Washing hair

To wash and condition hair

The scalp is one of the most absorbent parts of the body and shampoos are awash with dangerous and dubious synthetic chemicals. Almost all contain sodium lauryl (or laureth) sulphate, substances with known health dangers, to provide foam.

These methods of hair care (often called “no ‘poo”) take a little getting used to, as they are so different from the experience we are used to with foaming shampoos and creamy conditioners. But they are incredibly effective, becoming more so the longer you go on with them. Over time, you will find you need to your wash hair less frequently and use less of the ingredients as your hair adapts and becomes naturally healthier and shinier. For some people “no ‘poo” is effective from the first try, others find their hair goes through an initial adjustment period before it starts to work well. We encourage you to persevere: we find this one of the most rewarding and liberating parts of going spotless.

Along with their extreme simplicity and cost-effectiveness, being able to adjust the recipes to suit your hair is one of the great advantages of these methods. I’ve been using them for a long while now, and find they last a long time. I only need to wash my hair once a week (instead of almost daily previously) and use very little at each wash.

Here’s how it works:

Part one: wash

Method A: Rye Flour Hair Wash

Rye flour is low in gluten so it won’t turn into a doughy mush in your hair (so don’t use wheat flour instead). It’s natural saponins and vitamins like pantothenic acid (vitamin B5) allow it to gently clean and nourish your hair. It has a pH very similar to our hair and skin so it won’t disturb their natural pH. It absorbs excess grease but without stripping or drying. Although it isn’t one of the core Spotless ingredients, it is a winner for washing hair.

  • Depending on the length and thickness of your hair, put between two and four tablespoons of rye flour into a small bowl.
  • Add enough water (start with about 1/4 cup) to form a smooth gel-like paste, with a consistency very similar to “regular” shampoo.
  • Apply the mixture just as you would any ordinary shampoo, massaging it all over your scalp and throughout your hair. It will feel similar to shampoo but with no lathering suds (this is a good thing).
  • Preferably allow it to sit in your hair for a few minutes, before rinsing your hair very thoroughly with warm water.
  • Follow with an apple cider vinegar rinse, described below.

Method B: Bicarb (baking soda) Hair Wash

Bicarb is a mild base (alkali) which allows it to bind with the fatty acids naturally present in unwashed hair to form a soap-like mixture, thoroughly cleansing the scalp and hair. Because of its alkalinity, it tends to open up the hair cuticle, allowing for a deeper cleaning action but temporarily disrupting the smoothness of the hair. It is essential to follow a bicarb wash with an apple cider vinegar rinse (see below), to reseal the cuticle for smoothness and shine. We strongly advise you to use this one as an occasional wash, favouring the rye flour wash (above) for general use. Regularly using only bicarb to wash hair over a prolonged period, even following up with the vinegar rinse, can result in dull, frizzy and dry hair and a dry scalp.

  • Add between a quarter and a full teaspoon of bicarb (baking soda), to about a quarter cup of water. Mix together.
  • Wet hair with warm water, then pour the bicarb solution over scalp and roots.
  • Work the mixture in and allow it to sit for a minute or two.
  • Then, gently scrub your scalp all over (this will clear pores, cut down on grease, stimulate growth, and help get rid of itchy scalp and dandruff). You will feel a slightly slippery, soapy feeling develop as the bicarb, warm water and fats react and bind together into a water soluble mixture ready to be rinsed away.
  • Rinse well.

Part two: condition

Follow either hair washing method above with a dilute vinegar rinse. It restores the acid mantle, smoothes the hair cuticle, and adds softens and shine.

  • Dilute equal parts of apple cider vinegar with water.
  • You can use ordinary white vinegar instead of ACV, and add any herbs of your choice (see below).
  • Pour this mixture over your hair (if your hair is long, you can dip the ends into the cup before you pour).
  • Let it soak for a minute or longer, then rinse out.
  • The vinegar will smooth and seal your hair and restore its naturally slightly acidic pH. It will keep your locks clean, conditioned and shiny.

Once you are happy with the quantities that suit your hair, mix up a bottle of vinegar and water solution to speed up the process. Add some herbs or a few drops of essential oils to your vinegar solution if you like. (See more on adding herbs or oils below.) Even without adding herbs, the smell of vinegar completely disappears when your hair dries, leaving lovely clean, fresh smelling hair that shines.

