Become a Member

Get access to more than 30 brands, premium video, exclusive content, events, mapping, and more.

Already have an account? Sign In

Become a Member

Get access to more than 30 brands, premium video, exclusive content, events, mapping, and more.

Already have an account? Sign In


Gear Guy

Can I Just Use My Toothbrush Instead of a Climbing Brush?

Is there enough of a difference between a brush made specifically for rock climbing and a toothbrush to justify shelling out for the former? Gear Guy digs in.

Lock Icon

Unlock this article and more benefits with 25% off.

Already have an Outside Account? Sign in

Outside+ Logo

25% Off Outside+.
$4.99/month $3.75/month*

Get the one subscription to fuel all your adventures.

  • Map your next adventure with our premium GPS apps: Gaia GPS Premium and Trailforks Pro.
  • Read unlimited digital content from 15+ brands, including Outside Magazine, Triathlete, Ski, Trail Runner, and VeloNews.
  • Watch 600+ hours of endurance challenges, cycling and skiing action, and travel documentaries.
  • Learn from the pros with expert-led online courses.
Join Outside+

*Outside memberships are billed annually. Print subscriptions available to U.S. residents only. You may cancel your membership at anytime, but no refunds will be issued for payments already made. Upon cancellation, you will have access to your membership through the end of your paid year. More Details

Is there any reason not to use your toothbrush to clean holds, or should I buy a branded climbing brush?

—Dave Arelieus

Climbers have used toothbrushes to clean holds for at least 40 years, which is as far back as I can remember. A toothbrush has the advantage of being available and inexpensive, costing $1 to $3. Said tool will do a decent job of removing chalk and dirt, but unless you also use water, a toothbrush won’t completely clean the hold, it’ll leave some residual chalk and dust. A toothbrush will also wear out quickly because the bristles are made for teeth and gums, not rock. The really cheap toothbrushes break easily. Still, a toothbrush is adequate.

A gun-cleaning “toothbrush” is a step up. This type of brush has bristles on both ends. One end approximates the head of a toothbrush. The other end is much thinner, more knifelike, and useful for reaching into crannies the wider head can’t reach. You can get a 10-pack of gun-cleaning toothbrushes on Amazon for about $9. A gun brush usually has stiffer bristles than a toothbrush, and cleans holds a bit better. Disadvantages: These also wear out quickly and the harder plastic handles like to break rather than bend—it’s good to have the 10-pack.

Brushes purpose-built for climbing make a mockery of tooth and gun brushes. These can have nylon or natural boar-hair bristles. Climbing brushes have at least twice the surface area as a toothbrush, and some have up to four times that. They have robust handles and a denser pack of bristles. They last longer and do the best job of cleaning holds.

I prefer the animal (boar) bristles. The Sublime brush I use has 9,000 boar-hair bristles, according to Sublime (I didn’t count them). Boar hair does remarkable work. Brush a hold with a nylon brush and it’ll look clean, but brush it again with a boar-hair brush, and you’ll be shocked by how much chalk and gunk still come off the hold.

Climbing brushes cost more, but the amount is inconsequential. A three-pack of Sublime boar-hair brushes, enough to last an average climber at least three years, is around $20. Brushes from other climbing brands are similarly priced. Gear Guy has spoken!

This article appeared in Rock and Ice issue 265 (September 2020).

Got a question for Gear Guy? Email