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Scrub Brushes

Published January 2021

How we tested

When tackling the most stubborn messes—whether it’s cooked-on egg, crusty bits of frizzled cheese, or baked-on tomato sauce—we often bypass a sponge entirely and reach for a scrub brush. Scrub brushes offer a few advantages to sponges: Their bristles are better at cutting through tough messes and are less likely to cling to food, their handles help provide good leverage, and they tend to keep our hands out of the mess. But not all scrub brushes are built the same, so we decided to test nine models, made from both natural and synthetic materials, with varying handle lengths and head sizes. They ranged in price from about $5 to about $24. Keeping water temperature, soap amount, and cooked-on foods consistent, we put the brushes through the wringer, powering through messes in skillets (both stainless steel and cast iron) and metal baking pans. We also scrubbed metal bowls covered in sticky biscuit dough and washed each brush upwards of 10 times, either by hand or in the dishwasher. Additionally, we sent copies home with nine editors and test cooks and asked for their feedback after a few weeks of real-world use. We were looking for a brush that could cut through difficult messes, fit comfortably in our hands, rinse clean without hassle, and hold up to all that rigorous scrubbing and cleaning.

It’s All in the Bristles

A good scrub brush is only as reliable as its bristles, and we discovered a few bristle qualities that made scrubbing more effective. First: stiffness. There was a spectrum of bristle stiffness, from soft and flexible to ultrastiff and rigid, and most testers preferred the latter. We found that the brushes with stiffer bristles more effectively cut through tough, burnt-on food remnants, leaving behind sparkling cookware. The brushes with softer bristles—including the one brush with natural-fiber bristles—were unable to scrape up cooked-on messes as efficiently as their stiff-bristled counterparts and instead tended to just smear food around. When used to scrub cast-iron pans crusted with rendered burger fat and metal baking pans sticky with burnt-on tomato paste, mustard, and molasses, softer bristles bent out of shape. This made for unkempt, frayed brush heads whose performance worsened over time. The brush with natural-fiber bristles became the most disheveled. 

The bristles’ arrangement and positioning on the brush heads also mattered. We preferred bristles that flared out from the heads considerably, especially on the sides, reaching beyond the brushes’ hard plastic heads. Widely flared bristles increased the scrubbing surface area, allowing us to scrub off more food with fewer passes. Flared bristles were also more effective at reaching into corners. The heads of brushes with straight, unflared bristles too often knocked into skillet edges or baking pan corners without reaching into them, keeping us from tackling every single stain.  

The bristle clusters of some brush heads are packed tightly together, whereas some are spaced far apart. Widely spaced bristle clusters tended to perform best. Crumbs, dough, and other food remnants were less likely to get stuck between these bristle clusters, and if they did, they came loose with a single rinse. Brushes with no gaps between their bristle clusters more easily trapped food, and it took additional rinses under the faucet, cycles in the dishwasher, or even whacks on the sink edge to relinquish the debris. All in all, brushes with stiff, widely flared, well-spaced clusters of bristles prevailed.

A Note on Scrapers

In addition to their primary sets of bristles, seven of the nine brushes had extra features intended for the toughest scrubbing challenges. Five brushes had plastic scrapers on their backs, but their designs varied. Testers preferred wide, flat scrapers over narrower, tapered scrapers. In lieu of scrapers, two brushes had strips of short, ultrastiff bristles on their backs. The bristles’ many tips were more abrasive than the solid scrapers, allowing them to more effectively scour away tough burnt-on messes.  

Handles Were Important

The best scrub brush handles assure a comfortable grip and create good leverage. In our testing, one important factor was the angle at which the handle met the brush head. The handles of the most successful brushes in our lineup were gently sloped or curved away from their heads, creating enough space to keep testers’ hands free of mess while maintaining good leverage for scrubbing. The handles of three brushes bent away sharply from their heads at angles that measured more than 45 degrees, which raised our elbows and forced our hands away from the action, making for awkward scrubbing positions. The head of one brush was adjustable, swiveling between a 0-degree angle and a 45-degree angle from its handle, which was intended to increase versatility and scrubbing options. Frustratingly, the lock mechanism wasn’t strong enough to keep the brush head in place, so it flipped back and forth with every stroke and made the brush almost impossible to use. We preferred rigid handles that sloped up at angles of about 45 degrees or less, which positioned our hands close to the brushes.

Handle material and design mattered as well. The best handles were made of silicone-coated plastic and had built-in ridges or bumps that made for secure, slip-free grips, even when they were wet and soapy. However, silicone didn’t always reign supreme; one silicone-coated handle was hard and supersmooth, causing our hands to slide around in the soapy water and occasionally slip off the brush. The metal handle of one brush and the wooden handles of two others were smooth and pleasant to hold when dry, but slippery when wet, especially during vigorous scrubbing. Only one wooden-handle model was sufficiently rough-textured and easy to grip, but it felt so thin and spindly that stronger testers feared they might snap it in half. Also, the wooden-handled brushes weren’t dishwasher-safe, rendering them more likely to retain stains, odors, food bits, and globs of dough.

