Shaving Brush Care

Shaving Brush Care

The question below on how to care for a shaving brush was emailed to us this morning; this type of question is fairly common. So, I thought it would be a good idea to write this article so brush owners have a go-to guide on how to use and look after a shaving brush.

Q: I bought my husband your best badger hair brush in faux horn finish. He loves the look of the brush and has wanted one for years. He has never used one before. I have some questions; can he still use his favourite pre-shave oil with the brush? How does he clean the brush? Will it smell? How long should the brush last? What should he use with the brush, shaving cream or shaving soap? Help!

A: Most shaving brushes are made with badger hair. Badger hair absorbs heat and water better than other options like synthetic, boar and horse hair bristles. Additionally, badger hair is very soft on the face making badger hair the most popular choice for wet shavers for over 200 years.
Being a natural product, badger hair needs to be cared for so assuming the brush is well looked after how long should it last? I spoke with Mark Watterson who owns Simpson / Vulfix; they make some of the finest shaving brushes in the world. Mark tells me that if looked after properly a shaving brush should last around 10 years. Brushes that last less than 10 years have frequently been misused and neglected.

So How Do You Get Maximum Value From Your Brush?
Firstly, always treat the brush gently and avoid HOT water.
When lathering up in a bowl or on the face, avoid splaying the brush hairs, don’t press down hard on the brush, pressing too hard leads to broken hairs and damage to the inner core of the brush.
Many experts recommend applying the lather in circular motions on the face, I’m wary of this as you run the risk of twisting the hairs in the brush. If you must use a circular motion, use only the tips of the brush.
Avoid at all costs excessive pressure on the brush.

We have seen dozens of brushes over the years that have been washed, rinsed and even steeped in hot or boiling water, please don’t expose the brush to anything more than warm water. Hot and boiling water damages the hairs and can melt the glue that holds the knot of hair together. In some cases, the knot of hair can actually become detached altogether from the handle. Excess heat also causes the hair to expand quicker than the handle which can lead to the handle cracking.

After Care
After use, rinse the brush in warm, running water to remove all traces of lather. Then flick the brush over the sink to shake out most of the water and then gently drag the brush hairs over a towel. Finally, leave the brush hanging in a stand upside down where air can circulate and aerate around it to dry the brush completely. Leaving the brush at an open window is the best solution.

Occasionally, wash the brush in a normal hair shampoo product. Give the knot a gentle lather before rinsing out all lather residue in warm, clean water. It is essential that all cream, soap or shampoo residues are removed from a knot prior to drying.
To ensure the residue is fully removed, gently squeeze the base of the knot and any remaining soap will find its way to the top of the bristles.

Smelly Shaving Brushes
Occasionally you may get a whiff of ‘damp dog’ from a brand new brush, a shampoo wash will sort that out. If the brush becomes smelly after use my guess is it’s not being cared for, shampooing it will get rid of the smell.

Soap or Cream?
Creams are generally easier and quicker to lather up than a hard soap so there will be less wear and stress put on a brush that has only lathered up creams compared to one that has only lathered hard soaps. The difference will be fairly minimal so the choice is up to you.

Pre Shave Oil, yes or no?
There are only two pre-shave oils we recommend you use with a shaving brush. Castle Forbes and Executive Shaving, both are water soluble so there will be no damage to the brush hair. Other oils will leave a sticky coating on the brush hairs reducing the effectiveness of your brush as the oil will coat the hairs and prevent the absorption of water.

A Quick Note On Brushes That Shed Hair
Now and again we are contacted by a customer who reports that his brush is shedding hairs. Here’s Mark Watterson of Simpson / Vulfix take on this subject.
'Many of our Vulfix & Simpson shaving brushes contain in excess of 20,000 No. individual hair strands within their carefully hand-formed and tied knots. Knots of this size & density by their very nature contain many loose, short or stray hairs that haven't been picked up in the glue setting process, these will naturally work their way out during the first few months of shaving. Fortunately, in 99.9% of cases, this initial shedding abates and stops all together'.

'It is highly unusual for a brush to just start dropping hairs after many weeks or months of use. Various factors can determine if a brush starts to shed – the water can be too hot, the brush has failed to be cleaned or rinsed thoroughly (soap or cream residue build-up in the base of the knot), the brush has not dried sufficiently between shaves, mildew has started to build owing to the storage environment, excessive force, amongst many others. We are able to assess what might have happened on closer examination'. (Thanks for your comments Mark).

The golden rules are:

  • Be gentle with the brush, avoid splaying the hairs
  • Keep the brush away from HOT and BOILING water
  • Rinse well after use
  • Dry after use and leave where fresh air can circulate around the brush


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