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Going Shampoo Free: Frequently Asked Questions

31 May
Many people have questions about going shampoo-free, and here are some answers.

Many people have questions about going shampoo-free, and here are some answers.

This post is a companion piece to my very popular article on ditching commercial shampoos and their harmful ingredients and instead cleaning your hair with baking soda and vinegar. This method is called “shampoo-free” or “‘poo-free”. (Read Tips and Tricks to go Shampoo-free for details on this method). I receive so many questions about this method that I decided it was time to address in more detail the most commonly asked ones.

It’s important to note that paying attention to your hair, and adjusting what you are doing as needed, is key using this method. There is no hard-and-set way to do this — it all depends upon your hair in conjunction with your local water chemistry. You will need to vary amounts, methods, and timing to determine what is best for you.

Here are the questions, in no particular order!

HOW MUCH BAKING SODA SHOULD I USE?

It depends upon how long your hair is. I’d start with a teaspoon, and either increase or decrease the amount depending upon how long your hair is.

HOW OFTEN SHOULD I USE THE VINEGAR?

The vinegar is a final rinse after washing with baking soda and rinsing it out with plain water. I keep a bottle of vinegar in my shower and just douse my head with it. The amount you use depends upon how long your hair is.

SHOULD I RINSE THE VINEGAR OUT OR NOT?

This depends upon your hair. Some hair responds well to leaving the vinegar as a final rinse, and keeps the hair in good condition with less frizz. Some hair is weighed down by the vinegar and rinsing it out after allowing it to sit on the hair for a few minutes is best. Try both and see what works for you.

CAN I WASH MY HAIR WITH JUST THE VINEGAR AND FORGO THE BAKING SODA?

Yes, you can! Some hair responds very well to only washing with the vinegar, and not using the baking soda. 

Shampoo free: baking soda, vinegar, and essential oils.

Shampoo free: baking soda, vinegar, and essential oils.

WON’T THE VINEGAR MAKE MY HAIR STINK?

After your hair dries, most people can’t smell the vinegar.

I CAN STILL SMELL THE VINEGAR AFTER MY HAIR DRIES AND IT STINKS. WHAT DO I DO?

You can add essential oils to the vinegar to help if you still smell the vinegar.

WHAT KIND OF VINEGAR SHOULD I USE?

You can use either distilled white vinegar or apple cider vinegar. Try both and see which type works best for your hair and local water chemistry. Which one is better depends completely upon the individual.

WHAT ARE OTHER METHODS TO APPLY THE BAKING SODA BESIDES SPRINKLING IT ON MY HEAD?

For many, it is better to dissolve the baking soda in water, and pour the solution over your head. Do this in increments by pouring some on, then washing your scalp, pouring a bit more, washing more, etc.

HOW OFTEN SHOULD I USE BAKING SODA TO WASH MY HAIR?

This depends upon your individual hair and your local water chemistry. Some people wash with baking soda every day, some only once a week. You need to experiment to see what is best for you. I will say that people with finer, dry hair are probably safer washing with baking soda less often than people with thicker, oilier hair. But there are many types of hair, you need to decide what works best for you by paying attention to how your hair responds.

WON’T USING BAKING SODA AND VINEGAR ON MY HAIR DRY MY HAIR OUT?

It can be confusing for people to realize that something can be both a good conditioner for your hair, yet also be drying. Vinegar is a wonderful conditioner for your hair, but the baking soda, while a good cleanser for your hair, can be drying. Because of this, it is important to provide a moisturizing hot oil treatment on your hair about once a week. Some people also add one or two drops — no more — of oil to their baking soda mix when washing (you can use olive oil, almond oil, jojoba oil, or any liquid oil you like for this).

HOW DO I PROVIDE A MOISTURIZING HOT OIL TREATMENT TO MY HAIR?

Take about 1/4 cup (depending upon your length of hair) of oil and warm it up. You can use coconut oil, olive oil, almond oil, or any other kind of oil you wish. You want the oil warm to the touch, but not hot enough to burn.

After the oil is warm, slather it on your hair well, paying special attention to the ends. Wrap your head in plastic wrap or a shower cap, then wrap your head in a towel to retain the heat.

