Help me get the lint out of my hairbrush
July 5, 2006 7:27 PM   Subscribe

Please help me get the lint and grossness out of my hairbrush. I've had this problem for several years now, my hair brush gets full of what looks like dryer lint. I'm assuming it's a combination of dust, cat hair and lint from my clothing. Actual hair isn't a problem, I can pull that out easily enough, but this stuff wraps around the bristles and gets stuck in there. Please help me clean it out because I'm sick of buying a new brush every six months.

First, some photos so you can see what I'm talking about 1 2 3. As you can see, the lint warps around the bristle and, because of the knob on the end, it won't come off. I shudder to think what's in my hair to make it build up like that, particularly given my hair itself isn't noticeably linty and is regularly washed.

I've tried cleaning my brushes various ways but it never really works. Washing the brush in water and detergent keeps it hygienic (and is done often) but makes no difference to the build up. I pull the person hair out regularly (like every two days or so), so that's not really an issue. I've tried picking the lint out with tweezers or scissors, nothing happens. If I pull each nub of stuff it will eventually come off, but it takes the knob off with it and then my head gets scratched. The best method is vigorously rubbing my fingers sideways between the bristles (um, finger pointing straight into the bristles towards the flat bit they're attached too, rubbing along the lines between the bristles) but this gives me a sore finger and the bristles get bent, degrading the performance of the brush. Also it only gets some of the stuff out, those photos are taken after a good ten minutes of this treatment. I can't think of anything else to try that won't destroy the brush.

Changing hair brush type isn't an option. I have kind of odd hair (some curly, some straight, some thick, some fuzzy, some just weird) and this brush works really well for me. If I could only keep get it clean. Right now I wait til the build up gets bad (those photos are very close) and throw it out. But they aren't always easy to find and I'm a poor student so resent the cost. In case it matters I brush my hair wet and use styling products, so some of that gets in there too.

Please help me get this brush clean. Failing that, any ideas of how to stop this happening in the first place would be appreciated.

I'm not a generally dirty person, honest.
posted by shelleycat to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (36 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Back when I had enough hair that I brushed it regularly, I also had this problem. I usually used nail clippers to snip a break into the little crud donuts. Then they slipped right off the bristles.
posted by mzurer at 7:31 PM on July 5, 2006

Use Elmer's glue. I'm quite serious. Pour Elmer's glue between the bristles and wait until the glue dries (until it's clear). Then, peel off the glue and watch all the guck come off with it! Voila!
posted by misozaki at 7:33 PM on July 5, 2006

Looking at your photos jarred loose another memory of my technique - It may be obvious, but you can use you fingers or the nailfile part of the clippers to get the crud closer to the knob before snipping.

how much of my brain is being used to store information like this? is there an available cleansing treatment to free up some space?
posted by mzurer at 7:35 PM on July 5, 2006

Oh, I've tried nail clippers. I knew there was some other cutting-ness going on (tried them after the scissors). The problem is I can't get into the middle bristles without bending the ones around them, which ruins the brush. So, while it cleans the outer bristles, overall it doesn't really work.

I'm intrigued by the glue idea. What is Elmer's glue? More specifically what kind of glue? I'm in NZ and I've never heard of it, so am trying to figure out the local alternative.
posted by shelleycat at 7:38 PM on July 5, 2006

Elmer's is that white glue that kids use in school.
posted by selfnoise at 7:42 PM on July 5, 2006

Oops, sorry. I was thinking of the white liquid glue that kids use in school (Elmer's was the kind I used way back when in the States) to stick things like paper and pieces of wood together. The kind that turns semi-transparent when dry. Seriously, this works, I've done it before. It just takes a bit of patience while you wait for it to dry (obviously you can't use it during the wait), because you should pour enough to cover the lint (about 4 mm from the base?) but it's FUN watching the lint come off with the dried glue. And of course, make sure you wash your brush afterwards. : )
posted by misozaki at 7:47 PM on July 5, 2006

Ah, PVA. I have some of that somewhere round here. The brush is pretty toasted anyway so I got nothing to lose. I'm gonna try it.
posted by shelleycat at 7:49 PM on July 5, 2006

Interesting idea. Elmer's is basically kindergarden glue, it's water-soluble and hardens to a plasticky material that is flexible enough it might not pull the balls off the brush bristles.

