How to Remove Burrs from Clothes

Hikers and backpackers who tend to take their trekking off the beaten path and into brambles and weeds have doubtless had the perturbance upon exiting the bristles and tall weeds of looking down to see that their hiking clothes are completely covered with small, round spores that are covered with sharp hook-shaped bristles. These spores are called burrs (or burs) and they can be a spectacular annoyance if your clothing is thin enough for their sharp bristles to pierce through and get at your skin.

Most burrs will irritate the skin even without prolonged exposure, at least enough to cause a sort of rash to form. Even more annoying is that they are so small that it can be quite time-consuming to get all the burrs out of your clothes. There’s no way around it and they certainly can’t be left in unless you were lucky enough to wear thick hiking pants or hunting pants.

In fact, leaving the burrs stuck to your clothes is more or less exactly their purpose. Burrs are seeds from a variety of plants. Unless you want to become an expert you don’t need to be able to tell the difference between burrs when you see them stuck to your clothes, but it could help to know what the plants look like that sport burrs so you can avoid them before they attach to you next time.

Basically these burrs are meant to use you as a kind of transport for as long as possible before they break away, ideally in a fertile place where they can grow into a new plant. While sweet-tasting fruits use a similar method, they are transported internally and dropped off in a more purposeful way by animals that eat them. Burrs travel on the exterior, which is why they attach so readily to your clothes

Weeds during sunset.

The hooks and teeth of burr seeds attach to clothing as a mode of dispersal.

Luckily for all you outdoor enthusiasts, there are a few ways to easily get burrs off your clothes.

  • A ready-made solution called BurzOff is widely available for purchase.
  • DIY solutions to burr removal abound as well for those who have plenty of outdoor gear like tackle boxes whose dividers can be repurposed into burr removal devices without being made obsolete for their original purpose.
  • A simple metal comb can go a long way in removing burrs from your clothes.
  • Some hikers swear by the lint roller as the best implement for removing burrs from your clothes.
  • There is a DIY version that everyone has probably heard of already: duct tape. 

The burr seeds of plants like burr-ragweed can be excessively bothersome. Their hooks were the inspiration behind the attaching technology we call velcro today. They have many different names but when most people think of burrs they’re singularly focused on burr removal. Read on to find out everything you need to know about removing burrs from your clothes.

What is the point of burrs?

We briefly mentioned this before, but burrs are a method of reproduction for a wide variety of plants such as cocklebur and burr-ragweed. The burr is meant to stick to animal fur or, in the case of humans, to our denim and fleece jackets. The hooks have to be very strong and sharp so that they can get really entangled in the fur or fleece until contact with another surface or the animal’s shedding of its fur leaves the burr in a new place where it can become a new plant.

Because of these features, burrs can cause serious injury to small animals, irritation to human skin, and excessive damage to clothing. It’s important to make sure you aren’t just ripping the burrs away from your clothing since that might leave your clothes pockmarked. 

Sensitive material has to be taken care of in a more delicate manner than denim or fleece. Since plants that have burr seeds are not usually discernible from other plants in the dark, bowhunting and deer hunting enthusiasts who strike out into the backcountry in the early pre-dawn hours often experience more contact with burrs than most campers or hikers. The camo pants often worn by such bowhunting and deer hunting enthusiasts are occasionally denim-like in their construction and may resist burrs better than other hiking pants. 

Burr removal for pets

Before we get to the process of burr removal for humans, a quick word about burr removal for animals, since dogs and even cats often accompany hikers on the hiking trail. As we’ve mentioned before, burrs developed to snag onto animal fur in the eons before humans figured out how to make our own clothing from textiles. There isn’t as much risk presented for our furry friends from burrs as there would be from a tick, but they can still cause an animal dismay and possibly cause a rash. The process for burr removal from an animal is pretty much the same as it will be for removing the burrs from your clothes, just with a few steps taken out. 

