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3D-printed Maze hairbrush is a breeze to clean

Thousands of us throw our brushes away when they get clogged with hair and hair goop. A simple, 3D-printed solution out of Ohio State University plans to change that.

The 3D-printed Maze hairbrush has sections that flex forward and backward to make hair removal a snap.

Scott Shim

When I see my wife cleaning her hairbrush, I get depressed and think, "I remember when I had hair."

When Scott Shim, associate professor of design at Ohio State University, saw his wife undertaking the task, it got him thinking about ease and sustainability.

"I couldn't understand why she had to do that. Obviously, this is not a problem for me," Shim said in a statement Monday, referring to his own balding head. "Then I did some market research, and found out how often hairbrushes get thrown out -- not because they're worn out, but because they're disgusting and people didn't maintain them well."

Shim's research found that the longest people are willing to put up with a hairbrush entwined with hair, skin cells and and styling products is six months to a year. After that, they toss it.

So in an effort to keep all those hairbrushes out of landfills, and to make life a little easier for the full-head-of-hair-havers among us, Shim and former graduate student Morris Koo invented -- and then 3D-printed -- what they dubbed the "Maze hairbrush." It gets its name because the paddle part of the brush looks a bit like a maze with individual sections that flex forward and backward to make removing hair a cinch.

"Our goal was for the user to easily remove hair from the bristles," Shim said. "We latched on to this idea that brushes usually have a solid surface that gets in the way of cleaning. We decided that the best solution would be to create a brush with an open surface, where the user could actually open it and just grab the hair."

Currently, Shim and Koo are making prototypes by 3D-printing the brush bases one at a time and then inserting the bristles by hand. The bristles have proven to be tricky, because the printer they're using can only output brittle bristles, which sometimes snap when they're put in place. But the duo hopes to change that. They're currently looking for strong, flexible plastics that will suit mass production, and hope to collaborate with materials scientists on the product, according to Ohio State.

With that problem solved, mass production will hopefully follow. A rollout of the patented hairbrush seems likely as it's already won two awards -- first place in the beauty, personal care and cosmetic products category in Italy's A' Design Awards and a Green Product Award from White Lobster, a German agency for sustainable innovation.