What Can You Use To Apply Hair Dye Without A Brush?

woman dyes her hair without a brush at home

I would need more than two hands to count how many times I have excitedly gone to the store to pick up a new box of hair dye, only to get home, prep all of the ingredients and realize I forgot to buy a dye brush.

If you are like me and have found yourself in this situation on more than one occasion you may be asking yourself, “What can you use to apply hair dye without a brush?” As a mom, running back out to the store just simply isn’t the answer and sometimes, you just have to work with what you’ve got.

I’ve found this problem is most inconvenient with semi-permanent dyes. These dyes are ready to use straight from the box—usually fun colors like hot pink or lagoon blue. I don’t use these dyes on myself but I use them on my daughter and dyes like this typically don’t even come with gloves.

How Can I Dye My Hair Without A Tint Brush?

So, if you run into this problem of having no dye brush in your home—never fear! There are still a few household items you can use to dye your hair and upgrade your look. The ideal brush for hair dyeing is 1 ½ – 2 inches thick.

If you were to look at an average tint brush you would see that it is a bit thicker with synthetic bristles. Here is a list of a few items that will do the trick when desperate times call for desperate measures:

  • Dye gloves
  • Paintbrush
  • Toothbrush
  • A flat foam brush (ideal with foam dyes)

Now, I want to clarify: these products aren’t intended for hair dye, so while they will work to the best of their abilities, it is always best to use what beauty professionals recommend.

Can I Use A Toothbrush To Apply Hair Dye?

A common household item that works for highlighting your hair at home is a toothbrush. Notice I said highlighting! While a toothbrush may work for overall color, unless your hair is particularly short or you have the patience of a Buddhist monk this could take quite some time.

Typically, the tint brushes that beauty stores sell are often too big for highlights anyway, causing wide and chunky highlights (let’s avoid that at all costs). Even a baby toothbrush would work well to give yourself highlights.

This way you know you are just getting the fine hairs that need to be lightened rather than accidentally getting other strands in the mix that weren’t intended to be dyed. Using a toothbrush will give you total control over where the dye needs to precisely go.

Can You Dye Hair Without Gloves?

Listen, I am all for at home DIY, being resourceful and using the items you have on hand. However, do not ever dye your hair without gloves. The majority of hair dyes on the market contain harsh, toxic chemicals that aren’t meant to be lathered all over your skin.

I’m not just talking about those with sensitive skin, the uncomfortable reactions that can happen when dyeing with your bare hands can happen to anyone. Most hair dyes contain paraphenylenediamine (PPD), a chemical derived from petroleum.

This type of chemical is called a “coal-tar dye.” Coal-tar colors contain other small amounts of heavy metals such as aluminum. These heavy metals are known to cause many physical side effects and are classified as a human carcinogen.

The risks of dyeing your hair without gloves include symptoms such as a rash, chemical burn or allergic reaction. In addition to these painful side effects, your hands can be stained with color for up to 2 weeks.

For more detailed information on why you should not dye your hair without gloves. Read our post titled “Can You Use Hair Dye Without Gloves?”

How Can I Dye My Roots Without A Brush?

As we talked about before, a toothbrush really is the best tool to use when you need to just get some of your hair but not all. Just like with highlighting, using a toothbrush helps you maintain control over where you want the dye to exactly go.

Make sure the toothbrush is either brand new or very clean, as the hair dye could react to any leftover toothpaste hidden in the bristles. In addition to a toothbrush using gloves is the second best option. Using gloves to dye your roots can help you get the dye into the tiny crevices that only you can feel with your finger tips.

Using gloves also ensures that there is no clumping of bleach or dye, as this can happen with a toothbrush. Smoothing out the dye so it is spread evenly is a crucial step in achieving blended overall color, so using gloves may be the better option.

Can You Use A Paintbrush To Bleach Hair?

Using a paintbrush to dye hair is pretty common, as the larger sizes share many of the same qualities as tint brushes do. There aren’t many rules when it comes to dyeing hair with a paintbrush except that the brush should ideally be brand new, or, like with the toothbrush, the dye may react with any chemicals left in the bristles.

However, using a paintbrush when bleaching your hair comes with one specific rule: do not use natural hair brushes. Natural hair is protein based and when put into bleach will dissolve. The best way you can see if your paintbrush is natural hair is to look very closely at the bristles. If the bristles are different colors then it is natural hair.

The perk of using paintbrushes to do some at home dyeing is that they usually come in a variety of different sizes. This gives you the flexibility to switch up the brush when you need to instead of having to use one large size for your tiny baby hairs.

How Can I Highlight My Hair At Home Without Foil?

Thankfully, highlighting your own hair at home is 100% possible without foil. Many beauty stores sell highlighting kits now with instructions, however if you don’t have a highlighting kit stay tuned!

The first way you can highlight your hair without foil is to simply:

  1. Separate your hair half up, half down.
  2. Then section off an even smaller section, small bits at a time.
  3. Take a brush (ideally a toothbrush) and run it through your small section.
  4. Run it through again, making sure this small section is fully saturated.
  5. Stagger where you start the hair dye on each section, this will help make your highlights or balayage look more natural.
  6. Start from mid shaft on one section, then start at the root on the following section.
  7. Continue this process until all small sections of hair are saturated.
  8. Leave on for the duration stated in the instructions and wash.

The second method to highlighting your hair at home without foil is the cotton ball and toothbrush method. This method is quite similar to the one mentioned above, with one difference.

Using a toothbrush to saturate small strands of hair, place cotton balls underneath to prevent any dye from bleeding onto other areas. This method works best with the very top layer of hair.

Final Thoughts: What Can You Use To Apply Hair Dye Without A Brush?

Given that you have the household items I mentioned laying around, dyeing your hair at home without a tint brush is entirely possible. Foam brushes, something you can easily find at Home Depot—work best with foam dye. Paintbrushes and dye gloves work best with semi, demi and permanent hair dyes.

Toothbrushes work best for short hair or smaller sections such as highlights or roots. Just remember our two very important rules: don’t bleach your hair with a natural hair paintbrush, and avoid ever dyeing your hair without gloves.

With these tips and tricks, next time you find yourself forgetting to buy a dye brush it won’t be the end all. There are plenty of workarounds you can use to keep your hair looking fabulous. Get creative and bring your new look to life!

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By Cierra Tolentino

Cierra Tolentino is a beauty writer at Kintegra Research. She loves keeping people up-to-date with the latest beauty trends in skincare, hair care, and makeup. Finding answers to tough questions is her thing. When she has free time you can find her chasing down a clumsy toddler and obsessively drinking tea.