Washing Hair with Baking Soda

by Ivory Soap

I finally tried washing my long hair with baking soda, and it works!

The Principle of the Thing

The equation of clean, as I have said many times, is:

(1)Temperature + (2)Agitation + (3)Chemistry + (4)Time = CLEAN

In the shower, you have hot water(1) going for you already.  Baking soda has two basic cleaning functions:  scouring(2) and raising the pH(3).  You are not using the scouring part on your hair; this is a dissolved solution.   If you just spray it all over your head and immediately rinse it out, you are only using two parts of the the cleaning equation.  If you additionally, scrub your head all over (2) and let it sit for a minute or two (4), you are most certainly clean.

But, what about shampoo?  Lather is great stuff.  It LIFTS away dirt.  The questions is how much lifting you need.  I don’t lead a life that embeds a lot of junk in my scalp.  But when I was a mountain guide, I probably couldn’t get away without it.

Here’s how you do it:

  1. Dissolve 1T per cup of water in an old alcohol or hydrogen peroxide or other squeezy type bottle.
  2. Draw all over your scalp with it.
  3. Scrub it in every inch of your scalp, twice. (This is overkill, but after you do it a few times, you’ll know how much you need.  It’s harder to adjust UP than DOWN.  Most of us spray-and-wipe-suburbanites aren’t used to exhaustive, effective scrubbing.)
  4. Leave it for a minute and do something else, like your oil face treatment!  (BTW, the vinegar rinse in step six will burn the fire out of your legs if freshly shaved.  Don’t shave here.)
  5. Rinse, rinse, rinse, until it “squeaks.”
  6. Follow with dilute apple cider vinegar in a similar bottle, same ratio, just enough coverage that as you rinse, you’re pretty sure it passed over everything, reacted any stray soda, and fixed the pH of your hair so you can run your fingers through it.
  7. Rinse.

Troubleshooting and Other Thoughts

  • I’ve heard people say that their hair was still greasy.  This is not about your scalp adjusting to the treatment.  This means it never got clean.  If this happens, you probably didn’t scrub effectively, or didn’t use enough coverage to change the pH everywhere, or didn’t rinse to the “squeak”.
  • (EDIT 7/21/12)No greasy for a week, but now it’s not working anymore.  My hair had this problem after the solution was two weeks old.  Ever buy liquid baking soda?  Me neither.  It loses it’s potency after a week or so.  Don’t mix up more than you will use in a week.
  • I’ve heard people say that they’re hair gets greasy, not immediately, but sooner than with shampoo.  This *may* be about your scalp adjusting to the change.  I can see that, but it’s also likely that you’re running your fingers through it more often ’cause you’re self conscious about not using shampoo.
  • I’ve heard people say that using apple cider vinegar makes their hair greasy.  I have *never* found this to be true or make any chemical sense.  But, wonders never cease.
  • I’ve heard people say that using too much wash solution will cause soda to collect as white sediment on your scalp.  I can’t imagine a situation where there would be enough soda in solution, that didn’t get rinsed out, that would then evaporate and crystallize on your scalp.   This is likely a scrubbing issue.  Your scalp isn’t being stripped; you need manual exfoliation.

Disclaimer: This post may contain a link to an affiliate.

{ 42 comments… read them below or add one }

Carrie @ In the sweet sunshine July 17, 2012 at 5:46 am

I’ve tried this in varying combinations over the last year or so and have never been able to get away with only using baking soda and acv. It might be my curly hair — I need moisture for my hair to do it’s thing. But I do incorporate both into my routine every couple of weeks (scrub my scalp with a combination of baking soda and a little conditioner, rinse, acv rinse, condition as usual) and have seen great results! The chemistry is there, I just need to tweak it a little to work for me.