Prevention is better than cure, though. Since you brush your hair with product in it, the residue attracts all kinds of airborne detritus. After each and every use, treat the brush to a nice blast of the hottest water your faucet can provide. Whack it sharply on a towel to drive out the moisture, and throw it in a drawer or box till next time. Maybe even build it a nice house with some ventilation so it dries out between uses.
posted by maniabug at 7:51 PM on July 5, 2006

you could try soaking it in baking soda or liquid bleach... once you do get it clean, maybe you could give it a thorough rinse and shake in the sink after each time you brush your hair. my solution has always been to just pick it off with my fingernails, but my brush is different from yours - the knobs at the ends of the bristles don't fall off.
posted by beandip at 7:53 PM on July 5, 2006

I used to brush the first brush with a second brush, essentially transferring the lint between brushes. If you buy a cheap brush without the little balls on the ends of the bristles, you can brush the gunk out of your good brush and then pull it off the cheaper brush and bin it.
posted by tracicle at 8:24 PM on July 5, 2006

Yeah, the best way to deal with this is to brush the first brush with an identical second brush. Stuff eventually pills up on the surface of the brushes and you can wipe it off.
posted by ikkyu2 at 8:30 PM on July 5, 2006

I have the same problem and I'm running to the store now to get some Elmer's Glue!
posted by k8t at 8:34 PM on July 5, 2006

Using two brushes won't work because the bits on the end of each bristle really effectively hold the lint on there. It's wrapped very tightly around the shaft of the bristle. The nubs won't slide off the top and only unwind off sideways to a limited extent. This is why general soaking with stuff doesn't work either (have tried bleach previously), it would need to actually break down the lint for anything to happen.

The glue, however, I see potential in. It should be stretchy enough to get over the ball on each bristle while still dragging the lint off. I've covered half the brush (I got bored half way through) and am now just waiting for it to dry. Which, given it's really cold and damp today, will probably take until tomorrow. I will post updates when it's done though.
posted by shelleycat at 8:57 PM on July 5, 2006

i always found that banging the brush against the table bristles side down always worked for me. A couple good wacks and the gunk would start to come loose. I'd use tweezers to then pull it all out in one clump.
posted by ilikecookies at 9:27 PM on July 5, 2006

When I had hair long enough to make this sort of thing an issue, I used to first pull out all the grabbable hair, then use a comb to pull all the nubbins of lint to the end of the bristles. Then I'd pull the lint off bit by bit while watching TV. That's probably not much different than what you're doing now, by the sound of things, but I did find the comb a useful tool.
posted by hot soup girl at 11:09 PM on July 5, 2006

Elmer's glue? Then peeling it off? Try my mother's method, which works beautifully:

The very easiest way to clean brushes and combs is in the morning. Fill your bathroom sink with hot water and a good dose of ammonia (after you have brushed your teeth, done your hair, etc.) Pull the hair out of the brush.

Let the brush and/or comb soak in there while you're away. Rinse off when you arrive home. Rinse out sink. It works very well.

Much easier than putting glue on and pulling it off.
posted by Savannah at 11:23 PM on July 5, 2006

I know you said that changing the brush type wasn't an option, but bear with me.

Back when I had hair, I had the kind of hair that a brush would often not go through at all unless it was wet and full of conditioner.

I used to use brushes just like yours, and they worked better than anything else I had tried, but I got sick of (a) bent bristles (b) getting scratched when the little balls came off the ends (c) irremovable gunk buildup. So I changed to a brush like this one (only not busted; sorry, it's the only photo I could google up that shows you the exact type), and all those problems went away.

Instead of balls, that brush has rounded ends on the (thicker) plastic bristles. The bristles are gently tapered, so the gunk rings slide off easily; and they're set into a rubber base, so you still get cushioning. Also, the whole thing can be taken completely to bits for thorough cleaning (the rubber backing slides straight out the end of the brush, and the bristles are on little plastic strips that pull out from the rear of the backing).
posted by flabdablet at 1:41 AM on July 6, 2006

I have the same problem and I'm running to the store now to get some Elmer's Glue!

Ditto. Thanks!
posted by goo at 1:47 AM on July 6, 2006

I used to give my brush a regular vacuum cleaning. This keeps it from building up. Once it is tightly wrapped around the bristle it won't work but you can start with your next new brush.
posted by arruns at 1:49 AM on July 6, 2006

Second the liquid bleach. All the lint/hair will just disintegrate and the brush will not be harmed.
posted by mattholomew at 5:04 AM on July 6, 2006

Try using a nail brush (the ones for cleaning under your fingernails) to get the stuff out, then rinse off the nail brush. I can almost guarantee this will work easily with your brush. Try doing it dry before you try doing it wet.
posted by Sprout the Vulgarian at 6:36 AM on July 6, 2006

As a youth, I used my fingers to pick and yank stuff out of my brushes. As a teen, used nail clippers. Took hours. As a young adult, I just bought new ones when I couldn't stand it anymore.