The first thing you’ll want to do it soften the burrs so their velcro-like bristles will break more easily. The best way to do this is to give your pet a bath, which they probably need anyway if you’ve just returned from a long hike out in the backcountry. When you’re bathing the pet, we suggest using a scrubbing brush or else some kind of washing gloves just to make sure that you aren’t going to scrape your hands against the sharp bristles of the burrs in your dog’s fur. The hot water and soap will both work together to break the bristles of the burrs. You’ll hopefully see a few of the burrs coming out of the fur while you’re bathing the animal, but don’t worry if you don’t. 

For the next step, find either a fine-tooth comb or a brush. If you have a brush you use when your pet is shedding, then that will work fine. You want to brush through the fur to get the burrs out. The brush should be the only thing making contact with the burrs themselves. Try to only comb over a small area of fur at one time. Use your hand to make a border and comb until all the burrs in that small area are gone. Keep going and soon enough you should have all the burrs removed and your pet’s excess fur will be gone too. 

A dog lying in the grass.

Pets can pick up burrs when they venture into the backcountry as well.

Burr removal for hikers

The process for burr removal from clothing is a little more involved than the one for animal fur. Don’t panic too much, though, because it’s still really simple. The first step has the same goal. Just like getting burrs out of animal fur, if you want to get them out of clothing you’ll want to soften the sharp bristles first. Thankfully, this doesn’t get any more complicated than simply throwing your clothes into the washing machine exactly as you normally would.

This does a great job of softening the bristles and will likely even rid your clothing of a small number of the burrs with its tumble cycle. If they are non-delicate items, feel free to either tumble dry your clothes in a drying machine or hang them to dry on a clothesline. 

So far so good? The next steps are the most time-consuming part of the process. Once your clothing has dried completely, lay the article of clothing in question flat out on a wide enough surface. Any kitchen table or large kitchen counter will do just fine, as long as enough room is available for about half of the article to lay flat at one time with ease. Once your clothing is laid flat out, find a metal comb like you’d use to comb your hair.

A plastic one will probably not be durable enough to be suitable for our purposes, so try to find a metal comb if at all possible. Once you have the comb, you can begin going over the pants one leg at a time. 

Use your non-dominant hand to hold the clothing in place and keep it flat. In your dominant hand, take the comb and comb down in a straight line. You should feel some of the burrs catching and then releasing when their sharp bristles break and they are free from the clothing. There will be a noise from the snapping of the bristles. Make sure you get all of the burrs before you move on to the next stage. 

Finally, we’ve reached the part of the basic process where the lint roller comes into play. Peel away the old sheet that’s been exposed on the outside of the lint roller. You’ll want a fresh adhesive exposed for this part. Remember how we said the sharp bristles can cause rashes and irritation when they come into contact with human skin? Well, the fine-tooth comb got rid of the central part of the burrs, but those sharp bristles have broken off and the ones that were sunk deep into your clothes are likely to still be in there somewhere.

Use the lint roller to go over the entire surface of your article of clothing. When you finish, turn the clothing inside out and run over the inside with the lint roller as well, as some bristles can get stuck so deep in the fabric that they are closer to coming out of the inside than the outside. 

Burr removal in sensitive fabrics

For articles of clothing that are made out of more sensitive materials such as cashmere, you may be able to throw them in the washing machine if that’s what you normally do. It will still soften the burr so its bristles will break. If so, that’s great. It will make the rest of the process that much easier. If not, then the process is the same but you’ve lost the benefit of softened burrs. Either way, the next step is still to lay the article of clothing on a flat surface that’s large enough to accommodate at least half of the piece of clothing.

Next, rather than using a fine-tooth comb, you’re going to have to just attack those burrs with a pair of tweezers. It’s not the fastest task in the world, but hopefully, it will help you remember to invest in some camo or denim pants so you don’t have to wear something as fancy as cashmere out in the backcountry where there are burrs ever again. 

