Brushes are natural (stiff bristle or soft hair – both of animal origin) or synthetic (non-animal).
Different types of brushes are utilised and found suitable for specific applications like painting and cleaning:
Natural hair can have been derived from the following animals or may even be human hair:
Camel: ox (hair from ears), pony, bear, sheep, goat, squirrel
Cat: whiskers too
Ermine: red sable
Goat: eyelashes too
Hog/Boar/Pig: China/Chungking bristles, natural and white bristles
Mongoose: kevrin, Indian sable
Pony: pony, mongoose, squirrel, cow
Rat: whiskers too
Sabeline: dyed ox hair
Sable: kolinsky/Chinese mink, red sable, brown sable, weasel, mongoose
Squirrel: Canadian/golden squirrel, Kazan squirrel, Blue squirrel, Taleutky squirrel, squirrel whiskers too
Wolf: sable, weasel
A negligible percentage of non-animal hair brushes are sold world-wide as they do not satisfy users. Hog/pig/boar bristles (also referred to as China or Chungking bristles) are most commonly used, although sable, mongoose, cow, goat and squirrel hair could be utilised in brushes for different applications. “Animal fine hair” is used for making cosmetic brushes. The hair is usually from the tails of squirrels, weasels and civet cats, but the hair of badger, racoon, cattle, dog and deer also falls into this category. In places like Udaipur, squirrel hair brushes are used for miniature art and are said to create lines thinner than those made with an architect’s pencils.
Animal hair brushes used for boot-polishing, painting walls and art-work are made from pig/hog/boar bristles. Nowadays some wall painting brushes are also made of goat hair. Shoe shine brushes made of horse hair are also common. (The boot polish itself could contain beeswax and other animal ingredients.) Bristles are black, white or mixed in colour and depending upon the process of manufacture are called boiled, washed or bleached.
Paint brushes with animal hair used by artists are usually of sable, red sable (red haired weasel – red sable has replaced ermine), wolf (combination of sable and weasel), fitch (polecat of weasel family), sabeline (light coloured ox-hair dyed red), kolinsky (a mink specie of China), badger, pig/hog/boar, kevrin (fine mongoose hair), pony, goat, rabbit, monkey, cat, sheep, horse (most common in Japan), sambar (hair from the back of deer, also common in Japan) or different types of squirrel hair (Kazan, blue, Canadian/golden and Taleutky squirrels). Brushes can contain hair obtained from two or three different animals.
In the Orient, brushes made from tiger hair (very rare nowadays – it is said the best tiger hairs are obtained by plucking from a startled wild animal) goat’s eyelashes, squirrel and rat whiskers, and even human baby hair taken from the first haircut, are considered novelties.
Dressed horse tail hair, available in many (natural and dyed) colours and lengths, processed into yarn is used for many things like making horse tail cloth which is a stiff fabric (used for lining, cases and bags, upholstery, etc.), in bow hair, rocking horses, tail extensions, wigs, braiding art, jewellery, and brushes. Horse hair wefting/strip, curled horse hair (used for padding and filling of mattresses, chair seats, etc.), and hair from other parts of the bodies of horses, like mane, leg, hoof and root tail hair are available for different applications. Yarn made from other animals’ hair is also available and especially exported by China.
The hair used in ‘Camel’ brushes is very misleading since there is not a single hair from a camel in these brushes! (Camel was the name of the man who owned the brand of brushes.) These brushes actually consist of various inexpensive hair types like that of goat, sheep, ox (ear hair), horse, pony, low grade squirrel hair or a blend of them. Fine artwork brushes use hair from the squirrels’ tails for which hundreds of squirrels are killed.
Most brushes in paint boxes used by school children were Indian sable – actually mongoose protected under wildlife laws – till Beauty Without Cruelty repeatedly complained to the Government of India. In 2002 almost simultaneous nationwide raids with the help of the Wildlife Trust of India, yielded hair of at least 50,000 illegally killed animals.
More than a decade later, the trade in mongoose hair for artists’ brushes continues to flourish without buyers being aware of what they are using or how the hair is obtained. The mongooses are mercilessly hunted down, trapped, stoned or beaten to death for their hair in Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra, West Bengal and Bihar. The hair is smuggled out of India to the Middle East, Europe and USA via Nepal and Bangladesh.
