The Brush-Off

There are so many brushes and combs on the market; how does a groomer choose the right one for the task at hand?


Brushes and combs are some of the most important tools used in a pet styling salon—and the most difficult to select. Peer reviews are usually a great help in choosing equipment of all types, but in the case of combs and brushes, it ends up being a case of the tool’s function and groomer’s personal preference.

When selecting brushes and combs, first decide what the tool is expected to accomplish. Any brush will help clean the animal, removing dirt and dander, massaging skin and distributing oils, but brushes are made to perform different functions.

Types of Brushes
Rubber brushes use the friction of the rubber teeth or nubs to pull out dead coat and distribute natural oil along the hair shaft. These brushes de-shed and shine. Bristle brushes with fairly stiff bristles will organize longer coats and distribute hair oils. These will also smooth and shine. Pin brushes gently untangle and demat. Pin brushes can demat with less coat damage than a slicker brush. The long, thicker, wider spaced pins separate long hairs without breaking as many as the short curved pins of a slicker. With all over matting or tight mats a slicker brush will be needed, but a pin brush is great for use on fairly unmatted longer coats.

A slicker brush demats, untangles, desheds and distributes hair oils. This is the professional groomer’s favorite brush for most dogs. Part of the selection process on slickers will be deciding what length pins should be used (how long is the hair being brushed?) and how stiff or soft the pins should be (how delicate is the hair?).

A dog may require the use of more than one brush during a grooming session. Sporting breeds, for example, may need a pin brush used on feathering, a slicker on matted areas, such as ears, and perhaps a rake, comb or even rubber brush on their shorter back coat. Make sure to have any and all tools that might be needed on hand.

Combing Over

Combs are used for checking brushwork, dematting, deshedding and fluffing for scissoring. There’s a comb for every task. Options include combs with rotating teeth, short and long teeth (sometimes on the same comb), and wide or close spacing between teeth. Pins can be sharp, rounded, dulled, thin or of a heavier gauge. Combs also come with anti-static coatings and are made from different metals.

Are rakes the same as combs? Yes, but the difference is in how the pins are mounted. A comb mounts the pins on the same plane as the handle; those on a rake are perpendicular.

Brushes and combs should be replaced more often than any other piece of equipment in the salon, and much more frequently than a groomer might think. It may be hard to notice when pins become worn out, because the change is incremental. I try to keep a new version of each of my favorites on hand. Every few weeks, I check the one I’m using against the brand new one, pushing it against my palm in a brushing movement. If the pins feel different, it’s time to dump the old one. If a brush is meant to demat and the pins soften, groomers will find themselves brushing the same area repeatedly trying to achieve the same results as before. Or groomers may find themselves using more muscle to try and demat the way the brush ought to. Both problems make it easy to cause brush irritation (brush burn), so replacing brushes often can save time and money, as well as increase safety measures for the dog.

Carol Visser is a Nationally Certified Master Groomer and Certified Pet Dog Trainer. Formerly a pet product expert for PetEdge, she and her husband Glenn now own Two Canines Pet Services in Montville, Maine, which provides grooming, boarding, training and day care services to Waldo County.

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