Why Black Men (and Women) Should Ditch Sponge Brushes: A Guide to Better Hair Care

I, along with many black men and women with short afros, like to use sponge brushes to curl our hair. Sponge brushes are easy to use, affordable, and easy to find in both local beauty supply stores and various online vendors. But are they safe to use? The truth is, not really. In fact, black men and women, we need to stop using sponge brushes on our hair. After a while, they are unsafe for continued use.

In this article, first, I will share information on what is a sponge brush and how to use it. Then, I will explain in detail why they are unsafe for our hair. To be clear, I am not a hair expert. I wrote this article based on my own experience with consistent sponge brush use and further research. Finally, I will share alternatives to sponge brushes, which I recommend you check out, and tips on safe use.

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What is a Sponge Brush?

A sponge brush, also known as a hair sponge or curl sponge, is a grooming tool designed specifically for naturally dry and textured hair. It provides a simple and chemical-free way to style these hair types in a defined and well-textured appearance.

The sponge brush is widely used by black people, like me, and other people of color with natural hair, coils, curls, or dreadlocks to create defined curls or enhance existing ones. The brush typically consists of a sponge-like material with small, evenly spaced holes or indentations. It’s those evenly spaced holes or indentations that, when twirling or rotating it on our hair in circular motions, curl it in a more defined and textured look without the need for chemicals or heat styling.

It is essential to understand that the sponge brush may not work for everyone. Black people, like myself, use it because our hair is naturally dry, coily, and textured. If your hair is naturally more fine or straight, the sponge brush and its intended hair styling purpose will likely not work for your hair.

How to Use a Sponge Brush

Before you use your sponge brush, your hair must be clean. I’m not saying wash your hair every day before using your sponge brush. In fact, do not wash your hair every day. As black people, we really only need to shampoo and condition our hair at least once per week, but ideally, no more than twice a week unless you’re engaging in activities that may warrant a third wash. However, you must ensure your hair is clean before you use your sponge brush.

The process of using a sponge brush is relatively simple:

  1. Dampen your hair
  2. Pick out your hair
  3. Apply hair product
  4. Use the sponge brush
  5. Repeat

Dampen your hair

Before using the sponge brush, make sure your hair is slightly damp. Depending on your specific black hair type, you may need to dampen your hair anyway to make step two of picking out your hair easier to do. However, either way, make sure your hair is clean and damp first. You can mist your hair with water. You can also wait a few minutes after your usual shampoo and condition routine.

Pick out your hair

Once your hair is damp, use a hair pick to detangle your hair. The purpose of this step is to remove any knapps and bring your hair to its full length. You want a fresh start with this process that ensures your hair is loose and ready to be styled however you like.

Apply hair product

To enhance the curling effect, apply a styling product such as a curl cream, curl enhancer, or hair gel to your hair before using the sponge brush. You can also apply a leave-in conditioner for added moisture. Usually, most hair care lines’ shampoo + conditioner regimens include a hair moisturizer and styling product as their third step. You can use the sponge brush after your third-step hair moisturizer and styling product of your choice. After using your hair styling product, you can pick out your hair again if you like or need to.

Use the sponge brush

Take the sponge brush and place it on any section of hair you want to curl first. In a circular motion, rotate the brush over your hair. Remember, the tiny holes or indentations in the sponge create a twisting effect that encourages the hair to curl.


Continue rotating the sponge brush on different sections of your hair until you achieve your desired curl pattern style.

Problems with Using a Sponge Brush

Despite their easy use, affordability, and purchase accessibility, sponge brushes are unsafe for long-term use. After a while, they will accumulate and trap too much bacteria, to the point where, when applied to your hair, it could cause unhealthy hair problems, including damage. At the same time, consistently improper use of a sponge brush can lead to permanent issues later in life.

The problems with using a sponge brush can include:

  1. Not Suitable for all Hair Types
  2. Product Buildup
  3. Hygiene Concerns
  4. Scalp irritation
  5. Breakage and damage
  6. Uneven results

Not Suitable for all Hair Types

Sponge brushes are commonly used for specific hair types and textures, such as coils, curls, thick afros, and dreadlocks. Using a sponge brush might not produce the desired results for people with thin, straight, or fine hair. The curling effect the sponge brush aims to provide will not work for people with these hair types.

