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The Best Scrub Brushes
A good scrub brush is indispensable for handling the toughest kitchen messes. We set out to find the best one.
Published Jan. 15, 2021. Appears in America's Test Kitchen TV Season 22: Italian-Inspired Dinners
What You Need To Know
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 wer...
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The mission of America’s Test Kitchen Reviews is to find the best equipment and ingredients for the home cook through rigorous, hands-on testing. We stand behind our winners so much that we even put our seal of approval on them.
Chase is an associate editor for ATK Reviews. He's an epidemiologist-turned-equipment tester and biscuit enthusiast.