Shampoo-free 10 years later (plus, FAQ version 2.0)

(It’s more like 9.5 years but I’m rounding).

TABLE OF CONTENTS
•   What is this no-poo thing you speak of?
•   Why on Earth would I do this?
•   What you’ll need
•   Step one: baking soda
•   Step two: apple cider vinegar
•   Step three: aftercare

FAQ #2: The most common questions
  •   The baking soda ‘shampoo’/wash doesn’t lather and feels more like a rinse, what am I doing wrong?
•   Does the vinegar smell stay in your hair?
•   Can you still do this with dyed hair? / How do you get your colour to stay so vibrant?
•   Can you use hair styling products like gel or mousse?
•   Can I use this with my kids?
•   How often do I need to do this?
•   Do you only use one tablespoon/one cup per washing, or is that just the ratio when you’re mixing?
•   Do I have to use the whole cup of the mixture when I wash/rinse?
•   Can I use baking powder or washing soda instead of baking soda?
•   I’m a person of colour who is transitioning to natural hair, is this okay to use?
•   My hair has static electricity, what can I do to reduce this?
•   Do you have to use the ACV to rinse the baking soda wash out of your hair? Do you have to use the ACV rinse every single time?
•   Will this bleach your hair?
•   I work out every day and get sweaty – should I do this every day to wash the sweat out of my hair?
•   I’m a swimmer and the chlorine makes my hair super dry, will this work for me?
•   I think I’m allergic to apple cider vinegar or baking soda… how can I tell?
•   My hair isn’t quite as silky or moisturized as I wanted it to be, is there something else I can try or add to my routine?
•   Will this make my hair grow faster and longer?
•   Can I use lemon juice instead of ACV?
•   Does the mixture go bad?
•   This didn’t work for me and I think you and your method are a big fat phoney!

I’m approaching the 10 year anniversary of writing the “No-Poo” FAQ and tutorial post on my Livejournal. That also means that my family and I have been happy, devoted users of the method for that long too! Since the post first went up I’ve received thousands of comments, emails, questions, and little nuggets of shared wisdom. The two most common inquiries are either related to my personal use (Do you still use it? Have you changed/added to your routine at all? Can you post before/after pictures, or pictures of your process?), and whether I’m willing to create a follow-up post for the original tutorial that would cover some of the most common questions I’ve received since it went up.
A few weeks ago I finally got around to taking pictures of my hair, and my process, and put my ass in gear about writing a follow-up. I’ve never had even the tiniest desire to go back to traditional shampoo since switching over: it really is like freaking magic to turn grody hairs into pretty hairs. It’s made my hair so incredibly soft, especially the first several days after a wash, that neither I nor Curtis can stop touching it. I was not fortunate enough to be gifted with naturally voluminous hair, and this method has given me body that I spent years trying to achieve as a shampoo user. No amount of sprays, mousses, volumizing shampoos or special products ever came close to producing the swish and bounce that going shampoo-free did… and that alone was enough to satisfy the vanity end of switching (because let’s be honest, no one would stick with a method that made your hair look like crap!).

If you’re new to this concept and are now feeling curious, yet too lazy to go read the original post, and are starting to wonder what’s up with all these vague references to constipation and hair… fear not! This post will function both as a more condensed and modern ‘shampoo-free’ guide for those who weren’t around back then, a “ten year” follow-up including pictures of my hair before and after a wash, some more tips and tricks, plus a “no poo FAQ” version 2.0 answering the most common questions I’ve received over the years. If you’re already familiar with the process, you can skip this next part and scroll down for the instructions on my process and the pictures instead.