Product Buildup

Step three on how to use a sponge brush above says to apply the hair product of your choice before using your brush. However, you must be careful with this step, especially in the long term. Over time, using a sponge brush after applying hair products like gels, creams, or oils can lead to product buildup on the brush.

As you continue to use your sponge brush daily, the excess hair product trapped in the brush material can transfer into your hair. This is on top of the new round of hair products you applied to your hair before you next time using the brush. Each time you do this, your hair can become greasy and dull. Over time, consistently greasy and dull hair can lead to worse consequences for the health of your hair, as described further below.

Hygiene Concerns

Over time, a sponge brush can accumulate dirt, oils, and product residues. As previously stated, oil and product residue buildup can be problematic. Also, dirt can accumulate and affect the sponge material if the brush is stored improperly on a dirty surface or in an unsanitary environment. This can make the brush unhygienic for your scalp and hair, as harmful elements can be transferred to your clean hair.

Scalp Irritation

Using unsanitary sponge brushes, as described above, can lead to itchy scalp and irritation, which can be pretty uncomfortable. However, even if you are using a clean sponge brush, improper use can still irritate your scalp. For instance, if you apply too much pressure on your hair using aggressive circular motions. So, it’s crucial to be gentle when using a sponge brush to avoid discomfort.

Breakage and Damage

Using unsanitary sponge brushes can lead to long-term damage and breakage to your hair, which can be difficult to reverse. Also, if these brushes are not stored and handled correctly, the threat of hair breakage and damage can increase. One way you would realize this is when you pick out your hair, and tangled hair rips off your scalp and gets trapped in your hair pick. This is a sign that you should re-evaluate your current sponge brush use, especially if you consistently wash your hair. This also indicates that you may need to re-evaluate your current hair care regimen. Feel free to check out my recommended hair care regimens for black men below.

Read More: Frederick Benjamin Grooming Review >>>

Uneven Results

Misusing a sponge brush can lead to uneven results in your hair. This can happen due to excessive pressure, aggressive circular motions, or just a need for more practice. To achieve consistent and uniform curls or patterns, it’s crucial to master the technique of gently applying the sponge brush to your hair in even and strategic circular motions. While this practice can be annoying, ensuring you achieve the hair look you want is worth it. Don’t let improper use ruin your hairstyle!

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Sponge Brush Alternatives

Thankfully, more and more black people who regularly use sponge brushes are beginning to recognize the hidden dangers they can have. As a result, black hair care enthusiasts and entrepreneurs are taking notice and providing alternatives to the traditional sponge brush. So far, I have tried two alternatives to the sponge brush for my hair. One of these two alternatives I actively use for my hair now. I recommend you check both out below and see which sponge brush alternative is best for you.

Disclaimer: This section does contain affiliate links from Amazon. This means I will earn a small commission if you purchase any of the recommended products described below via the links provided. Do not worry, there is no additional cost to you. Please read all of my Disclaimers for more details.

Bow Wow x Twist King Luxury Twist Styler

The rapper Bow Wow, now known as Shad Moss, has partnered with Red by Kiss, a popular black-owned hair care company, to sell his sponge brush alternative. It is called the Twist King Luxury Twist Styler. I believe this product is the best alternative to sponge brushes. It is also the sponge brush alternative I actively use today.

The Bow Wow x Twist King Luxury Twist Styler is the best alternative to sponge brushes because you can clean it. Yes, this product is designed to be reusable by allowing you to wash it with regular soap and water. As a result, you can prolong its use twice as long as a traditional sponge brush and keep your hair safe.

The Bow Wow x Twist King Luxury Twist Styler is sold and distributed by Red by Kiss. You can only order it online on Amazon. You can also find this product at your local beauty supply store if they carry it in stock. The good news is this sponge brush alternative is gaining popularity, so your chances of finding it in stock at your local beauty supply store can be good.