For your first few treatments, leave the oil on your hair for a few hours, then wash. You will need to wash with baking soda more than once to get the oil out, and some add a few drops of Dr. Bronner’s Liquid Soap to help with this. After this initial treatment, a weekly application of 15 to 30 minutes will be sufficient, but listen to your hair.

SHOULD I PROVIDE A WEEKLY HOT OIL TREATMENT ON MY HAIR?

It depends upon the individual, but most will benefit from this. See above.

WHAT IS THE DEAL WITH THIS TRANSITION PERIOD?

Commercial shampoos strip your hair of natural oils and basically mess with the natural oil production on your scalp. To make up for this excessive stripping, the sebaceous glands on your scalp ramp up oil production to compensate. When you transition to a shampoo-free method, it will take three weeks for your sebaceous glands to realize that they don’t need to overreact any longer. During this time, your hair may be more oily than you’ve ever seen it, but in time your scalp will normalize to the chemical-free washing regimen.

MY HAIR FEELS DIRTY. WHY?

If you are not in your transition period, you may need to increase how often you are washing with baking soda. You can also add a few drops of Dr. Bronner’s Liquid Soap to your baking soda mixture if your hair just isn’t as clean as you feel it should be.

MY HAIR FEELS DRY. WHY?

You may be neglecting moisturizing hot oil treatments. See above for the method on how to do this. You can also add one to two drops of a liquid oil (olive, almond, jojoba, etc) to your baking soda wash. But make sure you don’t use more than only a few drops or else your hair will be oily.

WHAT WILL THIS METHOD DO TO MY NATURAL CURLS?

Many report that their curls improve and become more manageable and shiny using this method. Women of color with natural curly hair can see great results using this method. But, again, it all depends upon your individual hair and your local water chemistry.

WHAT WILL THIS METHOD DO FOR FRIZZ?

Again, this depends upon your hair type and local water chemistry. But many report a decreased need for additional defrizzing hair products using this method compared to the defrizzing hair products they need while using commercial shampoos.

MY HAIR IS FALLING OUT! WHAT IS WRONG!

This method won’t cause your hair to fall out of your scalp, but if you are not providing a weekly hot oil treatment and your hair is dry, it could be breaking (which will make it look as if it’s falling out). Make sure you are providing hot oil treatments to replenish moisture in your hair (see above). If your hair is truly falling out at the root, consult your physician as to the medical cause for this.

THERE IS A BUILD-UP ON MY HAIR. WHAT CAN I DO ABOUT IT?

If you live in an area with hard water, the calcium and magnesium in the water will build up on your hair because of the chemical reaction between your water and the baking soda/vinegar. Using distilled water, filtered rain water, or softening your water at home to wash your hair is recommended.

WHAT AFFECT DOES LOCAL WATER CHEMISTRY HAVE ON THIS METHOD?

Water chemistry is huge! Soft water is best for this method and hard water can cause many problems because of the minerals in it. This is one reason why this method requires a lot of experimentation to find out what works for you in conjunction with your local water chemistry.

If you have hard water, you can either buy distilled water or soften your water using other methods:

HOW DO I SOFTEN HARD WATER MYSELF?

If you don’t have access to distilled water, you can soften your hard water by boiling it for a few minutes, then allowing it to cool. You will see a layer of precipitated minerals floating on the water’s surface. Skim this off and discard.  If you leave your boiled water sit for even longer, these precipitates will fall to the bottom of the pot. In this case, just pour the water off, making sure you leave the minerals behind before using the water to clean your hair.

You may also be able to find a filtering water pitcher that provides water softening for drinking water. In this case you can fill it with water and leave the pitcher in the shower for washing your hair.

Lastly, you might be able to find a shower head that provides water softening benefits right at the tap. Ask at your local hardware store.

MY HAIR IS EXPERIENCING A PROBLEM. WHAT’S WRONG AND HOW DO I FIX IT?

I have no idea. Without seeing your hair, knowing anything about you, or knowing anything about your local water chemistry, there is no way for me to diagnose how to fix whatever problem you may be experiencing. Just adjust what you are doing and see what effect it has.

WHAT WILL THIS DO TO MY DYED HAIR?

This depends upon your individual hair characteristics and it can either benefit or prematurely fade your color. But vinegar is a dye fixative, and it is frequently used as a final rinse to “lock in” dyes onto fabrics.

WHAT WILL THIS DO TO MY GREY HAIR?

