How To Clean Your Hair Brush – Victorian And Edwardian Hair Care

Hairbrushes in the Victorian and Edwardian era were often made of ivory, ebony, silver, or alpacca (German silver). Usually horsehair bristles were used for softer, and boar bristles for stiffer brushes. White and yellow boar bristles were imported from Russia and Siberia, whereas dark grey and black were imported from India and China (The Brushmaker, And The Secrets Of His Craft And Romance, 1870s). Hairbrushes were handmade: A wooden brush-back was drilled, bristles ‘drawn’ through each hole with thin wire and secured with a knot.

How To Clean Your Hair Brush - Victorian And Edwardian Hair Care



How To Clean Hairbrushes

‘Never use soap. Take a piece of soda, dissolve it in warm water, stand the brush in it, taking care that the water only covers the bristles; it will almost immediately become white and clean; stand it to dry in the open air with the bristles downwards, and it will be found to be as firm as a new brush.’ (The Corner Cupboard; Or, Facts For Everybody, 1859)

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‘The best mode is to use soda, dissolved in cold water, instead of soap and hot water; the latter very soon softens the hairs of the brush, and the rubbing completes their destruction. Soda having an affinity for grease, cleans the brush with very little friction.’ (The Workwoman’s Guide, 1840)

How To Clean Your Hair Brush - Victorian And Edwardian Hair Care

‘The brush should be washed every day with hot water and soda’ (Manual Of Useful Information, 1893).

Wash the hair brush once or twice a day. It doesn’t take long to clean a hair brush when it’s done every day, just dirty brushes need a long time to clean. (Every Woman’s Encyclopaedia, 1910-2)

‘Dissolve a generous piece of washing soda in warm water, dip the bristles of the brush into it, rubbing them a little with the hand. Be careful not to touch the ivory or ebony back of the brush with the soda water. Rinse in warm water, turn the brush up on the point of the handle and let dry thoroughly.’ (The Ideal Cook Book, 1902)

To keep the hair clean, wash the hair brush at least once a week. Don’t use soap and hot water, but fill two bowls with tepid water, put a teaspoon liquid ammonia into one. Remove all hairs from the brush, ‘dip the bristles up and down in the ammonia solution, taking care not to immerse the back of the brush in the process, and continue until the bristles look perfectly clean and white. Then proceed in the same way with the brush in the pan of clear water, so that the ammonia is rinsed away.’ (Every Woman’s Encyclopaedia, 1910-2)

I always use washing soda dissolved in warm water to clean my boar bristle hairbrush – it’s easy and makes the hairbrush really clean! 😀

15 thoughts on “How To Clean Your Hair Brush – Victorian And Edwardian Hair Care

  1. Thank you for this information, but, how would I clean right in the base of the bristles next to the ebony wood where I see a lot of old matted ‘something’ has compacted from an age of neglect. Also, please can you tell me how I treat the ebony wood.

  2. What is “washing soda” and where do you buy it? Is it something peculiar to USA?Could you use washing-up liquid instead?

  3. Hi Lina! I’ve been trying to find a brush from the Victorian/Edwardian era that’s in good condition. Where did you find yours?

  4. Hi There,

    I had next to a heater and brown gooop leaked out. It has now set solid. Do you know what this is? perhaps how to clean it up?

  5. Thank you for this! I have tried it, and it cleared an awful lot of gunk on my beautiful antique hairbrushes! However, upon leaving them to dry – they still have this smell of like, old purfume residue left on them… i’ve tried repeating the process twice, and used a gentle soap (baby shampoo), and i still cant get rid of the smell! Any thoughts/remedies?

    1. The smell is probably in the wooden brush back but this cannot be cleaned with soda and water without damaging it. I haven’t tried it yet (so I don’t know if it works) but you can try sprinkling the brush back with starch, coffee grounds or baking soda to remove the odor. And then shake it off after a few days.

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