About 40 grams of hair is plucked (pulled out with fingers) from the just killed, warm bodies of mongooses. Usually no more than about 50% or 20 grams turns out to be of paint brush quality. Thus, 50 mongooses lose their lives for a kilogram of useable hair. This gave rise to the “Save the Mongoose” campaign led by the Society for Heritage & Ecological Researches and the American Center, Kolkata.
Manufacturers in India now sell imported bristle brushes: pony hair, as well as natural and white bristle (hog/pig hair) artists’ brushes. Pony hair is cheap, coarse, and does not perform well. It is some times mixed with squirrel hair. In fact, paint brushes labelled pony hair could actually be the hair of some other animal like mongoose, squirrel or even cow.
Certain artists’ brushes made in India, in addition to having being made from goat hair and imported sable and hog/boar/pig bristles, utilise shellac in their making. Some paints could also be of animal origin.
Synthetic hair brushes are also made here and easily available, so discerning users should opt for them.
Cruelty to Pigs
Pigs are reared for their meat and their bristles. It is therefore not uncommon to find pigs roaming around within municipal limits, in slum areas, eating out of garbage dumps. “Fresh pork” is easily available from such sources and is also supplied by small piggeries from which heartrending squeals are regularly heard.
Perhaps the cruellest, but unfortunately the least known, method of obtaining any product from an animal is the method by which bristles are obtained from the pig to make paint brushes. Hog/pig bristles, extracted in a barbaric manner are supplied to brush manufacturers by slum dwellers: the pig is forcibly held immobile underfoot by one person while its hair is painfully yanked out by another person, the pig all the while in full consciousness, screaming in pain. The price of plucked pig hair/bristles is double that which have been cut.
28% of India’s pig population is found in the NEH (North Eastern Hill) Region of India. In 2013, the ICAR (Indian Council of Agricultural Research) estimated that around 15.35 lakh pigs were annually slaughtered there in the organized sector. Since an indigenous pig produced 300-400 grams of high quality bristles, the ICAR felt that the NEH Region could easily produce 10-12 thousand quintals of pig bristles a year. They therefore developed a methodology for collecting via bristle-clipping and processing the pig bristles by first removing dirt (epithelial scales and wax), destroying microbes and parasitic eggs by boiling for 2 hours, then drying, bleaching, softening and colour removal, etc. so that they could be manufactured into shaving, cosmetic, coat & jacket, washing, shoe, carpet, furniture/equipment dusting and hair brushes. However, this “value added product” attracted no serious takers.
All kinds of brushes are made of bristles obtained from the pig, but the most common are the brushes that are used for painting walls.
The Bristle Hair and Brush Manufacturers Association, Kanpur, informed Beauty Without Cruelty that desi pigs/hogs are domestically reared for meat and bristles throughout India for which the Government gives loans. The maximum pigs are in Uttar Pradesh. The annual yield of bristles per pig is about 250 grams. Bristles are collected by small village bayaparies who when they have a sizeable quantity sell them to manufacturers at markets/fairs known as haats/bazaars/melas.
White and black coloured pig/hog bristle wall painting brushes are available in the market. Some say that the white ones are made from pig/hog bristles obtained from China. Possible because under India’s Import Policy 2012, bristles of pigs, hogs and boars, and hair of badgers and yaks’ tail hair is allowed into the country and therefore the policy for these items is marked as “free”. However Beauty Without Cruelty has found that Indian pigs/hogs produce white hair as well and it is some times dyed black.
In 2014, BWC again pointed out to the Government the intense cruelty inflicted upon pigs to procure bristles, and requested a ban the import and export of pig bristles and hair for which the policy was “free”.
Then in January 2017, the export of pig bristles and hair to the European Union was allowed subject to a ‘Shipment Clearance Certificate’ and a ‘Production Process Certificate’ which is actually a formality required for all Animal By-Products exported from India to the EU. Prior to that in September and October 2016, 30 kgs and 10 pac (brushes/hair bound together) of 40 mm medium stiff bristle back domestic pig hair was exported to Italy for a total of Rs 2,20,568/-. And, in October 2016, 275 kgs of 3¾” UP Indian extra stiff bristle natural black domestic pig hair to the UK for Rs 18,48,346/-. These consignments represent the torture of at least 1,260 pigs.
