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Brush Fibers

A quick reference guide to the materials used throughout our brush lines. We are able to supply the fibers described below and also make special mixtures. Please contact us for more information.

Hillbrush believes in responsible sourcing and uses a wide range of environmentally friendly materials from across the globe. Please see our Environmental Policy for more information.

Aphandra (Aphandra Natalia)

The West Amazonian Piassaba fiber Aphandra is extracted from the palm Aphandra Natalia, which grows in tropical lowland rainforests in Ecuador and Peru close to the foothills of the Andes.

This palm has been known and exploited for centuries by indigenous communities for a multitude of purposes. Its leaves are used for thatch and for darts for blowguns, its male flowers are used for feeding domestic animals, the pulp of its fruits is used for attracting game animals, its seeds are used for making figurines etc., and most importantly the fiber from its leaf sheaths is extracted and used to make various brooms and brushes. This fiber is almost identical to “Piassaba” fiber extracted from species of Attalea and Leopoldinia elsewhere in the Amazon.

The Piassaba fibers from the Northern and Eastern Amazon have been known and amply documented in literature since they were discovered by western science in the 19th century. It was therefore surprising when in 1985 the west Amazonian Piassaba palm was discovered to belong to the group of ivory palms (subfamily Phytelephantoideae) that is distributed in the western parts of the South American continent (Balslev & Henderson, 1987).

As it turned out, all brooms made from natural plant fiber throughout Ecuador were made with Aphandra Natalia, and many indigenous communities in Amazonian Ecuador had and still have important economic incomes originating from this fiber palm – but it was believed until recently that it was a local phenomenon restricted to Ecuador.

A few years ago our company imported some Aphandra, which was ideal for semi-stiff platform brooms, but the supply was erratic, and none has been imported recently.

Arenga [Gumati] (Arenga saccharifera Labill)

Whilst this palm is widely distributed, the only source of brush fiber is Indonesia. The fiber is harvested from the Arenga Pinnata Palm. Gumati is softer and finer than Bahia Bass, but has similar excellent wearing and sweeping qualities. It does not crush easily or rot, and is hard wearing and resilient. Brushes manufactured with Gumati are excellent for sweeping dry concrete and smooth floors such as in warehouses. Gumati has also become relatively expensive over the last few years, and is now often mixed with cheaper fibers such as Palmyra and Coir to reduce the brush fiber cost.

Bahia Bass/Piassava (Attalea funifera Martius)

Bahia comes from the state of Bahia in Brazil, and was first brought to Europe in cargo boats as packing between sugar cane. The fiber was left on the dock side, and some intelligent person realised that it would make an excellent brush fiber. Bahia a leaf stalk fiber and is harvested from the tree and can be up to 5m long. It tapers from end to end, and therefore has to be sorted and graded before cutting. It holds water well and does not rot when damp, and is resilient to distortion. These properties make Bahia the best fiber for semi-stiff yard brooms and platform brooms. Bahia is also widely used for chimney sweeps' brushes.

Bahia is an expensive fiber, and is therefore often mixed with Palmyras and/or synthetic materials.

It is interesting to note the origins of the usage of the term “Piassava” or “Piassaba” by which Bahia is generally known. The name derives from “piacaba” in Tupi, an Amerindian language, and modified by the alternate “v” or “b” in Portuguese. The name applies to the fiber and not the palm. The term is now also used in conjunction with Sherbro from Sierra Leone.

History tells of a brush maker in Liverpool, UK, in the 1840’s named Mr Bass, who was allegedly the first person to make brushes with Bahia. The fiber had been offered to him by a salesman who had brought it from Liverpool docks. This is an interesting story, but is not thought to be from where the term “Bass” was derived.

The use of the term “Bass” almost certainly emanates from the early 1800s, and is probably a corruption of “Bast”, the material obtained by stripping the outer layer of phloem fibers from dicotyledenous plant stems. Such strips were widely used for tying the twig bundles in besom making.

Bassine/Palmyra (Borassus flabellifera)

This material is derived from the stalks of the Palmyra palm in Southern India mainly in Kerala and Tamil Nadu States. The best material comes from an area around Tuticorin, and is available in various grades of stiffness. Bassine is inexpensive and durable, and its sweeping qualities are fair, but it is not resilient and may distort in use especially when wet. As with most of the other vegetable fibers it has good resistance to heat and most chemicals.