Read More: Bow Wow x Twist King Luxury Twist Styler Review: The Best Alternative to Sponge Brushes >>>

The Bow Wow x Twist King Luxury Twist Styler
The Bow Wow x Twist King Luxury Twist Styler

Twist Combs

Another sponge brush alternative available to check out is a twist comb. A twist comb is a flat square or circular device with a metal or square mesh design. Like the Bow Wow x Twist King Luxury Twist Styler, twist combs are durable and easy to clean. Plus, unlike the sponge brush and even Bow Wow’s product to an extent, Twist Combs don’t trap your used hair products or moisture.

You can find various versions of Twist Combs on Amazon, which are displayed below. However, I recommend the Twist It Up Comb. Twist It Up is the most popular and active twist comb brand. Plus, they have the best-designed twist comb on the market. Finally, they were the first sponge brush alternative I tried.

The only downside to Twist Combs is that their availability at your local beauty supply store is more limited than Bow Wow x Twist King Luxury Twist Styler.

If You Must Use a Sponge Brush

If, for any reason, you insist you must continue to use a sponge brush, it is okay; I understand. However, here are some tips to remember when using a sponge brush to keep your hair safe, clean, and healthy.

  1. Start with clean and detangled hair.
  2. Use gentle pressure and circular motions.
  3. Store your sponge brush safely when not in use.
  4. Avoid using too many hair products.
  5. Replace your sponge brush every few months.

Start with Clean and Detangled Hair

As warned earlier, I’m not saying wash your hair every day. Again, only wash your hair once or twice weekly unless you engage in activities that warrant a third wash. However, always ensure your hair and scalp are clean before using a sponge brush. Also, make sure your hair is detangled by using a durable hair pick beforehand.

Use Gentle Pressure and Circular Motions

To create the desired curly hairstyle without causing stress on your hair and scalp, gently rotate your sponge brush on your hair in circular motions. Also, make sure your circular motions are even and consistent as you work through your entire hair. The same circular motions you apply to your hair on the left side should be the same for the right, top, and back of your hair.

Store Your Sponge Brush Safely When Not in Use

When you’re not using your sponge brush, try to store it in a safe and clean place. Avoid keeping your sponge brush out in the open, where external elements can enter the brush’s material. Also, avoid resting the sponge brush on a dirty surface. Finally, do not store it in a dirty drawer or bag. Remember, the last thing you want is for dirt to get trapped in your brush because it will get into your hair the next time you use it.

Avoid Using Too Many Hair Products

Limit your chosen hair products to just one, no more than two. Also, do not use too much of whatever product you use. Remember, the goal of adding hair products before using the sponge brush is to moisturize your hair so that using the brush to add your curls is easy. Too much hair products will only be absorbed by the sponge brush and trapped in its material, making future use unhealthy and dangerous for your hair.

Replace Your Sponge Brush Every Few Months

Even if you follow my above tips, sponge brushes will never last as long as we would like them to. The sponge brush’s material will decay, plus trap dirt and excess product over time, making it less safe for continued use on our hair. That is why, no matter what, I recommend replacing your sponge brush every few months. While the exact number of months varies by how often and well you use your brush, it is still good to replace it often so you always have a clean brush.

Final Thoughts

For at least a decade, sponge brushes have become a prevalent tool for my fellow black brothers and sisters to style our hair in ways only we can. The curly/coily afro has been a popular hairstyle for us, and it doesn’t seem to be going away any time soon. It is a great hairstyle to have while we continue to grow our hair for braids, twists, and even dreadlocks.

However, unfortunately, the sponge brush is not always a safe tool for our hair, especially in the long term. Improper use and storage can make it unsafe faster. If you have concerns about using a sponge brush or experience any issues, consult a professional hairstylist for advice. Also, consider using the alternatives to sponge brushes I recommended above. Not only are they safer, primarily because you can clean them, but as a result, they can last much longer.

Thank you so much for taking the time to read my article. Please leave a comment below with your feedback. Also, subscribe to my website to receive email updates on more content. If you have any questions, additional comments, or concerns, please send me a message. I will get back to you as soon as possible.

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This post was originally published on: 09/07/2023

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