A room full of washing machines.

Throwing your burr-infested clothes in the washing machine can soften the burrs and loosen their hooks.

Burr removal with BurzOff

BurzOff is pretty much the only ready-made item specifically designed for burr removal. It’s made with 90% post-consumer recycled products and has a coarse surface designed to scrape away burrs without letting them stick to the BurzOff itself. It can handle any temperature and there are no moving or electrical parts that would be adversely affected by rain or snow. BurzOff is odor-free and it’s safe to use with the hardscrabble material in your camo hunting clothes or your fleece jacket without causing any damage to either. 

There isn’t really a process for using BurzOff – basically, all you need to do is the same thing you would do with a fine-tooth comb in the method we mentioned previously. Use BurzOff like a brush and all kinds of burrs, such as stickers, stick-tights, cockleburs, beggar’s lice, burdock, stickseed, and burr-ragweed. The sharp bristles should be almost entirely pulled out of the cloth without even having to remove the article of clothing. BurzOff is great for people who don’t have the time to use the previous method or just want to have something to quickly remove almost all burrs from their clothing while they’re still on the trail. 

DIY burr removal

On the opposite side from BurzOff is a method even more DIY than the previous metal-comb-based method we’ve already gone over. The general process is the same and starts with a washing machine and drying time. After that, there are several household items you can use to scrape the burrs until their softened bristles break and they sweep off your clothing. Anything with a straight edge will work, but the most important factor is probably how it fits in your hand.

The lid to any aerosol can or tall can will probably be effective because of its round and easy to grip. You can take it in your hand so the bottom is facing down. That is the end with the opening, not the flat top. Use the top held in this manner to scrape away the burrs. Other DIY household items that can be used for burr removal include a divider from your tackle box, the dull end of a knife, or a cup. A bottle cap could be used in a pinch if the burrs are small enough. 

Similarly, the lint roller can be replaced with duct tape. Take a piece of duct tape and roll it into a ring with the sticky side out. Use this ring to dab across the surface of the piece of clothing the same way you would if you were taking a wine stain out of a piece of cashmere. The sticky side of the duct tape should be effective at removing the remaining bristles from inside your clothing. If you suspect there may be some bristles still remaining or you just want to be on the safe side, turn your piece of clothing inside out and use the sticky side of the duct tape to dab again on the reverse side of the clothing. 

Black cloth.

Burrs on sensitive material like cashmere will have to be removed one-by-one with tweezers.

Final Verdict:

Burrs can be a real annoyance when you’re trying to enjoy the backcountry. There’s a lot of varieties of burrs that come from different plants but unless you’re interested in botany there’s not a lot of use-value in learning specific types of burrs. If you’re out on the trail or enjoying bowhunting and you get covered in burrs, it’s likely to be most convenient to carry a ready-made product like BurzOff to quickly get rid of the vast majority of the burrs. If you don’t notice until you get home or your clothing is thick enough to ignore the burrs until you get home, the process for burr removal is really simple whether or not you go the DIY route or use a metal comb. 

Hikers and backpackers know that there are a lot more aggravating things that can happen out in the backcountry than getting some tag-along burrs on your clothing. But that doesn’t make it very pleasant to accidentally snaga finger or get a quick, sharp jab from a burr that’s tagged on to your fleece sweater or hiking boots. Now you can avoid these jagged little seeds since you know how to remove burrs from clothes. 

Bonus tip: Watch this demonstration for how to remove burrs from your camo clothes in bowhunting season!

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Riley Draper

Riley Draper is a writer and entrepreneur from Chattanooga, Tennessee. As a world traveler, he has been to more than fifty countries and hiked some of the most elusive trails in the world. He is the co-founder of WeCounsel Solutions and has published work in both national and global outlets, including the Times Free Press, Patch, and Healthcare Global. When he's not writing, he's probably on a hiking trip or climbing in the mountains.