This method can be wonderful for clarifying grey hair and improving the color. But, again, this will depend upon your natural pigmentation and local water chemistry.

WILL THIS HELP/HURT MY DANDRUFF?

Dandruff is a condition of the scalp that causes skin to flake. This flaking can be caused by a variety of things, including illness, psoriasis, fungal infections, seborrheic dermatitis, or other things. This method will not cure the cause of the problem, but it may help alleviate the symptoms.

THIS METHOD IS TOO DIFFICULT. WHY SHOULD I BOTHER?

Yes, this method does require a lot of individual experimentation on your part. Store-bought shampoos have a lot of chemicals in them to make them easy to use, the baking soda/vinegar method requires that you adjust your methods so they suit your hair and your local water chemistry. What will work for you won’t necessarily work for a friend, even in the same town. Why? Your hair is different from your friend’s.

But in the long run ditching store-bought shampoos and the chemicals they contain is safer for your health, and much cheaper. Commercial shampoos contain many chemicals that are known carcinogens, and do you really want to rub such chemicals on your scalp?

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32 responses to “Going Shampoo Free: Frequently Asked Questions

  1. Leslie Gose

    June 17, 2013 at 7:55 pm

    I tried this last year and was pleased with the results. I currently live in Madison, WI and all homes here have water softeners. I was pleased with the results and likely only quit out of laziness. I began with using 1 TBL of baking soda per cup of water and put it in a squeeze bottle with a pointy tip, using the tip to put the solution on my scalp and message in, then I put 2 TBL vinegar in a cup of water and put it in a spray bottle to spray on my hair after I rinsed out the first solution. I am 52, have a lot of gray and color my natural very curly hair. I am going to do it again, to go along with the other many changes I have been making in my health care products. Thanks for posting the answers to all the questions that I recall having previously.! Thanks!!!

     
    • Rural Spin

      June 18, 2013 at 6:55 am

      Thank you for the update, and for sharing your experience with others! I really appreciate it! :-)

       
  2. Shine

    July 29, 2013 at 11:08 pm

    Is the soda-tea tree oil shampoo mixture applied to wet or dry hair? Thanks,

    Shine

     
    • Rural Spin

      August 5, 2013 at 4:24 pm

      It is applied to wet hair to wash the hair, and then rinsed clean.

       
  3. Brenda Mae Wolfenbarger

    August 15, 2013 at 8:24 pm

    thank you for all the details, I am a barber and ALSO moving towards chemical free products and spend a LOT of time explaining why baking soda is drying to the hair. Vinegar I love, baking soda, use with caution.

     
  4. amera raza

    August 29, 2013 at 2:42 pm

    How about washing hair with bar soap of one’s preference? Is it the same as shampoo?

     
    • Rural Spin

      August 29, 2013 at 6:21 pm

      It really depends upon the soap and the ingredients used to make the soap. Most bar soaps would not lend to desired results and would be overly drying, though there are bar soaps that are made for hair, such as the ones I make and sell on my Etsy site (I’ll be listing lemon and cinnamon/cedarwood bars soon). I use my bar soap almost daily, and once a week use baking soda. I always use a vinegar rinse and a deep conditioning once a week with coconut oil: https://www.etsy.com/listing/156919589/handmade-and-natural-lavender

       
  5. Vilma

    September 6, 2013 at 11:56 pm

    Hi, my name is Vilma, this Monday I put white vinegar on my clean hair and it was dry, I put half cup vinegar and left it over night, then I wash it my hair came out very dry like stral and cotton. How I can fix this problem. My hair is natural curl with color and dry frizz and falling alots I usto to have lots of hair and thick.

     
    • Rural Spin

      September 11, 2013 at 11:33 am

      Yes, I imagine putting vinegar on your hair overnight did dry it out horribly. Never, ever do that! Vinegar is not meant to be left on the hair. Do a hot oil treatment on your hair to try and remedy this. You may need to do so several times.

       
  6. C

    September 30, 2013 at 5:04 am

    I think you should warn people not to use coconut oil for a hot oil treatment if they’re not using shampoo. I followed your instructions here and chose coconut oil for my treatment just because it was handy, but it took a looooong time to wash out of my hair, even using Dr. Bronner’s soap. I since looked at other sites to see if I should have done anything differently, and apparently coconut oil was the wrong choice with the no-shampoo method. Olive oil is also apparently a problem, though I haven’t tried it. Jojoba is recommended, though again, I haven’t tried it. The coconut oil experience may have left me traumatized.