I'm now a little older and more conservative with my time and money. Easiest method, I promise: washing machine, hot water cycle, lowest water level. Baking soda and a little detergent. Agitate for five minutes.

I treat my brushes and combs as a separate load of laundry each week. The brush bristles don't lose their wide or bulb ends, the combs don't lose their teeth, and I've never had one break in the washer; compared to the daily abuse these tools suffer as they're dragged and forced through my ethnic Napoleon Dynamite-ish horror, it's downright gentle. And because I can only wash my hair every two or three days, these brushes get nas-tay with product buildup. Besides the hygenic plus of a nearly sterile brush, you don't have to touch the oily, icky hair-lint-fur grossness.
posted by cdadog at 9:23 AM on July 6, 2006

Any update on how the glue worked? I'm curious about this one myself but scared to try it.
posted by booknerd at 12:27 PM on July 6, 2006

I've had that problem, and I finally found something my Mom had when I was a kid: a small "brush cleaning" brush. It's a small tool that looks like rake, with multiple rows of stiff metal wire bristles that are slightly bent at the end (actually, after a quick Google search, it looks like this. It gets pretty much everything out.
posted by bluefrog at 1:57 PM on July 6, 2006

Update: 24 hours later and the glue is about half dry. So, lessons so far: don't use so much damn glue; do this in summer.

I actually wish I had a second brush so I can try some of the other ideas too. So many things I hadn't thought of. I've only glued half the brush though, so I can try some of the other things on the second half.
posted by shelleycat at 8:32 PM on July 6, 2006

Thanks for the update! Yeah, it takes some time, which is probably the biggest drawback of this method... But it honestly won't damage your brush, and if you're lucky, all of it wiil come off in a lump. And even if you're left with some bits of dried glue here and there, maybe afterwards you can soak it in bleach like someone suggested above to get the other half clean and the glue off while you're at it. Gosh, I hope it works for you like it did for me...
posted by misozaki at 12:12 AM on July 7, 2006

I'm looking forward to the results of this test. Be sure to post back.
posted by Merdryn at 6:54 AM on July 7, 2006

After another 24 hours and some unexpected sunshine the glue finally dried. The next step was to pull it off and pick it out. I tried pulling from the sides and while it started coming in one sheet, that didn't last. So I grabbed my tweezers and used those to work at getting the glue off (I have very short finger nails and fat fingers, tweezers worked really well). It didn't stick to the plastic but was brittle and tough.

The end result? A much cleaner brush with all the little stuff gone, but not all the lint. The big balls wrapped around the shaft of the middle bristles were greatly reduced but still there. Also it took about ten-fifteen minutes of work to get the glue off.

The photos show how fluffy the glue is. Immediately after removing the glue the brush still looked rather messy and there was a fair bit of glue stuck on the shaft of most bristles. I think a big part of my problems both here and with the lint in general is that the bristles are rather long (about 2 cm) and spaced close together.

So I then soaked the brush in warm water for about ten minutes to soften the remaining glue. A bit of pulling and it peeled off each shaft leaving the brush about 95% glue free. Further soaking, which ended up being a couple of hours while I made my boyfriend a birthday cake, and the rest washed off under a fast running tap. Photos: side view, front view.

So it was definitely successful, but not completely. Looking t the whole brush shows some of the rounded ends of the bristles broke (normally they come off instead of fracture so this was unexpected), the bristles are a bit bent and disordered, the big, tightly wrapped balls of lint didn't budge although they are about 50% smaller, and the end region (only small balls of lint to start with) is really clean and wonderful.

I think if I'd tried this three months ago when the lint buildup was smaller I would have gotten the whole thing clean. It really was effective for much of the brush. At the same time the damage to the brush is a problem, I wouldn't be able to do this repeatedly. A brush with shorter, more sturdy, and/or more widely spaced bristles could be a better candidate for this treatment (not that that's an option for me, the things that make this brush a bitch to clean are why my hair loves it, but all information is useful).