Finally, handle length greatly impacted scrubbing ability and comfort. Testers’ preferences generally came down to the sizes of their hands. Those with smaller hands mostly preferred shorter handles and found longer-handled brushes awkward and uncomfortable to use. Testers with larger hands often recommended brushes with longer handles, complaining about feeling cramped by short handles. 

The Best Scrub Brush: O-Cedar Rinse Fresh Pot & Pan Brush

One scrub brush, the O-Cedar Rinse Fresh Pot & Pan Brush, easily washed away its competition. Its main set of stiff plastic bristles cut through every mess we threw at it. We liked that the bristles, especially those around the head’s perimeter, flared out and scraped up stains in otherwise inaccessible corners. Wide gaps between bristle clusters ensured that all crumbs, dough, and other remnants rinsed free easily. An extra strip of ultrastiff bristles on its back side powered through challenging burnt-on patches. The handle was gently curved and easy to maneuver most of the time, and its silicone grip was comfortable and secure even in slippery, soapy water, though its handle was a touch long for some users. It’s also dishwasher-safe and did not become stained during our tests. This brush has earned a permanent place beside our sinks, and we think it deserves a similar spot in your kitchen.

Methodology

  • Test nine scrub brushes (eight with plastic bristles, one with natural bristles), ranging in price from about $5 to about $24 
  • Scramble eggs in stainless-steel skillet with no oil, then scrub skillet
  • Bake a mixture of yellow mustard, tomato paste, and molasses in metal baking pan, then scrub pan 
  • Sear burgers in cast-iron skillet, then scrub skillet 
  • Smear metal mixing bowl with Cat Head Biscuit dough, then scrub bowl
  • Wash brushes after each test and then 10 additional times by hand or in the dishwasher, according to manufacturer directions 
  • Have nine testers use scrub brushes at home for at least three weeks and provide feedback 

Rating Criteria

Performance: We tested how well the brushes cleaned assorted greasy, sticky, and cooked-on messes in a variety of cookware

Ease of Use: We evaluated how easy it was to hold and maneuver the brushes

Cleanup: We rated whether the brushes were easy to clean

Durability: We tested how well the brushes held up to repeated use and washes

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The Results

Winner
Recommended

Design Trifecta 360 Knife Block

Admittedly expensive, this handsome block certainly seemed to live up to its billing as “the last knife block you ever have to buy.” The heaviest model in our testing, this block was ultrastable, and its durable bamboo exterior was a breeze to clean. Well-placed medium-strength magnets made it easy to attach all our knives, and a rotating base gave us quick access to them. One tiny quibble: The blade of our 12-inch slicing knife stuck out a little.

$248.64*
Recommended

Schmidt Brothers Downtown Block

This roomy block completely sheathed our entire winning knife set using just one of its two sides—and quite securely, thanks to long, medium-strength magnet bars. Heavy, with a grippy base, this block was very stable. An acrylic guard made this model extra-safe but also made it a little trickier to insert knives and to clean; the wood block itself showed some minor cosmetic scratching during use.

$141.90*

Schmidt Brothers Midtown Block

This smaller version of the Downtown Block secured all our knives nicely, though the blade of the slicing knife stuck out a bit. With a base lined with grippy material, this block was very stable. An acrylic guard afforded extra protection against contact with blades but made it a little harder to insert knives and to clean; the wood itself got a little scratched during use.

$67.99*
Recommended with Reservations

Swissmar Bamboo Magnetic Knife Block

This small, scratch-resistant model had a stable, rubber-lined base and could hold all our knives, though the blade of the 12-inch slicing knife stuck out a bit. But inch-long gaps between its small magnets made coverage uneven and forced us to find the magnetic hot spots in order to secure the knives. Its acrylic guard made it safer to use but harder to insert knives and to clean.

$49.93*
Not Recommended

Messermeister Walnut Magnet Block

This handsome block was done in by its shape—a tippy, top-heavy quarter-circle that wasn’t tall or broad enough to keep the blades of three knives from poking out. It lacked a nonslip base, and its extra-strong magnets made it unnerving to attach or remove our heavy cleaver. Finally, it got a bit scratched after extensive use.

$129.95*

Epicurean Standing Knife Rack 12"

This magnetic block sheathed all our knives completely, though with a bit of crowding. But it was hard to insert each knife without hitting the block’s decorative slats on way down, and because the block was light and narrow, it wobbled when bumped. Worse, we couldn’t take it apart, so splatters that hit the interior were there to stay. Additionally, the outside stained easily, and when we wiped it down, the unit smelled like wet dog.

$99.95*

Kapoosh Rondelle Knife Block

This model stabilized knives with a mass of stiff, spaghetti-like bristles that shed and nicked easily after extensive use, covering our knives with plastic debris. While all our knives fit securely, several of the blades stuck out, making this unit feel less safe overall. Finally, though the bristles could be removed and cleaned in the dishwasher, their nooks and crannies made this block hard to wash by hand.

$24.99*

Kuhn Rikon Vision Knife Block, Clear

This plastic block required us to aim each knife into the folds of an accordion-pleated insert that was removable for easy cleaning but got nicked easily with repeated use. Because we could only insert the knives vertically, longer knife blades stuck out; a cleaver was too wide to fit. The lightest model in our lineup, this block was dangerously top-heavy when loaded with knives.

$35.88*