Shampoo-free, otherwise known as “the no-poo method”, is when you give up on commercial shampoos and conditioners and instead use nature and science to wash your hair. A baking soda solution is used to cleanse your hair, and an apple cider vinegar solution is used to clarify and condition it. It works amazingly well for all types of hair styles, colours, textures and lengths and has some other cool benefits too. Most people go through a “hair detox” (yes, this is a real thing) immediately after switching which lasts anywhere from a few days to a few weeks, which is usually comprised of your sebaceous glands over-producing oils and sebum due to the harsh stripping/sealing process that traditional shampoos and conditioners do to it. Once your hair evens itself out, your natural oil production will be way, way less than it was before which also translates to your hair staying soft and light for much longer and needing less washes overall.
I first saw this method being talked about on natural health forums somewhere around mid-2004, with the information spread over several different (and usually giant) threads about general natural health. There was almost no other information about it on the web outside a few forum threads, and none of those had any sort of real tutorial or FAQ. So after some months spent using the method and doing some research, I wrote my own. The post went stupidly viral, and is still my #1 most viewed post, and was shared literally over a hundred thousand times over the years. Over the next few years ‘no poo’ started becoming a thing, so a lot more tutorials and articles on the subject started popping up. A huge, huge chunk of them either reference heavily from my post – very often verbatim – or follow the exact same format with small language and grammatical changes. Running my post through a copyright search brings up hundreds of results all over the place, which is crazy. Once or twice I even got emails effectively saying things like, “hey we just published your post word-for-word in our zine without any mention of where we got it, the name of the author who originally wrote it, and without asking you if it was okay first! You’re so welcome.”. To be honest I’m not really that upset about the referencing and such because it’s not like I invented the practice, or am losing revenue, but it is irritating when people republish either the entire post or massive chunks of it and then claim it as their own… especially if they’re paid bloggers. ‘Cause that’s just plain rude.

The original was posted on Livejournal, and can be read [ right here ] (this version is the most common one linked because it’s the oldest). The permanent address is on my blog-site, [ right here ]. The post is quite long and includes a bit of history on shampoo, some explanation on what the ingredients do (both in shampoo and in ‘no poo’), and an FAQ about problems you might encounter and how to fix them. At some point I plan on doing a video version of the post. I’ve been trying to work up the courage to do that for over a year now. One day.

Alright, now that you’re caught up, here’s an updated and condensed tutorial!


WHY ON EARTH WOULD I DO THIS?
•   It’s way, way cheaper.
•   It’s all natural! (if you’re into that)
•   It’s sciencey! (if you hate those damn dirty hippies)
•   Shampoos and conditioners often contain chemicals and ingredients that are carcinogenic, comedogenic, and linked to all sorts of uncool things – and the added fragrances, colours and preservatives are common irritants and can cause allergic reactions, eczema and so on!
•   Shampoo and conditioner are not good for the environment. The containers take up landfills and are a cause of plastic pollution, and the ingredients contained within the products are not always processed by waste treatment, leading to water contamination and negative effects on plant and sea life.
•   Shampoo is basically perfumed detergent and is pretty harsh on your hair. It strips away natural oils that your scalp produces for nourishment, and over time this process can make hair weaker and more prone to breakage. The stripped and vulnerable hair needs something to replenish those lost oils, which necessitates the use of conditioner to protect and seal it. However, because conditioner is often largely made from mineral oil (a byproduct of the distillation of gasoline from crude oil) and other heavy ingredients it blocks follicles, inhibits growth, and due to poor absorption it prevents your scalp from going through its natural lifecycle and release toxins or get rid of dead cells, which causes build-up and other problems like dandruff (though initially the layer of heavy oils may cover it up, it’s still getting worse underneath). It covers the hair rather than penetrating, which also prevents natural moisture absorption, drying out hair over time. It does nothing to nourish or repair damaged hair, and the constant stripping/sealing process can slow down growth, cause split ends and more. Regular conditioner use creates the need for more shampoo use to strip it all back out, and the harsh shampoo necessitates the conditioner… and so the cycle continues.
•   Underneath all that your scalp is going haywire with its cycles and oil production getting all gaga, and as a result most people find they go through a “detox” period when they first make the switch. Oil production will be in temporary overdrive from years of abuse, but eventually slows down (this can take anywhere from 3 days to a few weeks).

