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

Brands

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

Become a member to unlock this story and receive other great perks.

Already have an Outside Account? Sign in

Outside+ Logo

All Access
$1.33 / week *

  • A $500 value with 25+ benefits including:
  • Access to all member-only content on all 17 publications in the Outside network like Rock and Ice, Climbing, Outside, Backpacker, Trail Runner and more
  • Annual subscription to Climbing magazine.
  • Gaia GPS premium with thousands of maps and global trail recommendations.
  • Try out best-in-class gear and apparel for free before you buy
  • Coming Soon: Premium access to Outside TV and 1,000+ hours of exclusive shows
  • Annual subscription to Outside magazine
Join Outside+

*Outside memberships are billed annually. 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 rockandicegearguy@gmail.com