In brief: 1 tsp bicarb + 1/4 cup water on roots. 2 Tbsp apple cider vinegar + 1/4 cup water on ends.

Adjustments for hair types

For dry or frizzy hair

  • Use less bicarb for a shorter time.
  • Use more apple cider vinegar, and / or don’t rinse the vinegar out.
  • Smooth a tiny bit of coconut or olive oil over your hair, especially the ends, prior to washing. You can repeat this after washing if your hair is very dry.
  • Also see conditioning treatments and adding herbs below.

For oily hair

  • Use less apple cider vinegar, avoiding the scalp and concentrating on the ends.
  • Or, switch the vinegar for lemon juice.
  • Also see adding herbs below.

For persistent dandruff or an itchy scalp

  • Rub your scalp with coconut and / or olive oil before washing.
  • Be sure to apply the vinegar to your scalp as well as the rest of your hair and don’t rinse it out unless your hair is very oily.
  • All of these, and the bicarb, will soothe your scalp and discourage the growth of the fungus that causes dandruff.
  • Also see adding herbs below)

Adding herbs or essential oils

There are various herbs that are known to benefit hair. You can add herbs either by infusing them, or by adding a few drops of herbal essential oils. To take advantage of herbs:

  • add one or several herbs to your vinegar solution,
  • make a herbal infusion to use as final rinse, or
  • add essential oils to a conditioning treatment.

To infuse herbs

  • Put a tablespoon of dried herbs or twice that of fresh, in a tea ball or muslin bag, or loose into a teapot.
  • Add a cup of boiling water and allow to draw for two hours.
  • Allow to cool, then remove herbs or strain into a bottle or jar and mix with a cup of apple cider vinegar to use when you wash your hair.
  • Or, to use as a final rinse, steep a teaspoon of herbs in a cup of boiling water for ten minutes or more, then strain. Massage evenly over scalp and don’t rinse out.

Essential oils

Essential oils are highly concentrated and should be used with care as simply shaking or stirring them up in water does not disperse them sufficiently. The scalp is an especially absorbent part of the body. That said, the acid in vinegar does act as an emulsifier to some extent (spreads the oil evenly through the liquid) so adding a little to your vinegar solution is generally fine. Or, blend them with coconut or olive oil in a conditioning treatment. But don’t use more than a few drops and avoid any you have a sensitivity to. Read my notes on using essential oils here.

Herbs to use

Here are a few suggestions you could try.

  • To deepen dark hair: rosemary, sage, parsely, Rooibos, coffee
  • To brighten light hair: chamomile, marigold, lemon
  • To intensify redness of hair: Rooibos
  • For frizzy hair: honey (add a tablespoon to a litre of warm water and use as a final rinse), lavender, rosemary, Rooibos
  • For oily hair: sage, lavender, thyme, tea tree, witch hazel, Rooibos
  • For dry hair: lavender, marigold, coffee
  • For dandruff or itchy scalp: lavender, tea tree, Rooibos, coffee
  • To stimulate luxuriant growth: rosemary, Rooibos
  • To cover grey: sage, coffee (for dark hair)
  • To protect colour: rooibos
  • To add smoothness and shine: Rooibos, rosemary, coffee

See above for how to use herbs. Learn how to use Rooibos and coffee on hair.

All-in-one conditioning wash (for dry hair)

  • Mix this one up before-hand.
  • Combine two tablespoons olive oil, an egg, one tablespoon lemon juice and one teaspoon apple cider vinegar and blend until well mixed.
  • Use like ordinary bought shampoo.
  • Rinse with cold water, as warm water will cook the egg.
  • Discard leftovers.

Dry shampoo (for oily hair)

  • If your hair is very oily it can be handy to do a quick dry shampoo between washes to revitalise it.
  • To do this, sprinkle a little bicarb (or a mixture of cornstarch and bicarb) onto your hairbrush and brush through your hair. Excess oils are absorbed and your hair is instantly refreshed.

See more about hair care. Or look at hair removal inshaving and waxing.