Jessie : Improved July 17, 2012 at 6:03 am

I’ve actually been no-poo for over 3 years now (I have a page devoted to it on my blog), and I couldn’t be happier. A lot of people use the squirt bottle technique but I actually use a paste and work it into my scalp with my fingers, but to each her own. 😉 The hair getting greasy faster is probably about adjustment – it took my hair a good six weeks to get to the point where I could baking soda wash every 3 days and not get greasy. 3 years later and I only baking soda wash once a week with water washes in between!

holly July 17, 2012 at 8:20 am

I too have curly hair and have tried it without successful results. I think Carrie is right in that curls need plenty of moisture.

Jessie July 17, 2012 at 9:21 am

I found that with curls don’t dilute the acv as much (I actually use it straight up) and let it sit for a minute or two before rinsing. The more diluted it is, the less hydrated my hair feels. Also, once a week smear 1/2 tsp of olive oil through your hair, working it in about 1″ from the scalp all the way through the tips. Let it sit for 5 minutes (or more) and then do a wash like normal (possibly doing a second scrub if needed).

Sarah July 17, 2012 at 9:59 am

My girls and I have been doing this for a few months now and love it. Every head is different though, my oldest daughter only uses vinegar and her hair looks great, much thicker than it ever has! My younger daughter uses baking soda and puts the vinegar all over her hair, she has extremely thick hair and the tangles are much better than with shampoo and conditioner. I use baking soda all over and vinegar only on the tips as I have found that my oily hair was too oily with vinegar all over. My hair has thinned quite a bit after 5 kids and now it looks so much thicker and is very soft.

KallyLyn July 17, 2012 at 11:17 am

If you have curly hair, it may or may not work. I think it has to do with the “natural tangles” if you will, that traps junk. I agree with the other commenters, ACV needs to be used straight; and curls need more moisture. Also, having hard water will create that white buildup, which baking soda just doesn’t seem to scrub away.

Personally, after trying this for a little overr a year, in different combinations, I switched to using eggs. I just use one whole egg, beaten up, with maybe a few drops of an essential oil. Let sit, rinse, and use ACV if you want- though you probably won’t need as much, if any.

My hair is fabulous!

Robert Blackburn, Jr. July 17, 2012 at 11:18 am

Is there a problem with hair coloring? Is this harsher or milder than conventional shampoo on dyes?

joe July 17, 2012 at 3:44 pm

works great for me but i have really short hair, well in some places no hair 🙂

Betty July 17, 2012 at 4:03 pm

Can you use the vinegar on color treated hair?

monica July 17, 2012 at 9:06 pm

I have been using only baking soda to wash my hair, and only vinegar to condition for about two months now. I have veryyyyyy long, thick, fine hair. It took me a month for my hair to adjust. I also have well water that leaves mineral deposits on my hair which caused it to be very hay-like until I began a regimin of stripping the minerals off using vitamin c once a week. I just open a few vitamin c capsules in my hand in the shower and add a little baking soda and water, and scrub it in all the way to the ends, let sit under a shower cap for three minutes, then rinse. works great! I love the new texture my hair has, and I haven’t found grease to be a problem any ore than usual.

megan July 18, 2012 at 7:07 am

I have been using baking soda for over 2 years now. I tried using bar soap for a while like suggested in your book but it didn’t work for me and I returned to soda. I too use a paste and massage it all through mu hair and have never had a problem getting it to rinse clean from my hair. And I use white vinegar not acv. The smell just bothers me. I will probobly never use a other commercial hair treatment again.

Amber S. July 18, 2012 at 7:35 am

This gives me hope again! I’ve tried no poo before and did it for over a year. I LOVE the economical aspect of it, but had trouble with the texture. My hair looked ok, but felt grimey. Even after the 6 week adjustment period. It would feel great after the shower, but by the time I woke up in the morning, it was gross. I have lots of medium length, straight, VERY fine hair. I even do the spray bottle on the ends only, made me crazy. We have VERY hard water and I have even boiled the water before the BS to make sure it was dissolved. Hard water adds a lot to the equation and I just didn’t have time to figure it out. I shall try again- I would LOVE to not have to buy the expensive ‘green’ shampoo anymore. They aren’t all that great either- and I still get grime- I just have to pay a lot more for it! UGH!