 

YOU WILL NEED:
•   Baking soda/bicarbonate of soda.
•   Apple cider vinegar
•   Water**
•   Measuring spoons
•   Measuring cups
•   Something to put your mixes in (drinking glasses will do just fine)
•   Optional: argon or coconut oil. This is not a necessary step but it really makes your hair super soft, plus they work amazingly well as detanglers.
•   Your dirty, dirty head.

I thought it best to take my process pictures on a day after I’d been recovering from illness, because that meant my hair was rather gross and in desperate need of washing. I figured this would illustrate the point better than washing hair that’s already clean.

BEHOLD MY GREASY HAIR AND TINKERBELL PAJAMAS.

That’s some seriously, “I haven’t even showered too many days because I’ve felt like ass” hair.
Also I need to re-dye that blue section ‘cause it’s really looking washed out, you don’t need to remind me.

 

STEP ONE : BAKING SODA

WTF? :

Baking soda is a weak alkali and clarifies hair and scalp by breaking down leftover hair products, dirt, oil and sebum so that it can be removed without the effects of harsher detergent stripping. It also opens the hair’s cuticles allowing for easier penetration of your conditioning rinse.

DO WHAT NOW? :
•   Mix one tablespoon of baking soda with one cup of warm water until completely dissolved.
•   Pour slowly over the top and sides of your head with one hand, and massage right into your scalp with the other.
•   Massage well and evenly into your scalp for at least 30 seconds (30-60 is best), up until your hair starts to feel a bit ‘squeaky’. This is the baking soda breaking down the sebum and oils that have built up and make your hair feel greasy or look “dirty”. If your hair is medium to long, don’t massage the baking soda mix into your ends: it does not build up sebum and scalp oils the way your roots do, and doesn’t need the deep cleanse.
•   Gently wash out with warm water.
•   I personally use a ratio of 1.5-2 tablespoons of baking soda to 1.5 cups of water. Once you’ve cleared your detox, you can experiment to see what ratio works best for you: start at 1:1 and make only small adjustments.

 

STEP TWO: APPLE CIDER VINEGAR

WTF? :

ACV can promote circulation on your scalp, act as a natural antiseptic, dissolve excessive fatty deposits, and improve skin quality by reducing scaling or peeling which in turn can prevent and treat dandruff. It clarifies, detangles and balances hair’s pH level and seals the cuticles (which were lifted by the baking soda mix). It’s even got some health bonuses if you ingest it, too.
Some people aren’t big on the mild vinegar smell – myself included – but it goes away as soon as you rinse. If you’re still not digging it you can improve the scent with essential oils, herbs or even tea added to your rinse mix. Many of those things can also be used to improve hair’s overall health or treat other hair/scalp issues. More info on this at the original FAQ page.

DO WHAT NOW? :
•   Mix one tablespoon of ACV with one cup of tepid water.
•   If you have shorter hair, pour over your head evenly and give it a pretty gentle massage. If your hair is medium to long, pour it your hair but only really work it into the bottom 2/3rds. Avoid working it into your scalp the way you did with the baking soda – it’s not necessary.
•   Rinse with lukewarm or cool water, which helps close the hair’s cuticles and seal in the goodness.
•   I personally use a ratio of about 0.75 tablespoons of ACV to 1.5 cups of water. Once you’ve cleared your detox, you can experiment to see what ratio works best for you: start at 1:1 and make only small adjustments.

I keep a coffee mug in the shower to do my mixes in, and the ingredients on the windowsill within arm’s reach. I’ve been doing this for a very long time and can eyeball the right amount without measuring tools; but if you’re new to this, traveling, or have kids that do it, you might find it easier to pre-mix each step in little travel bottles. They look like this :


… and are usually available for $1 each. Make sure you shake them up before use!

Freshly washed, and towel-dried hair.

 

STEP THREE: AFTERCARE
When you get out of the shower, gently towel dry your hair to get the excess water off and then take a small amount of coconut, argon or jojoba (or another of your favourite moisturizing oils) on your fingertips and distribute evenly through the ends of your hair to help combat split ends from weather, damage or brushing against your shoulders. If you have really dry or frizzy hair you’ll probably need more than the standard “dime-sized” amount. Use what’s leftover on your hands to gently work through the rest of your hair. Really, you do not need to use much.
Most people find they do not need to massage any oil into their scalp: it produces its own natural oils and doesn’t need extra. Plus, you may find this makes your hair feel oily or greasy much sooner than it normally would. The exception to that is if you’re the very dry and frizzy type, in which case a small amount massaged into your head can help alleviate uncomfortable dry or itchy scalp.

