[Updated September, 2019] You would think that a shaving brush is a pretty clean tool after being used with shaving lather all the time, but the fact is that there can be dirt, oil, and even bacteria along with built-up lather residue. So it’s a good idea to occasionally give your brush a deeper cleaning.
When To “Deep Clean” A Shaving Brush
It’s tough to say at what interval you need to deep clean a brush–there are some variables involved, including how often you use the brush, the type of shave lather used, and (especially) the mineral content of the water. Many experienced wet shavers suggest a cycle of anywhere from three to 12 months. But in any case, 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 cleaned. Another is when the bristles start to lose their resiliency and suppleness.
But it’s also a good idea to thoroughly clean a brush before its first use, too. New animal hair shaving brushes (horse, boar, badger, etc) being, well, animal hair can have an unpleasant (!) smell for the first couple weeks of use, depending on how the animal was processed. A good cleaning beforehand will knock that scent down to an acceptable level right off the bat. Even cleaning one of the new breed of synthetic hair shaving brushes when it’s new may be a good idea, just in case there is some kind of residue left over from the manufacturing process.
How To Clean A Shaving Brush
Routinely, cleaning a shaving brush after use is probably as simple as a thorough rinse. For a deeper cleaning you can try a number of products including:
- Pet Shampoo
- Distilled White Vinegar
- Mild Liquid Dishwashing Detergent
- Laundry Booster
- Classic Shaving Brush Cleaner
- PAA Brush Cleaning Soap*
- Ulta Makeup Brush Cleaner
- The Stray Whisker Brush Cleaner
No Matter How You Deep Clean…
…you will want to finish the process the same way: rinse with lots of warm water (gently “pumping” the brush hair with your hand or in a bowl until the water runs clear). Give the brush hair a gentle squeeze to remove most of the water (don’t “flick” it with your wrist, it may loosen the hair knot’s glue plug over time) then wipe the handle and hair dry with a clean (and dry) towel, “fluffing” the hair outward–use a small-tooth comb if necessary. Finish by placing the brush in an out-of-the-way area that gets some air circulation (not in a closed cabinet!) to complete the drying process.
Since most shaving brushes are made with animal hair it makes sense that using a product specifically made to clean animal hair should work well. Pet shampoos* are widely available and should be a great way to clean your brush. Simply wet the brush, apply a few drops of pet shampoo, and gently massage well to work up a lather. After the initial lather work-up some people find it helpful to then start at the base of the brush knot and work their way out to the tips.
After shampooing, rinse as described above.
I’ve read where some have suggested a pet hair conditioner after shampooing. Personally I recommend against this as it could leave a residue that might interfere with making shaving lather (and may have been a reason you needed to clean the brush in the first place!).
Distilled White Vinegar
Plain ol’ distilled white vinegar is cheap, widely available in many grocery stores, and effective for cleaning a shaving brush–in a very diluted solution.
In a mug, measuring cup, or other vessel with tall sides, mix a solution of ONE part distilled white vinegar and NINE parts hot water. The water should not be extremely hot though–temperatures near boiling may damage the brush’s hair.
Place the brush bristle side down in the vessel–the solution should come up to the base of the hair knot.
Soak the brush for about ten minutes, agitating the brush with a pumping motion occasionally.
Remove the brush and examine the base of the hair knot. If there still is visible residue you can use a tooth brush to gently scrub the area–use a motion that goes in the direction from the base to the tips.
After cleaning, thoroughly rinse and dry as described earlier.
Mild Liquid Dishwashing Detergent
Another inexpensive, widely available brush cleaning alternative is a mild liquid dishwashing detergent. Like using vinegar, you want a very diluted mix in a mug or cup of hot water–just a few drops of liquid dishwashing detergent is all you need.
Let the brush sit in the mug/cup for about five minutes, agitating occasionally. Then, just like using vinegar, remove and inspect, gently scrubbing with a tooth brush if necessary.
Rinse and store as described above.
A final “household” product to consider cleaning your shaving brush is with a laundry booster like Borax* (the “20 Mule Team” stuff). Again, you need to use a very diluted mix to avoid damaging your brush! I recommend using no more than one-half teaspoon per eight fluid ounces of hot water. Some have tried an “Oxi Clean” type product but I’ve read where people have ruined their brushes by using too much of the stuff. I hesitate to suggest it: if you have some sitting in your laundry room go ahead and try it but if you have a choice I would lean toward Borax or one of the other household cleaning solutions described earlier.
Cleaning the brush with a laundry booster is pretty much like cleaning with dishwashing liquid mentioned above: mix the solution in a tall-sided mug/cup and soak the brush for five to ten minutes, agitating occasionally.
I have read where a brush can also be treated with a paste of borax and water, worked in well, and allowed to set for about an hour–but I have never tried this method myself.
Rinse and dry as previously outlined.
Classic Shaving Brush Cleaner
Classic Shaving makes their own brush cleaner. They describe it as “…a unique blend of natural cleaners and sanitizers that easily removes soap film, hard water deposits, that distinctive “new brush” odor and even most stains from the bristles of your shaving brush without harming the brush in any way. Completely safe for use on all types of shaving brushes.”
It consists mainly of Sodium Tetraborate and Sodium Percarbonate along with some non-ionic detergents so you can think of it as kind of a mixture of laundry boosters. However this stuff comes in pre-measured, single-use packets so there’s little danger of using too much.
Classic Shaving suggests simply emptying the packet into a mug of hot water, placing the brush into the mug, and agitating the brush “briskly” for one minute, then repeating every 10-15 minutes, for one hour. Rinse and dry as previously suggested.
Of the products I’ve tried for cleaning my shaving brushes, this has done the most thorough job.
PAA Brush Cleaning Soap
Phoenix Artisan Accoutrements (PAA) makes an interesting “Brush Cleaning Soap*.” Essentially a solid puck of Borax and vinegar, it has little raised nubs that you run your brush over to better get inside the brush knot, working up a “lather” that is then combed through with an included hair comb. PAA shows how it’s done:
While this method is probably the most “labor intensive” method of brush cleaning it also worked the best for me with my most “gunked up” brush: it was able to “rescue” a brush I have had for over 10 years, had taken some abuse, and had been retired to the display case.
Ulta Make-Up Brush Cleaner
A product I just discovered, the Ulta Make-Up Brush Cleaner. This is made for cleaning small make-up brushes but seems to work with shaving brushes too. Judging by the ingredient list it looks like a mild liquid soap:
Ingredients: Water, Sodium Laureth Sulfate, Nonoxynol 9, Cocoamidopropyl Betaine, Glycerin, Polyquaternium-7, PEG-7 Glyceryl Cocoate, Sodium Chloride, Diazolidinyl Urea, Disodium EDTA.
Reviews on the Ulta site are decidedly mixed but it seemed to work adequately for me, at least on the synthetic brush I tried it on. Long-term performance is still a question mark though.
The Stray Whisker Brush Cleaner
Brand new to the market is the brush cleaner from The Stray Whisker. This cleaner marches to the beat of a different drummer: it uses various essential oils in addition to detergent-like ingredients to “de-funk-ify” and clean a brush. It did an admirable job “de-funk-ifying” a new badger brush I have and effectively cleaned a brush I’ve had in my “stable” for a while.
Keeping your shaving brush investment in good condition is not particularly difficult but does require some some routine maintenance. Give that brush a little love and it may be able to return the favor for years to come.
Do you have a favorite shaving brush cleaning method? Leave a comment!