Bassine is shipped in bundles ready to use in a brush-making machine, which makes it attractive to the brush manufacturer.

It is used in cheaper warehouse brooms, in mixtures for scrubbing brushes, and in cheaper household brushes and brooms.

Cane and Palmyra Mixtures

Much of the Cane is mixed in India with Palmyra in different percentages, and is used in large quantities by brush makers to produce low cost yard brooms. The fiber sweeps rather poorly, wears quickly and is unsatisfactory in wet conditions. It is sometimes referred to as “Grape” or “Apple” mixture, and these terms donate the mixture proportions. Unfortunately brushes made with this mixture are sometimes incorrectly described as Bass brooms. This is a misleading term because a Bass broom has always been a broom which is manufactured with either Sherbro or Bahia Bass, which are both good quality fibers.

As the fibers are harvested and degrade naturally, it is environmentally friendly.

Broom Grass (Miscanthidium sorghum)

This grass stalk material grows in the mountainous regions of Lesotho (formerly Basutoland) in Southern Africa at approximately 2,500m alongside mountain streams, in a rarefied cold atmosphere. It is the rarefied atmosphere which gives the broom grass its resilience. The maximum length available is about 500mm, but we purchase ready-cut bundles of 203mm and 229mm. The Broom Grass is collected from various villages by a local company, which then delivers the Grass to Cape Town, about 500 miles away, to be containerised.

Whilst brooms are made with 100% Broom Grass in Lesotho, we only mix it with other materials such as Cane, Palmyra, Polypropylene and Sherbro. The mixtures are used in lighter domestic brooms and yard brooms. The light green colour looks very attractive in the finished mixtures.

The Broom Grass has to be purchased by the container load due to the freight costs involved. Lesotho, being a relatively poor country, is largely dependent on any export which it can derive and the sale of the grass is important to them. At the moment their exports are insufficient to support the needs of the country, and substantial aid is provided by major countries throughout the world. This aid will always be needed unless they can increase their exports of items such as Broom Grass.

Split Palmyra/Cane

This material is from the mid rib of the Palmyra Palm leaf. It is not used on its own for brush production, but is always mixed with other materials. It is used to enhance the stiffness of Sherbro Piassava, and the natural cane makes the mixtures more attractive due to its creamy colour, which is a good contrast to the brown of Sherbro. Dyed Cane is also available, which is also used in mixtures.

Coco fiber (Coir) (Cocos nucifera)

Coco fiber is the only seed fiber used in brush making, and it is obtained from the husk of the coconut palm in Sri Lanka. The husks are soaked, retted and crushed to extract the brush fiber; and the inner part of the nut is made into food products.

The Coco palm is very productive. The leaves are used for roofs of houses and the stems are bound together to make cheap local stiff brooms. The husk of the nuts produces brush fiber, mattress fiber and coir rope, and the dust from the husk is compressed into blocks for compost. The milk is extracted from the nut, and the inner part of the nut is made into ‘Bounty’ chocolate bars.

Coco fiber is inexpensive and has average wearing and sweeping properties and is liable to crush and distort, and is used mainly in the cheaper household and industrial brooms. Coco is mixed with other fibers such as PVC, Polypropylene, Gumati and Palmyra (Bassine) to improve its resilience, and reduce the cost of the other materials.

The Coco fiber supplied by our Company is unbleached, but waxed and double hackled. The bleaching process involves sulphur and is extremely unpleasant, and our company will not therefore buy bleached fiber. Coco fiber is also dyed black, and is more popular in the UK than in other countries. Dyeing the fiber is a messy process and it does not improve the quality. Flagged Black fiber is specially treated dyed Coco fiber where the ends have been flagged or split. It sweeps better than plain Coco fiber, especially in drier, dusty conditions, and it looks much more attractive and has a softer feel. Our company no longer uses flagged coco fiber.

