The No Poo Method — How to Get Great Hair Naturally
In January of this year, I declared my intention to quit shampoo for a month and experiment with the no-poo hair care method. I ditched the shampoo bottle like a boss, and I went all crazy hippie on you.
Pfffffffft. Okay, total and complete lies, yes. I already went all cray-cray on you a good long while ago. You know that, I know that. We can’t have the Circle of Trust unless we’re honest with one another, so let’s ‘fess our crunchy ways one to another, amen? Earlier this week I shared a little update on how the no-poo thing is going, four months later. (Spoiler alert: I don’t smell like a dirty hippie.) I promised you a detailed low-down on how exactly to get started with no-pooing, and that’s exactly what you’re gonna get today.
Step One: On the first day, wash your hair with shampoo. While in the shower, say your last goodbyes to your shampoo and conditioner bottles. Have a moment of silence if you wish. Or, laugh maniacally and say “toxic body care industry and lying scumbag marketing departments: ZERO, me + nature: ONE.” Okay, okay. Serious Face on now. Here’s the 411. (Do people still say that? I’m kind of stuck in the 90’s. Apologies.)
Note: there are lots of ways to approach the no-poo method. These are my personal recommendations. I could interview 100 no poo-ers and there is a good chance that not a single one of them follow the same routine.
Everyone has different hair types and wants different results.
Here is my current routine (I have low porosity hair):
About once a month, I wash with baking soda and condition with apple cider vinegar.
In between the baking soda wash, I will wash using another method about once a week. My preferred method is rye flour. But I occasionally use bentonite clay, egg, or kefir.
I use a dry shampoo in between washes (see my recipe here) as needed, usually about twice a week.
About once a month, I do a deep conditioning mask, usually coconut oil.
I use argan oil with essential oils as a hair serum once or twice in between washings (see my recipe here).
In general, I do not wet my hair unless I am washing it.
I scritch and preen with a boar bristle brush 2-3 times a week.
There are a lot of different options below. This is not even close to an all inclusive list. These are some of the more widely used options. Other washes I have heard of include beer, flaxseed, honey, and cucumber. That’s just a few of what I remember. There are lots of different natural products that wash, nourish, and condition hair. Experiment & have fun!
Before You Begin
For an easier transition, start by stretching out your washes while still using shampoo. The ultimate goal in the transition stage will be to train your scalp to slow down its prolific oil production. It is producing oil like crazy because commercial shampoos strip every last bit of natural oil away, which then causes the scalp to overcompensate with more. If you can train your head to go longer between shampooing, your no-poo transition will likely be easier. Once you are using shampoo as minimally as you can without getting fired from your job or shunned by society, it’s time to take the plunge. If you’re nervous, decide on a day ahead of time. I chose February 1 to be my last shampooing (that’s the day I could get to the stylist for a last trim so my hair was healthy and ready). Get two containers to use in the shower. I use two of these small jelly canning jars simply because that’s what I used to take my baking soda and vinegar with me when I recently went away overnight. They just sit in my shower, and I add the baking soda and vinegar each time. I use roughly 1 – 2 tablespoons (I don’t measure – I just glug it out. That’s the technical term, obvs). Get a box of baking soda and some vinegar to keep in your bathroom, to make things easier. You don’t want to be running through your house, naked, between your bathroom, laundry room (vinegar), and kitchen (baking soda), every time you go to step into the shower and realize you forgot to grab your supplies… again. (This is purely a speculative and fictional situation. This definitely has not happened to me. Nope. Not me.)
In the Shower
On the next day that you are due for a wash, instead of shampooing, use baking soda and vinegar instead. When you’re in the shower, wet your hair thoroughly. Use your fingertips to tousle your hair to get it ready. Try to get it tousled up a little and not slicked onto your head – this will make it easier to get the baking soda mixture distributed throughout. Add a bit of water to your baking soda and stir it up with your finger. How much water you add is up to you. Some people like just a tiny bit of water to make a watery paste. Some people add lots of water and even use a spray bottle instead of a cup or dish. Generally, the greasier your hair tends to be, the more paste-like and concentrated you want your baking soda.
