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.
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?