I stopped using shampoo, conditioner, and any other test tube-made product on my hair a month ago. Now I only use baking soda and vinegar, and my hair is thicker, shinier, has stopped falling out, and stays cleaner longer than it ever has in my entire life. And this dramatic effect costs literally pennies compared to expensive store-bought products. Not only that, but going shampoo-free eliminates the need to buy gels, mouse, anti-frizz stuff or any of that. Think of the savings!
And for those who like to stockpile supplies for a rainy day or buy in bulk, it’s much less expensive to buy gallons of vinegar and pounds of baking soda than worry from where the next deal on shampoo is going to appear. It’s always nice when your bulk goods do double-duty, too. Vinegar and baking soda should be staples, for cleaning you, your home, and for cooking. Shampoo only does one thing (and sometimes it doesn’t even do that very well). And in a pinch, you can make your own vinegar.
Before you decide to give shampoo-free a whirl, check out this overview. Much of this information is all over the internet, but I experimented with everything I read, got feedback from a ton of people who have gone shampoo free (or who tried it), and compiled everything I learned here.
(NOTE: Because of the many questions I get about this method, I’ve written a companion article, “Going Shampoo Free: Frequently Asked Questions,” to answer these questions. Please READ this article before asking a question in comments. I answer most of the questions people have in this companion article.)
A NOTE ON WATER
The type of water you have will have an effect on how baking soda (or shampoo for that matter) works on cleaning your hair. Soft water causes hair to be naturally sleek and is essentially free of the calcium and magnesium hard water contains, which can get “stuck” to your hair. Soft water makes it easier for the baking soda to be rinsed out of your hair easily.
Hard water contains a lot of calcium and magnesium and causes hair to become rough and tangly by elevating the microscopic scales that are on each strand of hair. The minerals get caught in the scales and make it more difficult to rinse anything (including commercial shampoos) out of the hair. Companies add chemicals to shampoos to combat this problem, but they have a drying effect on the hair that necessitates the need to buy hair conditioners and other products.
When you go shampoo-free in a hard-water environment, the minerals do react with the baking soda, and can cause a build-up. Beyond installing a water softener (your laundry would thank you, too), there are a few things you can do to combat hard water such as using distilled water or filtered rain water (see below for more info).
THINGS TO KNOW
The only ingredients you need are baking soda and vinegar. Some people add an oil to the mix to counteract drying some people experience. You can use coconut oil, olive oil, avocado oil, or any oil you want. One woman I spoke to has very oily hair and adds a few drops of liquid castille soap to her baking soda solution to give it a little boost. Many, if not most, men and women won’t need to do this.
There is about a three week adjustment period for your hair to go through its detox withdraw from shampoo: Shampoo strips your hair of just about everything and it takes awhile for your hair to readjust back to its natural, healthy state. How your hair will react to this transition period will vary from the next person. Some people experience a temporary “greasy period” lasting only a few days. This greasy period can occur anywhere in the three-week adjustment period. I had mine at about the half way mark, but it was barely noticeable to me. Others have more of a problem. But stick with it, your hair will quickly improve in a matter of days and continue to get better after that.
It works great on curly hair: A lot of the ammonium this and ammonium that in shampoos can play havoc with curly hair, necessitating the use of anti-frizzers and whatnot to reclaim what you naturally had before shampoo removed it. Going shampoo-free eliminates the need for all of the “product” previously used to keep curls in check and frizz under control. You may want to add a few drops of oil to your locks if you like sleek curls.
Your hair won’t need conditioners to combat tangles, because they will be limited: A baking soda wash and vinegar rinse won’t strip your hair of anything but the dirt, so your hair’s ability to detangle itself won’t be inhibited.
It works with dyed hair: Vinegar is known to actually set dyes, and it has the same effect on hair dye. Some people also report that they experience less fading of their dyed color once they make the move to baking soda and vinegar.
It’s wonderful on grey hair: In fact, vinegar and baking soda will whiten grey hair, while shampoos can cause grey hair to yellow.
There are several ways you can go shampoo free, and you really need to experiment on your own hair to see what works for you, keeping in mind what kind of water you have. This experimentation can be frustrating for some who are used to the squirt-and-suds of shampoo, but considering the ultimate pay-off both in your budget and potential hair awesomeness, you owe it to yourself to pay attention and see what method works best for you.
