No ‘Poo for You

How to wash your hair with bicarb soda

Way back in the day, Sparky and I backpacked around the world. We were fairly typical young travellers – straight out of Uni, broke, staying in questionable hostels with questionable company and putting beer above food in our own personal hierarchy of needs. (Side note: we absolutely loved Prague, not only because it was a beautiful, fascinating city but also because beer was cheaper than soft drink! Na zdraví!)

It was during this trip that I first started experimenting with unwashing my hair. I had heard somewhere that if you left your hair unwashed for 30 days, it would “dirty itself clean”. So, like the keen youngster I was, I thought I’d try it out. After all, I hated washing my hair every day or two. That 10 minutes in the shower was eating into beer exploration time.

I lasted 12 lank, greasy days and quickly lost my enthusiasm for going ‘poo free. That was, until Isla was born and I began to research just what was in the toiletries we used every day. Turns out, a lot of it is nasty stuff.

So I tried using castille soap instead of shampoo. No dice. (Stringytown. Population: me)

I tried buying expensive bars of handmade, natural shampoo that never really made my hair clean.

I even tried the old unwashing again. I didn’t even last a week.

I finally settled on an organic supermarket brand of shampoo, which did the job. It wasn’t ideal and my eyes were constantly itching, but I stuck with it for quite a while.

Eventually (and I have no idea why it took me so long to cotton on to this method) I tried using bicarb soda in place of shampoo, and I haven’t looked back.

That was over 2 months ago, and aside from a trip to the hairdresser for a cut and colour, my hair has been completely shampoo free.

I can’t be too sure, but I think my hair looks acceptable and I’m fairly certain I don’t stink.

No 'poo for 2 months.

I know this is hardly ground-breaking anymore, but I know a lot of people are interested in trying the no-shampoo method and simply don’t know where to start. So here are my tips:

Start dirty.

I left my hair unwashed for 4 days before I began using bicarb. It was well and truly in need of a wash by then, so the feeling of the bicarb lifting the oil off the roots of my hair was such a relief. Anything was going to feel good after 4 days of not washing, the fact that it was not my usual shampoo didn’t matter!

It takes time. 

You need time to work out the right ratio of bicarb/water for your hair, as well as how often your hair will need to be washed. My hair has taken over a month to settle in to the no shampoo phase, so be sure to give it at least 30 days before you decide whether it’s right for you or not.

Use a little, or use a lot. 

Some people only need a very small amount of bicarb to wash their hair, while others (like me) need a much higher concentration. I also find I have to wash it twice most times, as I have quite thick hair.

Condition your hair – sometimes.

I use a rinse of apple cider vinegar on the lengths of my hair once every week or two. I also use conditioner on the tips of my hair once a week. This is enough to keep it moisturised and manageable.

Get to love your brush.

The night before I am going to wash my hair, I will spend 10 minutes brushing it. This helps to distribute the oils down the length of my hair, and ensures I stay tangle-free.

How to wash hair using bicarb soda:

  1. Take a clean, empty squeeze bottle, a large cup or a clean old jar and fill it with 1/2 cup bicarb.
  2. Add water to it as needed, give it a little mix (depending on how much bicarb you need in your mixture, this might be a little swirl or a vigorous shake) and squirt onto your scalp.
  3. Focus on one area of your scalp at a time, squirting the water and bicarb onto your head and gently rubbing it in. Move on to the next area of the scalp until you have washed all areas.
  4. Rinse well and repeat if needed. Make sure to rinse the hair and scalp thoroughly.
  5. Pour a small amount (maybe 1/3 cup) of apple cider vinegar through the lengths of your hair and rinse out. This helps to remove residue and leave your hair shiny. And the vinegar smell? It goes away once the hair is dry.

People also ask if I use this with the kids, but to be honest, I can’t tell you the last time I even shampooed my kids’ hair. I condition it once a fortnight and it gets washed with plain water every few days, but they just don’t need the shampoo.

Have you tried to go ‘poo free? Are you curious to try? Let me know if you do and how it goes.

If you’d like to explore other recipes and methods for homemade, natural haircare, there is a great ebook available in this week’s Bundle of the Week. The bundle also includes books on the basics of foraging and herbal remedies.

{Top image via grandmaitre on Flickr}

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13 Responses to No ‘Poo for You

  1. Laney Galligan says:

    I have been seriously considering this. I have thick hair like you, and naturally wavy/curly so I think I could probably do it. We also hardly use shampoo on the kids hair and they don’t smell! I think I only wash mine out of habit!

  2. I alternate with shampoo bars and bicarb/vinegar mix. My hair is really long so I find the ends become too dry if I constantly do the bicarb/vinegar.

