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Testing Bottle Brushes

By Emily Phares Published

Scrub your bottles and carafes—and even your salad spinner—to a whole new level of clean.

A bottle brush is designed to fit into spaces a standard sponge can’t. This cleaning tool—basically a wand with a brush head on one end—fits easily into tall, slim, and narrow-mouth bottles, such as water bottles, coffee carafes, and baby bottles. Curious to see how well they worked, we gathered five popular, widely available models, priced from $4.99 to $13.94, and got to testing.

First, we wanted to see if each brush could fit into a variety of bottles, including our winning glass and plastic water bottles, a narrow-mouth glass bottle, a baby bottle, a glass carafe, and a stainless‑steel coffee carafe. (The answer: Yes, though none of the brushes fit into an exceptionally narrow-mouthed glass water bottle with a roughly ¾-inch opening.) Then we used each brush to remove sticky honey from inside each container and to scrub smoothie remnants from water bottles. We washed each brush multiple times, checking for wear and tear, odor retention, and leftover food particles throughout testing. We also had volunteers use the brushes at home for a week.

Overall, these brushes worked well, remained odor-free, and proved themselves essential cleaning tools. More than one tester said that using a bottle brush took their cleaning to the next level, especially in scrubbing heavily stained coffee carafes. And while most brushes performed well, one was woefully inadequate—and another wowed us.

We tested using a variety of containers, with openings ranging from 13/16 inch wide to 2 1/4 inches wide. They included a glass carafe, baby bottle, plastic water bottle, glass water bottle, narrow-mouth glass bottle, and stainless-steel coffee carafe.

A Medium-Size Brush Head Offered the Best Coverage

Bottle brushes have two key elements: the scrubber head, with all the bristles, and the handle, which is typically a long, thin wand. Heads ranged in length from 1.88 to 9 inches, and size greatly impacted scrubbing ability.

We wanted a brush that could cover maximum area with minimal effort. The longest brush head, at 9 inches, resembled a big, fluffy cat’s tail and was too long to really move around inside containers. With bristles all over the place, except on the all‑important brush tip, this model made it difficult to scrub a specific spot and was ultimately inadequate.

Assistant Editor Emily Phares checks to see if each brush can easily fit into a stainless-steel coffee carafe, noting whether each model can reach the bottom and fit into the "shoulders."

Another brush had the opposite problem. Its petite head was the shortest in the lineup, and one tester compared it to using a very fine brush to paint trim on a wall. “You kind of have to work it around,” she said,“because it doesn’t cover a lot of area at once.” On the plus side, the small brush head made it easy to target specific spots inside a container that needed extra scrubbing.

Our favorite brush was a happy medium: It had a 3.75-inch head that was small enough to easily maneuver in most spaces but still large enough to scrub a sizable area at once.

Shorter Bristles Were Essential

Naturally, bristles were an important factor in a brush’s cleaning ability. Two things were key: Shorter bristles, less than 1 inch long, that were more rigid were better at scrubbing, and bristles that covered the tip of the brush were crucial for cleaning hard-to-reach container bottoms.

Our least favorite brush failed on both counts. Its bristles were 1¼ inches long—the longest in the lineup—and were thin and wispy, too flexible to give a good scrub. There also weren’t enough bristles at the tip of the brush, which made it completely ineffective at scrubbing the bottom of the container.

Our winner, by contrast, had shorter, more rigid ⅞-inch-long bristles that were spread across the brush head, with plenty of bristles on the tip. This model was extremely effective at scrubbing; one user said it made the inside of her stovetop espresso pot “shine like new,” and she even used it to clean the plastic basket of a salad spinner. “I always scrub the daylights out of that basket,” she said, “and it always seemed to still have a grayish shadow on the horizontal slats, but this thing got in there like a champ.” It also “beautifully” cleaned a colander, which can be challenging to scrub because of its tiny holes.

Assistant Editor Emily Phares uses a bottle brush to clean a glass carafe.

Rigid Handles and Shafts Made Scrubbing Easier

Brush handles and the shafts they were attached to were made of a variety of materials—wood, metal, and plastic—but material didn’t matter as long as the handle and shaft were rigid. One model’s plastic handle was attached to a very thin metal shaft, which bent easily and made it harder to apply pressure for scrubbing. Another model with a plastic handle and shaft was more flexible than was ideal, which made it difficult to maneuver the brush head when we cleaned smoothie remnants from water bottles. The remaining three brushes had stiff handles and shafts that gave us good leverage and made scrubbing much easier.

A Large Rubber Grip Was Most Comfortable

None of the handles was truly awful to hold, but a couple were noticeably less comfortable than others. One model’s wooden handle didn’t have any padding, and the untreated beechwood sometimes felt rough against our hands. A brush with a thin, hard plastic handle was also uncomfortable to hold.

A silicone-coated brush felt better in our hands, as the handle had a slightly squishy, bulbous grip. But our favorite model had the best design: Its handle was “bigger and easier to grab” than the rest, as one tester noted, and a convenient indentation for our thumbs made it the most ergonomic model in the lineup. The rubber padding was another plus.

Cleanup Was Easy, but the Dishwasher Made It Easier

Three bottle brushes were dishwasher-safe, one was not, and one didn’t specify, so we hand-washed it. For the most part, all the brushes were fairly easy to clean. Sure, after scrubbing kale-and-pineapple smoothie remnants from water bottles, most brushes had kale particles stuck in their bristles, but nothing egregious. Meanwhile, the dishwasher-safe brushes, including our winner, were very easy to clean, emerging kale-free from the dishwasher after one wash cycle. (And they looked like new even after 10 dishwasher cycles.)

The Best Bottle Brush

While most brushes were versatile enough to fit into a variety of bottles and effectively scrubbed them clean, one stood out as the clear winner: The Quickie Bottle Brush ($5.80) made for efficient scrubbing, with a 3.75-inch head covered in short, rigid bristles and a stiff handle with a comfortable grip. We also loved that we could clean this brush in the dishwasher. And as one tester put it, “It’s not just for bottles!” We used this brush to clean a variety of kitchenware, including a stockpot, cocktail shaker, colander, and salad spinner in addition to coffee carafes, proving that this oft-overlooked cleaning tool is an impressively versatile addition to your arsenal.

Equipment Review Bottle Brushes

Scrub your bottles and carafes—and even your salad spinner—to a whole new level of clean.