Avoid combing wet hair! Your hair is weaker while it’s wet and this will cause more damage and breakage. Either blow dry or air dry (obviously air dry is best). Try not to go to sleep with wet hair either, it’s not good for it.

I find that after I rub a little argon oil into my ends, my hair becomes almost completely detangled all by itself. It’s like goddamn magic. All I have to do at that point is just very gently finger-comb, then let it air dry completely before running a brush through it.

Ends oiled and hair finger-combed.

You can make up a little spritz bottle with your favourite oils to give your hair a bit of shine or light scent after it’s dried. If you have naturally oily scalp/skin, either avoid or go real light on this.
A boar bristle brush works wonders for redistributing your scalp’s natural oils down the rest of the hair shaft and leaving you with very soft, shiny, bouncy hair. Plus, it feels nice to use. A good one will run you anywhere from $15 to $35. The Mason Pearson brand, which is said to be the cream of the crop for bristle brushes, will run you a rather staggering $85. If you’d like to find a good one and don’t have the funds to pay for a Pearson, check out [ this list ] of quality bristle brushes.

Completely dried and brushed. No other products applied.

After trimming my split ends.

And an actual properly-lit, non-bathroom-mirror photo.

Plus one with Z for good measure. She came in toward the end of my attempt at hair photos and wanted to be included.


THE MOST COMMON QUESTIONS I’VE RECEIVED OVER THE YEARS

Question: The baking soda ‘shampoo’/wash doesn’t lather and feels more like a rinse, what am I doing wrong?
Answer: Nothing! It’s not supposed to lather. The lathering effect in products like shampoo or toothpaste is caused by foaming agents and surfactants like sodium laurel sulfate or sodium laureth sulfate, which are added into the products specifically for that purpose. The shampoo-free method does not have any added surfactants (natural or artificial) and therefore will not foam or lather. Both mixes are diluted, and will look and behave like water. You’ll pour it over your head and massage it into your scalp and/or hair, then rinse clean with plain water.

Question: Does the vinegar smell stay in your hair?
Answer: Nope, it rinses clean away with water.

Question: Can you still do this with dyed hair? / How do you get your colour to stay so vibrant?
Answer: First, you can absolutely use this method with dyed hair. My hair has only been its natural colour about twice in the last ten years, and prior to that hadn’t been its natural colour since I was 13. I’ve used it with bleached hair, and coloured hair, for many years without issue and have received a lot of feedback from dozens and dozens of dyed hair no-pooers over the years who also didn’t have any issues. Of course, as with everything, your mileage may vary: some people have the kind of hair that doesn’t hold colour as long, especially if they’ve damaged their hair from repeated perms, colour or bleaching jobs and the hair shafts are damaged. If this sounds like you, you’ll want to do a protein treatment* on your hair to help restore it before trying again.
Also, different colours will also fade at different rates. Red is the fastest fade, and blonde after that. Bright and vibrant “punk” colours vary significantly: I personally find that pink goes the fastest, and blue stays the longest, that said my “punk chunk” often stays vibrant for 3-5 months before I need to dye it again. In the above photos I’m 4 months past a refresh of my blue chunk. I use the “Punky Color” tubs, by Jerome Russell, and you can find out more about them [ on their website ].
If you use temporary or super vibrant dye I’d recommend NOT doing this every single day, and waiting 2+ days after your dye job before washing it the first time to give it a chance to really set in. I generally only do a wash when my hair starts to feel oily, and have never had an issue with colour fading any faster than I did with regular shampoo. Very heavy, paste-like dilutions of baking soda can strip dye out of hair faster (and this method is sometimes employed by stylists to help reverse a bad colour), but a the heavily diluted solution for regular washing is a completely different animal.