Cassie July 18, 2012 at 8:32 am

I was no-poo for a year, using the same baking soda and vinegar combination you give here once a week. My hair was curlier than ever before, but there was a spot on the back of my head that was kind of matted. When I went to donate my hair, the stylist told me that she went to beauty school with a girl who used baking soda and vinegar, and her hair had started to fall out in spots. The mixture had started to alter the pH of her hair too much. Just a word of caution.

Lindsay July 18, 2012 at 8:46 am

I’ve been using your vinegar rinse for a couple of years now and will never go back to shampoo. I’ve been using homemade soap to wash my hair, but I’m going to try baking soda this week. Sounds fun! I will say to any skeptics, my hair dresser could not believe that I don’t use shampoo and conditioner. My hair is soft and has more body that it ever did with chemicals.

AuntiePatricia July 18, 2012 at 11:40 am

i love using baking soda and vinegar – have been using it for years. i tried shampoo – high quality, organic – a few times a few months ago, in a ‘pinch’ and my scalp felt bad after, so i returned to BS. and yes, i love the way my hair looks too on BS. i think if there are any problems with it, it might be due to the rinse process… it’s important to rinse, rinse, rinse to get all the baking soda out – it is a very strong astringent. the vinegar makes my hair easier to comb after washing. or if someone’s hair is oily after – i’d just use more BS in the water OR wash more than once. when my scalp is oily, i double the BS. and i also use a white plastic quart size tub to mix it in and pour it over so my hair is saturated at the scalp.

Jessica July 18, 2012 at 2:11 pm

I used this routine for about a year, then gave it up when I decided it was doing me more harm than good. The non-negotiable issue that will keep me from ever going back to baking soda is that is irritates my skin, causing nodular acne on my face, scalp, neck, and back. It took me that year to make the connection, but I know it’s consistent, standing up to repeated trials–when I use baking soda on my hair, I get about one very large, deep, swollen pimple per week. Without it, I never get any (still get little whiteheads and blackheads, though).

Erin July 21, 2012 at 11:23 am

To Jessica, is it possible you have some kind of allergy to the BS? That sounds quite unpleasant!

Regarding the “greasy” feeling with the ACV: I’ve been using the BS/ACV routine for probably about a year now, after the first few weeks it has been exclusively. Just in the past 2 to 3 months or so, I’ve found that my fine hair (which has always been rather silky in texture) doesn’t seem to need the ACV at all anymore. I don’t know if this could be in part because I have gotten to know my routine so well, I know what my scalp feels like oily vs. clean (still oily = add a little more solution and scrub again) and how well to rinse, etc., but I think it’s partly everybody’s personal “normal” pH level and what they need to use to maintain it. I have recently moved to a place with well water, so I’ll have to see how that affects my outcome!

amanda August 15, 2012 at 4:15 am

i’m fairly new to all these “chemical free” DIY things, and this sounds wonderful. (as great as the deodorant is.) My hair is really really thick and hangs all the way down past my back, but can’t decide if it wants to be greasy or not. (the lower part of my hair is really dry and full of split ends and at times the upper portion of my hair is dry or sometimes it can be a bit greasy no matter how i wash it). I was wondering 1. about the smell, will my hear smell vinegary all day (because my 3 yr old daughter is very picky about everything and gags when she smells anything she doesn’t like and i’d hate to “make her sick” everytime i pick her up) and 2. what can i do about the “split greasy/dry factor” that my hair has.

AuntiePatricia August 15, 2012 at 5:34 pm

amanda, hi!

i have a similar situation… i use the baking soda only on my scalp. just the process of rinsing it out takes care of the lower ends. and with very thick hair, i would rinse and rinse and rinse.

as for the vinegar smell… if you rinse it out, it should leave no residual odor. i did hear of a woman who forgot to rinse it out and she smelled like vinegar all day – like a salad. 🙂

Ivory Soap August 16, 2012 at 3:50 pm

the vinegar smell dissipates before you’re even out of the shower. I find that a fresh bottle of baking soda solution pulls out just enough natural oils on the scalp and I don’t scrub my ends at all.

