this, if the brush is constructed well. But again, exercise reasonable care when drying, avoiding “burying” the brush hair in the towel.
Synthetic fiber shave brushes do not require a break-in.
Loading, Building, And Applying Lather With A Shave Brush
There are basically three products to load a brush from: shaving cream from a squeeze tube, shaving cream from a tub, and shaving soap from a puck (either by itself or in a vessel like a scuttle or bowl).
Loading a brush with a shaving cream from a squeeze tube is probably the most “friendly” to the brush, from the perspective of maintaining brush life. Just squeeze a little blob of cream from the tube into the brush hair, slightly off-center.
Loading a brush with shaving cream from a tub could be accomplished similarly, by using a utensil (I like small wooden craft sticks–think “popcicle stick”) to scoop out a bit of cream and apply it to the brush.
More likely though is to load from a cream tub or a soap puck, both in a similar fashion, by applying the brush directly to the product in the container:
- Moisten the product (dribble a little water in it then drain the water back out).
- Wet the brush thoroughly with water then let the excess drain (how much to drain depends on the size and type of brush–you may have to experiment a bit).
- Press the tips of the brush into the product slightly (just enough to splay out the hairs) using circular motions to get a reasonably thick coat of product onto the brush.
Building lather can be done in an empty bowl of some kind (or even the palm of the hand) or directly onto the face.
Start massaging the brush into the bowl or on the face using circular motions and pressing the brush down slightly. After massaging for about 30 seconds you may need to dip the tips of the brush in water and repeat. It may take a several minutes for the lather to build on the brush to the right consistency, depending on the type of brush, the type of product used, and the mineral content of the water.
Whether you’re building in a bowl or to the face, you are looking for a shiny, somewhat “loose” consistency (runnier than what might come out of a can or brushless tube) with soft “peaks” (like a cake batter) without any bubbles. In any case, this image hows about as much pressure you want to apply:
As an aid to the process, assuming the handle of the shave brush is small enough to be accommodated by the palm of the hand, is to grasp the base of the brush’s hair knot with the fingertips:
Maintaining A Shave Brush – Rinsing, Drying, Storing
After the shave most people (though not everyone) will rinse the brush under running warm water with the brush’s bristles pointing upward. I like to (gently) squeeze then unsqueeze the hair (like a pump) to coax lather up from inside the brush. When the water runs clear I will give the hair one last (gentle) squeeze then dry the brush with a clean, dry towel.
Do not extract water with hard, repeated “flicks of the wrist!” Doing so may over time loosen the glue knot that holds the hair in the brush handle. You may have a clump of hair flying across the room….
After drying, store the brush where it can get some air circulation–do not place it inside an enclosed cabinet. Then there’s the eternal question about whether to store the brush with bristles up or bristles down (in a stand). Many advocate storing the brush with bristles down, thinking the moisture will fall away from the glue knot by gravity, keeping the glue dryer. Others advocate storing with bristles up, thinking that capillary action will “wick” moisture up to evaporate.
But the truth is, it probably doesn’t make a difference. In the absence of recommendations from a specific brush’s manufacturer, you can probably store it either way.
When To “Deep Clean” A Shaving Brush
Residue built up around the base of the bristles and at the top of the handle is a sure sign that a brush needs to be more thoroughly cleaned. Another is when the bristles start to lose their resiliency and suppleness. Many experienced wet shavers suggest a “deep cleaning” cycle of anywhere from three to 12 months.
Routinely, cleaning a shaving brush after use is as simple as a thorough rinse. For a deeper cleaning you can try a number of products including. For more detail on how to deep-clean a brush read 9 Ways To Clean A Shaving Brush.
Some consider a shave brush an heirloom item. Maybe because of how much it cost them. But it’s really just a tool, with a finite useful life. Treated reasonably, without pushing the hair knot to it’s fullest extent, you should get five to ten years of use out of the typical shave brush.
How do you treat your shave brush? Any other suggestions for extending its useful life? Leave a comment below!
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