No matter what you do, rinsing the baking soda out thoroughly is a must: It’s also a must with shampoo, but many people don’t rinse as thoroughly as they should and walk around with shampoo still in their hair. Rinsing the baking soda out well is very important; leaving it in can dry your hair and I’ve even heard of some people rinsing so poorly that they complained of white stuff on their locks (unrinsed baking soda). Rinse it!
The most common way to wash your hair with baking soda is to make a solution with one tablespoon of baking soda per one cup of water, pour it over your head, then scrub away: Some people use less baking soda and deciding how much is part of that experimentation process; thinner hair requires less baking soda than thicker hair. You can make as much of this solution as you want and keep it in a bottle in the shower (an empty shampoo bottle would work great). Adding a small bit of liquid castille soap to the solution is an option if you have very oily hair. And if you have hard water, use distilled water or rain water in this solution. Rinse thoroughly after you’ve scrubbed your scalp and head.
If you’re lazy like me, you can just put the baking soda in a shaker and leave it in the shower, sprinkling it over your head and then scrubbing: When you wash your hair, just shake about 1/4 cup (depending upon hair length) on your head, making sure to part your hair in areas to get it to your scalp. Work the baking soda in, occasionally putting your head briefly under the shower head to allow the baking soda to dissolve and be distributed all over your head and hair. Work it in with your fingers as you would shampoo, and rinse thoroughly.
Next, pour vinegar over your head and briefly work it into your hair: I use about 1/2 cup of vinegar on my hair, which is to the middle of my back. Make sure you don’t get it in your eyes (been there, done that, ouch).
You can use either white vinegar, or apple cider vinegar: I found that apple cider vinegar was too heavy on my hair and made it feel a tad limp and heavy, but white vinegar worked great. Experiment to see which one works for you!
You can leave the vinegar in, or rinse it out: Official mantra is to leave it in, but again, this didn’t work great for my hair. Leaving it in weighed it down too much, but I imagine for curly hair leaving it in would be wonderful. Try both methods and see which one works best for your hair. And, no, I’ve never had my hair smell like a salad, even when I left the vinegar in. Apple cider vinegar, however, does have a stronger natural scent than white vinegar.
If your hair is becoming too dry, you can just wash with the vinegar and forgo the baking soda: Some people I talked to said the baking soda was a tad too drying for their baby fine hair. Instead, they just washed with the vinegar and were very pleased with the results. Others used the baking soda once a week and only vinegar for the rest of the week. If you find your hair becoming too dry for words try adjusting how often you use baking soda versus vinegar alone, or…..
Conditioning your hair with natural oils daily or weekly is wonderful with this method: Some people who complained that their hair was too dry now add a few drops of an oil (olive oil, apricot oil, jojoba oil, a mixture of oils, the choice is yours) to their baking soda and include it as they wash their hair. Myself and others condition weekly. I take about a teaspoon or two of coconut oil, melt it, and work it into my hair and leave it in for about an hour or so, then wash as usual with baking soda. Your hair will sing with glee!
Washing your hair like this allows you to add personalized scents to meet your own needs and wants: I love to add essential oils to my vinegar, customizing it depending upon what I feel like at the time. Lavender and rosemary are personal favorites. I’ve never had a problem with the smell of vinegar on my hair, but this is a nice way to make your hair smell wonderful without artificial ingredients.
You can add herbal hair enhancers as natural remedies to hair and scalp issues: Sometimes just getting off shampoo will cure issues like dandruff and allergic reactions on the scalp. But if the move to baking soda and vinegar alone doesn’t solve the problem, you can add herbs to your baking soda or vinegar to help you out. If you have dandruff, you can add some tea tree oil to your baking soda or vinegar. Tea tree oil is wonderful for scalp health, and if the switch from shampoo to baking soda/vinegar alone doesn’t solve your dandruff or scalp problem, adding medicinal herbs will.
In a future ‘spin I’ll cover hair enhancers and natural remedies to include in this process. Until then, start giving it a try, and do make sure you give it a full three weeks before abandoning the process if you can manage it!