Boar Bristle

Boar Bristle comes from China. For fine brushes bristle comes from the neck of the boar, and for paint brushes it comes from the animal’s flank. Boar Bristle is characterised by its stiffness and elasticity. The bristle comes from various areas of China such as Chungking, Hankow and Tsingtao, and is available generally in white, black and grey, but can be dyed any colour. The supply of bristle has become very difficult over the last few years. There are about 50 major dressing companies in China, but they have found that they can more easily supply their home market, which is booming. As the Chinese middle classes grow, so does their purchasing power. Another cause of the shortages is that the Chinese are now rearing boars more for consumption, and the boars with long bristle are not being bred so much.

The cost of bristle has risen inexorably in recent years, partly due to the shortage of supply, and partly due to the fact that the Chinese currency has increased in value, and the Chinese government has removed some export rebates.

Goat Hair

Goat hair is also sourced from China. The hair is clipped from the breast of the goat where it is soft and springy. The hair is then washed and combed. Though soft, it is also durable and resilient. It is almost exclusively used in high quality equestrian brushes for bringing the final gloss to horses’ coats and for computer keyboard cleaning brushes.

Horsehair

Horsehair from Paraguay and China is durable and resilient, and is ideal for use in brushes for cleaning smooth floors and windows, and in cobweb brushes. It is also used in high quality equestrian brushes. The best horsehair is from the tail.

Madagascar Bass (Raphia Pendunenlata)

This is a leaf fiber from the Bonitra palm. The fiber is extracted by rotting. It is a rich ruby colour and is characterised by its elasticity and durability. The fiber was used for yard brooms and upholstery brushes, but is now rarely seen.

Mexican fiber or Tampico (Agave lophantha)

Mexican fiber, or Tampico as it is also known, is a leaf fiber which comes from the spiny, cactus-like lecheguilla plant that grows wild in the semi-desert upland areas of Mexico. The fiber is extracted by scraping away the pulpy matter from the freshly cut leaves. It distinguishes itself by its great elasticity and resistance to temperature change, as well as to acids and caustic soda, and its fineness for polishing and grinding. It is also water absorbent and non-electrostatic so that the brushes remain dust free. The description ‘Tampico’ takes its name from the port in Mexico from which the fiber is exported.

There were problems with supply some years ago, mainly due to the rural exodus from the area where the fiber grows, resulting in a shortage of talladores (fiber pickers). This problem seems to have been mainly overcome but sometimes supplies are difficult due to weather conditions.

The fiber used to be a component part of all scrubbing brush mixtures, where it was mixed with Indian Palmyra, but due to the cost of the Mexican/Tampico, it is now often replaced by polypropylene. This has reduced the quality of the brushes, because Tampico’s best property is its capacity to hold water, which is 65% more than polypropylene.

Tampico is harvested from the wild plants, and is completely bio-degradable. The fiber is available in a natural cream colour, but is also supplied polished and also dyed black and as a grey mixture.

Mexican Whisk or Broom Root (Epicanpes Macoura)

This fiber is known as Mexican Whisk, Broom Root or rice Root, and is the root of the Epicampes macoura plant which grows in Central America. The roots of the plant are pulled from the ground and the skin is removed by rubbing them with water and stones. The best quality grows in Mexico, and it is a deep yellow colour with a natural crimp and is acknowledged as the best material for animal grooming brushes. The fiber tends to become brittle, and therefore the fibers are often soaked in water before use.

Nylon Type 6 and 6.6

Nylon Type 6 and 6.6 have excellent sweeping and wearing qualities and are used in a considerable number of different types of brushes. Type 6 and 6.6 Nylons can be used in boiling water. Nylon tends to feel softer in wet conditions, because it has a high absorption level.

P.V.C. (Poly-vinyl chloride)

PVC has excellent wearing and sweeping properties, but has a tendency to “flick” in use. It should never be used in temperatures greater than 65ºc.

Polyester PBT

Polyester PBT has excellent wearing and sweeping qualities, and has a negligible water absorption rate, resulting in a negligible loss of rigidity when used in wet conditions. Polyester has a high temperature resistance, and good resistance to most chemicals, and is therefore ideal for hygienic brushes.

PPN (Polypropylene)

PPN is very light and has good wearing properties. However it is a little “dead” in use and has poor recovery from crushing. It has a reasonably high temperature resistance and a good resistance to acids.