* Here’s an all-natural, protein-enriching recipe for badly damaged hair that I learned from a friend who is a professional stylist :
– 1/2 an avocado.
– 1 teaspoon of extra virgin olive oil
– 1 egg
Mix, slather it on your head, leave on for 15 minutes and then wash out.

Question: Can you use hair styling products like gel or mousse?
Answer: Yep, the baking soda wash and ACV rinse will get rid of it. The only exception to this is heavy silicones, which can be difficult to get out of your hair, cause a lot of build-up and are damaging. I have no personal experience with this but others have said they either do more than one BS/ACV wash, or use a clarifying shampoo to rid their hair of the large amount of build-up prior to going ‘poo free’. That said, the easiest thing to do is try to avoid silicone-based products entirely.

Question: Can I use this with my kids?
Answer: Absolutely. We’ve used it on all of our kids, and our two youngest have never had anything else on their heads. My 3 have very different types of hair: my eldest has very fine, easily tangled red hair; my son has very thick and heavy hair that never ever seems to get oily; my toddler has fine hair that seems to be thickening up as she grows. No-poo works equally well on all of them for cleansing and overall hair health.
Some kids do not like the smell of the ACV mix. As said above, you can add some teas or essential oils to hide the scent if needed, but honestly it only lasts for about 20 seconds so it’s not really that big a deal. My son just holds his nose when he does the rinse.

Question: How often do I need to do this?
Answer: Whenever your hair needs it. Once you get through your detox phase, you’ll find that your hair takes longer to get oily/greasy than it previously did. I generally use it 1-2x a week once my hair starts to feel a bit oily. While I was pregnant and my skin/hair changed, I needed to do it once every 3 days or so. Most people find that it works best to use it once every 3-5 days.

Question: Do you only use one tablespoon/one cup per washing, or is that just the ratio when you’re mixing?
Answer: It’s just the ratio.

Question: Do I have to use the whole cup of the mixture when I wash/rinse?
Answer: No, as long the ratio is the same, it doesn’t matter how much or little you use of the mixtures. If you have lots of hair, or very thick hair, you’ll probably be using more than one cup of the mixture as opposed to people with really short hair. Just keep your magic ratio in tact and you’re good.

Question: Can I use baking powder or washing soda instead of baking soda?
Answer: No. It needs to be baking soda, sometimes known as bicarbonate of soda or sodium bicarbonate.

Question: I’m a person of colour who is transitioning to natural hair. Is this okay to use?
Answer: Sure is, and you may find that your natural hair feels less dry, and your curls better defined after switching!

Question: My hair has static electricity, what can I do to reduce this?
Answer: Get a little water spritzer bottle and put in a bit of your favourite moisturizing oil, (if you don’t want to use too much of your nice expensive oils, you can use a carrier oil like extra virgin olive to dilute it) and give your hair just one or two little spritzes near the middle and ends. Use a paddle brush (or better, boar bristle) to distribute it evenly.

Question: Do you have to use the ACV to rinse the baking soda wash out of your hair? Do you have to use the ACV rinse every single time?
Answer: The baking soda wash is rinsed clean with warm water, not the ACV. You don’t have to use the ACV rinse every single time, though without it you may notice your hair doesn’t detangle as nicely or isn’t as silky. Repeated baking soda-only washes (without any form of conditioning) may leave your hair dull looking over time due to the hair’s cuticles never being smoothed back down. You’d have a similar problem (with added weak, brittle and dry hair) if you were a traditional shampoo user who never used conditioner, due to having the proteins stripped from the hair due to the harsh detergents. Some people find their hair reacts best when they use the ACV rinse every other time they cleanse. After your detox phase, you can tweak your process to see what works best for you.

Question: Will this bleach your hair?
Answer: No, it does not bleach your hair. A small minority of users find that their hair gets very slightly lighter with heavy baking soda dilutions or long-term daily use. It has no effect on greying or natural high and low lights.