Paint Brushes made of Pig and Dog Hair
Pigs and dogs are considered unclean by many Muslims, who make up 60% of Malaysia’s 30 million citizens, and so it is illegal to see any products made from their bodies. This saves the animals in as much that their hair/bristles can not be used for paint brushes sold in Malaysia. Traders who flout the rule face 3 years in jail and a fine of 1000,000 Ringgit (Rs 15 lakh). There was a big crackdown by the Malaysian authorities who seized thousands of brushes in February 2017.
Choose Compassion over Cruelty
Some other white coloured wall painting brushes available are made of non-animal fibre like a brand called Him. Earlier nylon bristle brushes were ten times more expensive than the pig hair/bristle ones, but this is no longer so. In fact, we are happy that more and more people are demanding non-animal ones and we believe this is due to the factual awareness created by Beauty Without Cruelty.
Rollers and ‘synthetic’ brushes may be expensive compared to pig hair brushes, but then morality does have its price: we have to choose between ill-gotten cheapness and a higher but ethically obtained cost of living. Before the invention of synthetic ones, sponges (animals from the sea) were used as applicators for paints and ceramic glazes, and as scrubbers. ‘Natural’ sponges are still available, but by and large the loofah (dried gourd) has replaced them in the shower and kitchen.
Hair grooming (and other) brushes marked ‘natural’ or ‘pure’ contain boar bristles, whereas ‘synthetic’ ones are of stiff plastic or nylon. Stronger than boar or nylon are wire bristles; moulded quill and wooden bristles are also available.
The most suitable brushes for application of liquid shellac are said to be made of skunk hair with badger hair on the outside rim.
Brushes for applying cosmetics, shaving, brushing clothes, carpets and upholstery and some toothbrushes may or may not contain animal bristles.
In India, toothbrushes and the commonly available cheap brushes used for scrubbing/washing clothes are made of nylon. Pastry/decorator/basting brushes are also usually nylon or silicone.
‘Synthetic’ or man-made filaments are of either nylon or polyester. They can be easily tapered, tipped, flagged, abraded or etched to increase colour carrying ability. They are nowadays dyed and baked to make them softer and more absorbent, are available in all sizes, have excellent stiffness, snap and hair shape retention for maximum control, plus have the advantage of being cheaper than animal hair brushes. Common synthetic filaments are Toray, Teijin, Taklon and Tynex.
Synthetic brush bristle materials are generally Carbon Fibre, Nylon Abrasive, Nylon-Type6, Nylon-Type6.6, Nylon-Type 6.12, Nylon Conductive, Polyester, Peek, Polyethylene, Polypropylene, Polystyrene, PTFE, PVC, Static Dissipative Nylon, Tynex A and Thunderon®.
Whereas wire brush bristles are made from materials such as Aluminium, Brass, Carbon Steel, Nickel Silver and Stainless Steel.
In addition to the ethical aspect of not using animal bristle brushes, the advantages of ‘synthetic’ brushes are that they are less prone to damage from solvents, paints and insects, easier to keep clean, they retain their shape, are more durable and better suited for painting with acrylics. Thunderon is an acrylic fibre which can eliminate and control static electricity like particular nylon anti-static materials used for brushes.
A Mexican port from which the best known and most widely used brush fibre from the cactus family is supplied has given its name Tampico to the fibres. Its high absorbency makes it suitable for scrubbing and washing applications.
Palmyra is obtained from the Palmyra palm and is utilized for washing floors, decks and general scrubbing.
Union Fibre is a mixture of Tampico and Palmyra.
Bassine is from the stalks of the faw palm and is mostly used in deck scrubs, conveyor cleaning and garage and street brooms.
Bass or Piassava from the leaves of West African palm trees produces two fibres, Calabar and Sherebro. They are very coarse and primarily utilized in street brooms.
Kittool is extremely tough, dyed black and used in roofing brushes and saturated felt brushes.
Palmetto is from the Florida Palmetto Palm. It is coarse and is oil treated for wet applications.
Rice Root or Zacatan is the roots of Eipcames Macecura found in Central Mexico and Gautemala. The fibre is crinkly yellow and utilized for dairy scrubs and horse grooming brushes.
| Page last updated on 18/02/17