Like I said in my update post last week, I tend to get greasy hair really easily, so I go with less water. I wind up with about a third of a cup or so to pour on my head. Slowly pour it onto your scalp, mainly around the crown area, and on the back of your scalp. Use your fingers to tousle and distribute while you pour (FYI, it does hurt if it goes in your eyes… be careful!) When you’re done pouring, use both hands to finger-massage your scalp vigorously. Try to get every inch of your scalp, especially around the areas that get the greasiest. Do this for 1-2 minutes. Often you will feel a distinctive slippery feeling in your hair after a few minutes. You know that it’s good and clean for sure at that point. Rinse thoroughly, again using your fingertips to tousle your hair and make sure every last bit gets rinsed. Next, add water to your vinegar to dilute it. How much you dilute is up to you. I am actually planning to get a spray bottle and make mine much more diluted than what I can do in a 4oz jelly jar. I recommend diluting by half, minimum. Pour into your hair and work it with your fingers. Many no-poo’ers advise that you must pour it right over your scalp, but some agree that it’s okay to just use it from the neck down. I use it from the neck down only – I gather my hair in my hand and pour it over the “ponytail” part. I have tried using it on my scalp as well, but it made my hair way too greasy. Your mileage will vary. Rinse the vinegar out well by vigorously working your fingertips throughout your scalp and length. You’re done! I air dry my hair for the most part, but you can use a blow dryer and/or straightener if desired. A boar bristle brush is recommended, but not strictly necessary (I’ve been meaning to get one for ages now, but haven’t yet. I use my regular hairbrush).
Baking Soda & Apple Cider Vinegar
This is by far the most popular no poo method and combination. This is how I started no poo.
Baking Soda: Use a good quality, natural baking soda
Apple Cider Vinegar: A raw, unfiltered vinegar with the mother is best.
How much of each you use will vary from person to person.
The baking soda is what cleans your hair and the apple cider vinegar is what conditions your hair.
If your hair is dry, increase the amount of vinegar. If your hair is oily, increase the amount of baking soda.
Paste method, baking soda: I keep a small plastic container of baking soda in my shower. When I first started the no poo method, I would put about 1/2 to 1 tablespoon in my palm and then massage that into my scalp. For the 1st 6 months, I did that about every 4 days. Then for the next 6 months, I did that about once a week. Now, I use about 1 teaspoon of baking soda about once a month (I do other washes in between my baking soda washes).
Spray method, baking soda: This method is more popular. Mix about 1 tablespoon of baking soda in about 1 cup of water. Store in a spray or squirt bottle (non-plastic is best). This amount is 1-3 applications (depending on your hair)
For either method, be sure to focus the application of the baking soda to your scalp, not the shaft of your hair. Rinse completely. Follow the baking soda wash with an apple cider vinegar rinse.
Mix vinegar with water and store in a spray bottle. I use a ratio of about 1 part vinegar to 3 parts water. You can adjust to your needs. Some people use as little as 1 tablespoon of vinegar per cup of water… But more than a 50/50 ratio is not recommended.
Spray generously on your hair focusing on the ends, let sit for a minute or two, rinse. The vinegar smell is gone before your hair dries. If you are worried about the vinegar smell, see the FAQ page for tips.
Too much baking soda will damage your hair. If your hair becomes dry or damaged from using this method, then you are using too much baking soda, too often. I currently use about 1 teaspoon once a month. It’s also very important that you use an acidic rinse after washing with baking soda to balance the pH levels of your scalp.
If you are new to no poo, you are going to see quite a few “odd” cleansers in this list and egg is the first one. Yep, egg washes your hair. And it also conditions and strengthens it. I do an egg wash about once every month or 2. It makes my thin hair so much thicker. Eggs have a lot of protein and that protein adds volume to your hair.
The most important thing to remember when doing an egg wash is to use cool water from start to finish.
Warm / hot water will cook the egg and you will have scrambled eggs in your hair that seems impossible to get out. It is also important not to do egg washes too often. If your hair becomes stiff from an egg wash, that’s an indicator that your hair has overdosed on protein. Some hair types do not respond well to any additional protein (like low porosity hair). Most people can do a couple egg washes a month without any problems. If you do overdose on protein, deep condition your hair.
Beat an egg and apply to wet hair (be sure to use cool water; apply from the scalp to the ends of your hair). You can add about a tablespoon of water and/or honey to the egg if desired.
Leave in for 5-15 minutes.
Rinse completely with cool water.
A conditioning or acidic rinse afterwards is optional. I sometimes use an apple cider vinegar rinse.
Rye Flour Wash
This is one of my favorites! A rye flour wash leaves my hair very shiny and smooth. Rye flour has lots of vitamins, minerals, & nutrients and most hair types respond well to it. You can use any kind of rye flour (dark, light, etc) but the more finely it is ground, the better. I use this one.