     
    • Rural Spin

      October 10, 2013 at 12:49 pm

      It all depends upon the individual, and individual experimentation is needed, which I stress. Coconut oil is not the “wrong” choice for everyone, it just isn’t a good choice for your hair. Everyone needs to find out what works best for their hair and their local water chemistry.

       
    • Amory

      January 13, 2014 at 12:51 pm

      ^ Agree with C! I started the bs/acv wash about a week ago and set out to do a hot oil treatment once a week. Tonight was my “scheduled” hot oil treatment and I used olive oil. Perhaps I used too much…I just got out of the shower for the 2nd time trying to get the oil out. I’m terribly afraid I REALLY over did it with the bs trying to get the oil out….I don’t even want to throw out an estimate. I am prepared for a “sick day” tomorrow…I’m really nervous….in hindsight, my next hot oil treatment will be heavily diluted with water and I will use a spray bottle to apply it. In fact, I have been thinking about using a spray bottle to spritz on some rosewater/olive oil for after shower. Thoughts?

       
      • Rural Spin

        January 13, 2014 at 2:00 pm

        I’d be wary of the spray-on oil/rose water after you shower (it would be a good way to apply for the hot oil treatment, though! Great idea!). Or, rather, it’s a good idea to apply an oil/rosewater spray after you shower if 1) you only put a tiny, tiny amount of the oil in the spray bottle along with the rosewater (and I’d recommend adding distilled water to this mix to dilute it all) and 2) you make sure you don’t over-spritz your hair so as it would end up too oily after a shower. Alternatively, after you shower add a drop or two of oil (no more) to the palm of your hand, rub your hands together, and then rub into the ends of your hair, slowly working your way up. I do this with a hair oil that I make using olive oil, jojoba oil, and rosemary essential oil. This is great for a daily leave-in conditioner (especially if one lives in a dry environment), but it is not normally a replacement for the hot oil treatment (however, as with everything using this method, it depends upon your individual hair). :-)

         
  7. ganet

    October 16, 2013 at 3:11 pm

    If you do the baking soda treatment and you dont do a hot oil treatment or any knind of oil treatment is that bad??

     
    • Rural Spin

      October 16, 2013 at 3:51 pm

      It depends upon your hair and local water chemistry, but most would likely have a problem using this method without the addition of a deep conditioning treatment of some kind on a regular basis.

       
      • ganet

        October 16, 2013 at 4:59 pm

        Thanks. Is oil treatment the only treatment that will work or can you use something besides some type of oil?is

         
      • Rural Spin

        October 17, 2013 at 9:35 am

        Other natural products that can be used to condition hair include avocados (because of their high fat content), mayonnaise (again…it’s about the oil/fat), and mixtures of various ingredients. But it all comes down to an oil/fat.

         
  8. Amory

    January 14, 2014 at 1:51 pm

    what is your hair suppose to feel like while washing it? Mine feels terribly matted and straw like. It usually dries just fine but I really do miss that lathery, suavy feeling. Plus, an update on the hot oil treatment…..2 days and 3 washes later….my hair is an oil slick. I caved and used shampoo and conditioner because i just couldn’t stand it. I’ll restart this regimen again soon but i feel like my poor hair has been through a lot the last 2 days.

     
    • C

      January 14, 2014 at 4:18 pm

      I have since decided to abandon the shampoo-free method. After months of using bs and acv only, my hair feels chalky and brittle, and maybe I’m just being paranoid, but I also feel as though it might be thinning. My hair’s thin enough and I’m not taking any chances. Maybe it’s because I haven’t been keeping up with the hot oil treatments, but like I said after my experience with the coconut oil, I was traumatized. I lost a lot of hair that night after all the washing I had to do.

       
      • C

        January 14, 2014 at 4:20 pm

        I actually meant to reply to my own previous comment. Sorry for any confusion.

         
      • Rural Spin

        January 14, 2014 at 6:30 pm

        It is definitely important to do what you feel is right for you.