Question: I work out every day and get sweaty – should I do this every day to wash the sweat out of my hair?
Answer: Try a half-strength dilution of the ACV rinse to lightly clarify your hair, rather than doing your regular BS/ACV cleanse after every work-out. This should effectively get rid of the sweat but still be diluted enough not to over-moisturize. You can also try an herbal tea rinse (recipes and ideas are available on the original post) for your post-workout shower.

Question: I’m a swimmer and the chlorine makes my hair super dry, will this work for me?
Answer: Yes! You may want to up your ACV dilution and experiment with different herbs added in the rinse for extra moisture, if you find you need it. Alternatively, use a moisturizing oil and gently massage into your scalp and damp hair (a very light application is fine!) to help combat the dry itches.

Question: I think I’m allergic to apple cider vinegar or baking soda… how can I tell?
Answer: Do a patch test by making a very small amount of baking soda paste and putting it on your inner arm, then place a band-aid over it and leave it for 20 minutes before checking for a reaction. With ACV, take a bit of a cotton swab and dip it in some ACV, then use a band-aid to hold it to the skin and check after 20 minutes. An allergic reaction is generally characterized by localized swelling, hives and itchiness.

Question: My hair isn’t quite as silky or moisturized as I wanted it to be, is there something else I can try or add to my routine?
Answer: Some people have noted that their very fine or damaged hair had the best results when they switched to an organic apple cider vinegar, which may have a softer PH balance and be a better quality product overall. It is more expensive, but you’re only using a tablespoon at a time so a small bottle will last you several months. It’s worth a try! Also, there are many different hair masques that work very well for an occasional reparative or moisturizing treatment. Try the recipe I posted above with avocado and egg, or check out this wonderful flax mucilage recipe by Livejournal user Westcoastred for nourishing dry hair and improving curl-definition, [ available here ].

Question: Will this make my hair grow faster and longer?
Answer: Not unless the products you were using previously were stunting your hair’s growth. This method isn’t a hair growth serum; it’s for washing and clarifying. Your hair’s growth speed is largely dependant on your genetics as well as your body’s overall health.

Question: Can I use lemon juice instead of ACV?
Answer: Lemon juice has a pH of about 2, whereas ACV is 5-7, so the lemon is going to be significantly more abrasive to your hair and I would’t recommend using it all the time. It does have it’s merits for occasional use; natural lightening, assisting in sun-bleaching, or helping to pull dye out quicker than it would normally fade. Whatever you do, please don’t use lemons or lemon juice directly on your face! It’s really, really abrasive to your delicate facial skin and not at all good for it (no matter what that infamous lemon and sugar scrub tutorial says!).

Question: Does the mixture go bad?
Answer: No, it should not go bad if it’s stored in sealed bottles. However, I find that the baking soda mixture forms little crystals in the bottom of its container after a few days and doesn’t cleanse as well once there’s quite a bit of it, so I personally find it’s easier to either make a small and fresh batch for each shower or a new bottle once a week.

Question: This didn’t work for me and I think you and your method are a big fat phoney!
Answer: That’s not much of a question but I’m sorry it didn’t work for you! I was not the first to create this method, I only wrote a long FAQ about it, but I’m flattered you’d think to credit me with its invention.


Major thanks to everyone who read, shared and commented over the years (and maybe even converted a friend).
Feel free to repost and share all you want, all I ask is that if you’re gonna borrow any parts of it to post on your own space, please remember to credit and link back to the original. I don’t exactly have unlimited free time, which means stuff like this often takes me several days or longer to do up; the polite thing to do is to acknowledge the work the original author put into it. 🙂

LINKS
•   [ Original “Shampoo Free: Healthy Hair, Naturally” post ]
•   [ Tumblr version of this post ] (Condensed for easy reading, so it doesn’t contain the FAQ)

** If you have very hard water you may notice build-up, or that your hair doesn’t seem to soften up super nice. There are several ways to combat this, read more on the original FAQ link. Some people with a big hard water problem find it’s easiest to just pick up the gallon jugs of nursery (distilled) water for 2-3 bucks and use that for their mixes and rinses.

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