Mix 2-4 tablespoons of rye flour with 2-4 tablespoon water, stir until it is lump free
I add about 3 drops of essential oils (optional, rosemary is my favorite)
Massage into your hair and scalp (I wet my hair first)
Leave for 5-15 minutes
It does feel a little slippery, waxy, and slimy as you apply it. But don’t worry, your hair will not be any of those things. If you are unable to rinse the flour out of your hair, try diluting it with more water or using a finer ground flour. Rinsing your hair very well is important. Make sure your hair is tangle free before you wash. Tangles will trap the flour and make it hard to remove. Some people sift the flour before using to make. If you have thick or easily tangled hair, it may be more difficult for you to rinse it out. It can be done, just might take some more effort. The flour does have to come out by rinsing before it dries. I thought I would be able to brush it out after my hair dried. That is not the case at all. A conditioning or acidic rinse afterwards is optional. I do not use any rinse. Note: Rye flour is NOT gluten free.
Although I will do a water only rinse in between washes occasionally, I have never gone full water only. But I have chatted with many ladies who love it. Most of them transitioned to no poo using the baking soda / apple cider vinegar method and then converted to water only.
Water only is exactly how it sounds. You rinse your hair with water only and don’t use any hair products. Most people who use the water only method scritch and preen with a boar bristle brush.
Run warm water over your hair in the shower. Hot water can damage your hair.
Scritch and preen (info in the next section) your hair with your fingers while the water is running over your hair.
Be gentle with your hair while it is wet. Don’t brush it, scrunch it, scrub it with your towel, etc. Pat it dry and lightly detangle with your fingers if needed.
Let it air dry. Do not use a terry cloth towel to dry. Use fabrics made from natural materials like cotton or silk. An old cotton t-shirt is the most popular option.
You can wash with water as often as you like. Many water only people scritch & preen nightly and do a water wash weekly. Some only scritch & preen prior to washing. And some only wash twice a month. Like all of these methods, it all depends on personal preference and your hair.
Note: Water only does not work well with hard water
Boar Bristle Brush and Scritch & Preen
Boar bristle brushes (BBB) range from inexpensive to super expensive. With this brush, you “scritch and preen.” The BBB is used to distribute your natural sebum oils.
Detangle your hair with a comb or your fingers
Scritch your hair. Scritch is massaging your scalp with your fingers. This takes 5-10 minutes. Massage your entire scalp with your fingertips. This encourages oil / sebum production.
Preen your hair. Use your BBB to “pull” the oils down your hair. Section your hair into small sections and brush all the way from the roots to the ends. This distributes the oils down the length of your hair and moisturizes. This process takes 10-20 minutes depending on how much hair you have.
I do the scritch and preen process a couple times a week. Some people do it daily. Some people do it only on days they wash their hair (either water only or with products). It’s important to wash your brush regularly to remove the oils. Soap and hot water works.
There are several types of clay you can use to wash your hair:
Bentonite clay is volcanic ash. When it is mixed with a liquid, it swells and forms a sponge. This sponge has a natural negative electric charge that attracts excess metals, hydrogen, toxins, and impurities, pulling them out of your hair & scalp. It replaces the toxins with naturally occurring minerals in the clay. I first tried using bentonite before I started no poo. I did not like the bentonite clay then at all. Bentonite is a powerful detox. So before I started no poo, the clay would detox my hair, leaving it feeling dirty and dry (which was a good thing for my hair in the long run, just difficult to manage during the detox phase). But now that my hair is fully detoxed, the clay leaves my hair very soft, clean, and manageable. Bentonite is best for oily hair.
Rhassoul clay is mined in Morocco. It contains a lot of minerals (including magnesium, iron, and potassium) and silica that are good for hair. It improves elasticity, moisturizes, exfoliates, and detoxes. Moroccan women have used it for beauty care for centuries with earliest know use during the 8th century. Rhassoul clay is best for dry and/or curly hair.
Kaolin clay is the most gentle clay and good if you have a sensitive scalp. This is a good clay to use if you have not transitioned to no poo. As I mentioned, when I used bentonite clay before I transitioned to no poo, it was too strong of a detox. However, if you are in the middle of transitioning, you can use bentonite clay to help speed up the detox process. Kaolin clay stimulates circulation, gently exfoliates, and cleanses. Kaolin clay is best for dry and/or curly hair.