         
    • Rural Spin

      January 14, 2014 at 6:33 pm

      Your hair will definitely not feel lathery, or how the ingredients in shampoo make it feel. Shampoo ingredients do make the hair feel silky, soft, etc. in the shower…that’s what those chemicals are for. But they are not all that good for us. How hair in the shower feels using this method varies greatly depending upon the individual, the character of their hair, and local water conditions. But it won’t feel like it does using traditional shampoo. If you miss the lather, consider adding some liquid castile soap (like Dr. Bonner’s) to your routine. Many find this to be a happy medium and it sounds like it might be a good fit for you.

       
  9. Kirby

    January 28, 2014 at 2:24 pm

    Hi there! you have suggested adding a few drops of oil to the baking soda solution. Is this as a replacement for the hot oil treatment or do I need to do both? Also, can I use a few drops of coconut oil in my baking soda solution or will it separate from the water and be useless?

     
    • Rural Spin

      January 30, 2014 at 3:33 pm

      Whether you’d need to do both depends upon your hair. If your hair is drying you, you would need to do both. Yes, any oil added to your baking soda solution will separate out, but I wouldn’t say it would be useless. Just shake it vigorously before applying, and since you will be working it through your hair, that will help incorporate it, too.

       
  10. Jen Shannon

    April 19, 2014 at 10:18 pm

    Hi! I go back and forth from time to time. I love using baking soda as it is great for exfoliating skin too and helping to lighten. So having some handy in the shower to also use for shampooing. One of the hardest lessons I had to learn that I wanted to share, was what I put on my hair was just as important as what I was putting in my body. I have naturally white hair (in my 40′s) and it was turning yellow and brittle. I was using all kinds of treatments and even trying to use toners to counter the yellow color. Come to find out it was because I was poisoning my body with alcohol. When I stopped drinking my hair, skin, complexion improved and fine wrinkles have started to disappear. Again, I wanted to share that little tidbit…. or food for thought/body :)

     
  11. Monica

    April 25, 2014 at 10:21 am

    I just try no poo (almost a week) but I think I misstreat my hair. I only use 1 teaspoon baking soda for 1 cup water. And right now it’s oily and don’t behave (I cannot comb it as I want). What should I do now…?

     
    • Rural Spin

      April 28, 2014 at 1:39 pm

      If you’ve read the FAQ, you know about the transition phase, which can last for three weeks. Read the above material in detail to see the many different things that you can try. This is very much an experimental method, and each person’s hair is very different. Without knowing anything about you, your hair, or your local water conditions I am sorry to not be able to make specific recommendations.

       
      • Monica

        May 18, 2014 at 10:27 pm

        Hi… thanks for replying. I have straight dry hair and I’m living in jakarta, Indonesia (Southeast Asia). And right now my hair is much better, since I’m using a little bit more baking soda and lemon juice to avoid the hair become crumpled. I’m searching for more anchestor wisdom, so now trying to use banana, eggs or other natural things. Hope it’s okay if I’ll write again to let you know the improvement :)

         
  12. Nadie

    May 17, 2014 at 6:58 am

    Hi, I have natural curly hair. I just switched to poo free. I only used ACV. After soaking my hair, letting sit for about 20 mins I got in the shower and rinsed with water approx 3 times. I parted my hair in fours braided the fours and went to bed. When I woke up I parted each quarter in half and braided. I noticed my hair did not feel oily or dry but my fingers were oily after braiding. Should I wait until after the transition period to start the hot oil treatments? I should add my hair did not look dry so it could be in just paranoid!

     
    • Rural Spin

      May 18, 2014 at 7:21 pm

      It’s kinda tough for me to say, but hot oil treatments are not a bad idea for everyone. But based upon what you say, I’d say wait until the transition period if your hair feels like it is hydrated enough. :-)

       
  13. Liz

    May 26, 2014 at 1:47 pm

    Thank you for the post! You mentioned at the beginning that your hair was falling out but has stopped. Would you be able to elaborate on the issues you were having with your hair? I’ve been losing hair for a while now and can’t seem to find a solution. Thank you!

     
    • Rural Spin

      May 26, 2014 at 5:37 pm

      Hmmm…there’s not much to elaborate on. It just came out much more in my hairbrush and was likely due to my hair breaking as opposed to it falling out at the roots. There is a difference between breaking hair, which can be resolved with hair care changes, and hair falling out at the root, which is a medical issue that should be addressed by a healthcare practitioner. I hope this gives you more info!

       

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