  3. Stacey Knight says:

    I have been no-poo for most of this year. I use an icing sugar shaker to sprinkle it throughout my dry hair, I massage it in with water as I get in the shower, then I rinse with apple cider vinegar diluted about 1:3 with water. The apple cider rinse feels just awesome! The only time I reverted back to shampoo was after a battle with headlice and shampoo and conditioner seemed a better option than the other nit treatments.

  4. I think you may have just convinced this long term fence sitter to try this after my next hair cut x

  5. Alison says:

    Didn’t work for me or my very flat straight product requiring hair.. I do love Mukti Shampoo and Conditioner – Very natural Australian made product.. Your hair looks fabulous Brooke xx

  6. EcoCatLady says:

    Yay for another convert! I’ve been doing the no poo thing since 2008 and I will NEVER go back. I do have to say though, that it took me a good long while to come up with a system that worked for me, and it’s been slowly evolving as my hair changes and adjusts over the years.

    I wrote a very long blathering post about my system, including a bunch of things I learned and researched along the way, so if anyone is interested here’s a link:
    http://ecocatlady.blogspot.com/2012/02/secrets-to-my-no-poo-success.html

    There are literally hundreds of comments, some from people with actual backgrounds in cosmetology, and lots with info and research that other people have done, so they are worth scanning through if you’re curious. I have to say, that through this process I’ve learned WAY more about both chemistry and hair than I ever thought I would care to know!

    But more than anything, I’m just soooo happy to have a system that gives me healthy, manageable, non-toxic & extremely affordable hair! :-)

  7. I wash my hair once a week using about a tablespoon if bicarb in about a cup of water. That’s it.
    The day before, I often do a oil treatment. I just slather on coconut oil and sleep in it.
    I’ve been doing this for three to four years. I like you don’t see the point in cleaning my kids hair, but maybe once a month, they will also get this same treatment. My husband also came on board about a year ago too. Occasionally I mix it up with my hair and wash with two handfuls of honey diluted in water, a teaspoon borax diluted in water, a splash of ACV in water.

  8. charity says:

    If you think the chemicals in shampoos are bad, you should look up what’s in salon hair coloring.

  9. Jo aka Kiwijo says:

    Im completley with you on being scared at the ammount of cr*p that goes into modern beauty products, I really cant understand why a well known brand of Mouthwash has to have the same foaming agent that they use in soap and shampoo in it!
    Im very particular about the products I use on my face and body (havent worn nail polish for years – formaldehide) and make my own face toner (rosewater, honey, chamomile tincture and witchhazel) and other products. The only moisturiser I use on my body is Coconut oil and on my face Rose or Borage oil.
    I have tried going ‘poo free, but have certainly thought about it.
    Well done you.

  10. marten says:

    I started using soda for my hair (and body too! and beard :D) this year and it was actually the door-opener for just stopping washing my hair with anything else than water.
    What happened was that I ran out of soda and was too lazy to go shopping. And it worked fine. So I am just using water to clean my hair and everything else (except for my hands, still using soap like normal). I have been assured by various people that i do not smell at all.
    Works for me, 2 minutes under the shower every morning.

    But I don’t have long hair, that might help.

  11. Mel says:

    For the last 2 weeks I have been trialling something I read on Meadoworchard blog – an egg, lemon juice, olive oil and a tiny amount of honey. So far I am happy and quite surprised with the results – I know sometimes you need to give it a month or so for the hair to settle in to the new routine. My hair definitely feels clean. I tried this because I have an abundance of eggs from my backyard chickens and a freezer full of frozen lemon juice thanks to my parent’s abundant tree so for me this was making use of products I already had at home so it is practically free. I am going to persevere with this for a while longer, with a little bit of tweaking here and there to get it just right for me, and see where it takes me.. For anyone else wanting to try just be sure to rinse with luke warm water so the egg doesn’t scramble!!

  12. Nicolle says:

    For the past fortnight or so I have just been using a super light conditioner in my hair. I find that shampoos are to harsh and often my scalp overproduces oil in response. As my hair is super fine and there isn’t much of it, I have to be careful, but so far so good (great actually !)

  13. Julie says:

    To share the experience of the opposite hair type, my hair is short and very, very fine. I thought about trying this for a while, and I finally did it about a week ago. I had been washing my hair with Trader Joe’s organic shampoo about once every 3-5 days before that but, like you, I wanted to keep it as simple as possible. I’ve heard a lot of people say this takes adjusting, but my first shampoo felt great! I used 1 tablespoon baking soda to 1 cup water and my hair felt incredibly soft afterwards. I don’t remember it ever feeling so soft! The next shampoo was the same. I’ll be curious to see how it works over time, but so far, I’m loving it!

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