I do think my glue is an issue. I used Bostik PVA glue, slightly stronger than your average childrens white glue although made of the same stuff. Plus it's all goopy and thick from the cold so it was very difficult to put on evenly. In future I'd water the glue down to make it runny (PVA is water soluble) or use cheap Crayola glue (which is essentially this watered down anyway) and be a bit more careful with my application. A thinner, more even coating would probably peel off in one sheet, speeding things up and avoiding damage to the bristles. Oh, and would probably dry in less than two days.

The time factor was definitely an issue. I haven't brushed my hair in a couple of days by now and it's a terrible tangled mess. Also I spent a fair bit of time messing around getting the glue out and soaking/cleaning the brush. The drying time, and possibly the glue peeling time, would be less if the glue was thinner and my house warmer making this less of an issue. As it is I'm not too worried, my time is cheap and my money scarce, but be prepared to go without a hair brush for a while when doing this.

I do recommend trying it though, particularly taking my experiences into account. there's something strangely satisfying about filling your hair brush with glue :D

Next I'm going to soak the rest of the brush in bleach and see what that does. I'm intrigued by the washing machine idea also but I'm doing laundry right now. When/if I get this clean/buy a new brush I'm definitely going to compile a hygiene routine from the tips above. I think now that I haven't been taking as much good care of it as I should be.
posted by shelleycat at 9:22 PM on July 7, 2006

Man that was long. Sorry.
posted by shelleycat at 9:24 PM on July 7, 2006

When I first saw this glue method being demonstrated on a TV show here in Japan, the craziness of the idea just blew me away. I'm sorry my suggestion ended up breaking your brush... Maybe the glue I used was a bit weaker than the kind you have in NZ, like you said.

there's something strangely satisfying about filling your hair brush with glue :D

Isn't it, though? I'm sure everybody's slathered their palm with glue and peeled it off on a boring day in childhood (er, maybe it was just me, but anyway), only in this case it's not completely useless! Hope the other suggestions give you better results.
posted by misozaki at 11:30 PM on July 7, 2006

I did the bleach thing by the way, soaked it in strong Janola over night. Made absolutely no change to the hairbrush at all. So next weekend I'm going to buy some more glue (mine is almost gone as well as being goopy) and clean the rest of the brush that way.
posted by shelleycat at 9:04 PM on July 10, 2006

Please, please try the nail brush method before you go through all of that again.
posted by Sprout the Vulgarian at 6:55 AM on July 11, 2006

Seriously, just soak your brushes and combs in some hot water and ammonia, the kind you find in the cleaning products aisle!

Those other methods are an insane waste of time.

Or dump 'em in the dishwasher next time you run it.
posted by Savannah at 4:07 PM on July 16, 2006

Apparently the bleach weakened my hair brush and the handle broke off the day after my last post. I've been through about seven of these before, same brand, and never had that happen. This one was only about six months old too, they normally last a year. The bleach was the only difference. So as soon as I can get to the pharmacy I'll be buying a new one.

ammonia, the kind you find in the cleaning products aisle!

I have no idea what product this would be included in, not spending much time in that particular part of the supermarket. But given the number of other things I've soaked various brushes in to no avail, I'm not really game to try more chemicals. I need my new brush to last more than two days. I'll just take better care of it from the start *shrug*.
posted by shelleycat at 3:46 PM on July 17, 2006

Oh, and I did try a nail brush very breifly. Doesn't even begin to work, as I expected. Nail brush bristles are about a third of the length of the hair brush ones, so there's no way they can get in there and remove the lint. It's just not physically possible. All that happened was the nail brush bent the spikes on my hair brush causing damage.

Rubbing stuff over the brush doesn't work, soaking the brush doesn't work, picking or pulling at the lint doesn't work, nothing listed here worked (and most ruined my brush) except the glue. That also did some damage but less than anything else and at least gave an acceptable result.
posted by shelleycat at 3:52 PM on July 17, 2006

I used the Elmer's glue solution on one of the Goody-brand brushes with the clumps of bristles, no heads at the end of the bristles.

It took -forever- to get the glue out, but i imagine i could've solved this better with some solvent. The brush looks like new again, but seems to be releasing glue dust or something right now. Best used in conjunction with soap and water bath.

For an ordinary brush, this wouldn't be worth it, but I can't find anything with this style head and grip anymore.
posted by whatzit at 11:06 AM on September 11, 2006

« Older yellowstone acommodations   |   Famous instances of the press being threatened? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.