Rachel December 18, 2012 at 9:40 am

I have been using BS and White Vinegar for about 4 months, now on my medium length, straight, fine hair. At first it worked great, but now my hair is noticeably greasy as soon as it dries. I’m wondering if seasonal changes mean that I should adjust the ratios…

I was applying the BS directly to my scalp and scrubbing like crazy. Is it possible to scrub too much? I’ve heard that touch stimulates sebum glands and cause them to produce more oil…

I will try making a paste and double washing to see if there is a difference… I just want this to work, my scalp is a million times better now that I’m on this routine (as I used to have really bad dandruff/flaking), it’s just that my hair looks gross. I really don’t want to go back to commercial shampoo. HELP PLEASE 🙂

Ivory Soap January 9, 2013 at 10:46 am

Hmmmm…I’ll take a stab. This routine will not get your hair clean by “slipping” through the strands like shampoo, so you have to pay attention to your hair directly, not just the scalp. Also, you must rinse until it feels squeaky and tangly. If that doesn’t happen, it’s not clean. Also, I never use baking soda outright. Try dissolving it first.

AuntiePatricia January 10, 2013 at 11:58 pm

ouch! Rachel, I combined BS & vinegar only once and my hair came out funky. I learned from that, that I couldn’t take shortcuts – that I needed to use them separately. I think there’s something about adding a base and an acid together than makes it not work.

This is my routine:
1) I put a tablespoon of BS in a few cups of water and work it gently through my hair, to clean it. Then I rinse the BS out thoroughly.
2) Then I put 1/4 cup of vinegar in a few cups of water and pour it over my hair and gently work it through, for a rinse. Then I rinse the vinegar out well.

I would hope that would return your hair to beautiful, healthy and happy.

Georgia January 18, 2013 at 9:07 am

Hi, I am so interested to try this but I’m worried it could damage my hair so I’m feeling a bit apprehensive. I have a friend who uses this method but she has extremely long thick straight her and it looks amazing!
My hair is blonde, very fine and thin, straight and gets greasy after a day or so. I’m absolutely DESPERATE to make my hair thicker, shinier and just look more healthy!
Can someone help me work out the amount of baking soda I should use? And should I even use vinegar? I’ve read that some women don’t need as well as the baking soda.
Any ideas? Thanks so much, this is a great website!

Sarah January 18, 2013 at 9:42 am

Georgia, my hair is about the same as yours and I have been using bs and vinegar for about 10 months. I love it. It took a couple weeks to get the grease worked out but now my hair doesn’t look greasy a day after washing it, I still wash it everyday just because I don’t feel clean if I don’t! I use bs every other day and vinegar everyday to deal with the tangles. I don’t measure any of it just guess, I put about 1/4 cup bs in an old honey container and fill it up with water, it usually lasts a week or so. I do vinegar about 1 part vinegar to 2 parts water. You have to just try and adjust for what works for your hair, I tried stretching out the days between bs but my hair got greasy, so what works for one person won’t necessarily work for another, my daughters and I all use different techniques with it to get it to work right. Good luck and definitely give it a try!

Sarah January 31, 2013 at 2:36 pm

Okay, first, the comment about hair falling out freaks me out a bit…

My husband gave me your book for Christmas (it was on my Amazon wish list) and I’ve loved it. After my shampoo ran out I started using my Dr. bronner’s liquid soap for my hair and body, since you talked about using natural soap for hair. Do you feel like baking soda is better? Do you ever use soap on your hair anymore?