Mix about 2 tablespoons (more or less depending on how much hair you have) clay with an equal amount of water, aloe vera, or apple cider vinegar.
Massage into your hair, from scalp down the entire length of your hair.
Let sit for 5-15 minutes. The more frequently you wash your hair, the less you will want this to sit.
It’s important to do an acidic rinse afterwards to balance pH levels. Apple cider vinegar is most popular.
You can use this mask as an occasional deep cleanser and detox. You can use the same method on your face for a face mask (I love bentonite clay face masks).
Soap nuts are a berry that grow on a tree and they contain, of course, soap. This natural soap can be used to clean just about anything from laundry to glass to skin to hair. You can make an all purpose cleaning spray or a dish detergent with them It’s very soothing for your skin and great for skin issues such as periphrasis and eczema. And of course, use them to wash your hair.
First, make liquid soap:
In a saucepan, boil about 6 cups of water with about 10 soap nuts.
Reduce the heat and simmer for about 20 minutes.
Remove the soap nuts. Let them dry out. You can reuse them later.
Store the liquid soap in the fridge. It will keep for a few weeks.
You can add about 10-15 drops essential oils to the liquid soap (optional).
Use about 2-4 tablespoons of the liquid soap to wash your hair. Massage it into your hair just as you would shampoo. Let sit for 5-10 minutes. Rinse.
Dry shampoo is a no poo-ers best friend. And even if you use commercial shampoo, you can extend your wash by a day or 2 by using dry shampoo. I started using dry shampoo years before I had ever heard of no poo. Now, I use my dry shampoo between 4-8 times a month. Get more details and recipes here. In general, mix any combination of the following to get your desired color:
Talc Free Baby Powder
Non-GMO Corn Starch
Ground Oatmeal Powder (very finely grind rolled oats in a spice/coffee grinder or blender)
Red Moroccan Clay
Fragrance & More
Select your base. You can stop there and just use your base. Or add up to an equal amount of tint. You can add fragrance with essential oils. Store in a shaker jar.
This is great for wax buildup / waxy hair. You can use any natural applesauce with the least amount of ingredients or make homemade. Make sure it is very finely blended and I recommend running your applesauce through a blender so it’s easier to remove from your hair.
Apply room temperature or warmer applesauce to dry hair. You can warm it up if you want for comfort or if you have low porosity hair. Use enough to generously coat your hair from root to tip.
Leave for an hour.
A conditioner rinse is optional. Apples are acidic, so if you follow with a rinse, don’t use anything too acidic.
This works great for hard water buildup (see more about hard water in the FAQs). Depending on the amount of buildup, you may have to do this multiple times. You can do it as often and as close together (meaning daily) as you like until the wax buildup is gone. Your hair will likely get worse and waxier before it gets better. That’s a sign of detox and means it’s working.
Kefir and Kombucha
I have heard some people say that kefir and kombucha make their hair oily. My hair loves it. Milk kefir and kombucha are both fermented products & easy to make. Milk kefir is similar to yogurt. Kombucha is fermented tea. Both are acidic and full of probiotics (which are great for conditioning your scalp). I use milk kefir as a shampoo / hair mask. I use about 1/4 cup, massage it into my hair and scalp, leave for about 20 minutes, rinse. Be sure to rinse very, very, very well or you will smell like sour milk. I use kombucha as a conditioner. I use this instead of my apple cider vinegar rinse occasionally.
Aloe Vera & Epsom Salt
Epsom salt adds volume to hair. Aloe vera is moisturizing. I like to use this wash when my hair feels a little dry and/or flat.
Mix about 1 teaspoon epsom salt with 2-4 tablespoons aloe vera gel.
Add a little water to get the desired consistency (optional).
Massage into scalp and hair.
This rinse does cleanse my hair and leave it very soft & bouncy. But I have heard that for some, it moisturizes great, but does not clean very well. So if it doesn’t cleanse your hair, you can wash with another method and follow with this rinse.
Technically, castile soap and products with castile soap (like shampoo bars) are low poo. But I am including it here because it is widely used and a great option for many people. There are many different flavors of castile soap. I use castile soap for my face and body wash and love it. I do not love it for my hair (as with all of these options, it’s all a personal choice). It is too harsh to use straight on your hair. How much you dilute is up to you. I’ve heard a 50/50 ratio of soap and water all the way up to 1/2 teaspoon soap per 1/2 cup water. Mix and use like regular shampoo. An apple cider vinegar or conditioning rinse is recommended afterwards. Castile soap does not work well with hard water