You mentioned in your comment that the ACV smell dissipates before leaving the shower. I have not found that to be true for me. I can usually smell it off and on for several hours. Of course, I have very coarse hair that retains the smell of anything strong much longer than most other’s would have. Do you empty the contents of the bottle (mine’s an old small BBQ sauce bottle) or only use enough to cover your head? My understanding was to use the whole mixture. Same question for the baking soda solution. Also, some commenters mentioned using white vinegar. Are the properties the same as ACV? Are there any benefits of using ACV over white?

Laura February 19, 2013 at 1:15 pm

Hi, I’ve been doing the baking soda/ACV combo for almost 3 weeks now, and I’m loving how my hair feels! I’m waiting for that “transition funk” to come about, but so far so good. I had dandruff, build-up in my hair, itching, etc. My hair was gross. The itching literally disappeared after the first time, and my hair is shinier, and smoother. Now I can go about 4 days between washings, and even then my hair doesn’t really feel or look dirty, just feels sort of limp and weighed down if that makes any sense. The trouble I’m still having is that my scalp is still incredibly dry and flaky… does not smell or itch so I don’t think it’s dandruff…just flaking. Any thoughts???

AuntiePatricia March 5, 2013 at 9:10 am

laura, are you using a vinegar rinse? also, a cold water rinse at the end is good. but maybe there is too much hot water or too much baking soda, for both remove oils and might be causing dry skin. i think a lot of ‘dandruff’ is our scalp’s reaction to chemicals and dryness.

Amanda March 9, 2013 at 8:50 am

A great pH balanced homemade shampoo recipe. Does not strip your hair of oils, promotes growth, and is super easy to make with ingredients that are readily available.

Coconut Milk Aloe Shampoo
1/4 Cup Coconut Milk ( So Delicious Unsweetened)
2 – 3 Tablespoons of Aloe Vera Gel (Lily of the Desert)
1 drop – 1 tablespoon Nutrient Oil (Jojoba, Vitamin E, Almond) depending on your hair type
Essential Oils of your choice for scent and other properties.

Combine ingredients into a small spray bottle, shake well. Wet your hair, apply to scalp only, massage well using circular motions. Let rest for 2 minutes or up to 30. Rinse well, massaging again. Keep remaining shampoo in your fridge, shelf life depends on the coconut milk. I buy a half gallon, and freeze it in ice cube trays. 3 cubes = 1/4 Cup. Watch this tutorial, explains the pH of hair and why it’s important not to disrupt it:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-i3MC4d-HmY

Great site at which I found this recipe and other natural homemade products:

Portland March 15, 2013 at 5:09 am

Is there anything Baking Soda cant do!

Mim April 21, 2013 at 7:48 pm

Found the first few times of using baking soda my hair felt very heavy and greasy, which didn’t make sense as i wasn’t *adding* grease to the hair… figured that therefore it must be something already in the hair 😉 I’m sure we’ve all had experience of cheap silicone items going sticky/greasy (playstation handsets come to mind >.<) The silicones they put in shampoos and conditioners build up and take quite a while to strip off the hair, even using baking soda LOL but now I've cleaned them off my hair i've found the shaft can finally absorb moisture and it's condition is miles better 🙂

Paula May 1, 2013 at 11:39 am

This post has been stuck in my mind for ages, and I finally decided to try no ‘poo for real 2 weeks ago. I’d sort of done it before, but now I was ready. And I love it! I posted about my experiences on my website, and linked back to this one as my favorite reference. Thank you so much!

Colette May 1, 2013 at 9:39 pm

I had been using the no poo method for a few weeks when I found your site. Your simple steps make much more sense than any other I have read. I knew immediately where I had been going wrong. I also love your ideas on dishwasher detergent and washing powder and they both work great. Since going no poo and less chemical though my skin (not 0n my scalp) but my face and shoulders mainly is itching. It makes me wonder if the no poo is irritating my skin. It started with a rash on my forehead and has now progressed to jaw, shoulders and arms. Has anyone else had problems with the vinegar rinse. I’m thinking vinegar since I use baking soda in other ways (homemade deodorant etc) and have had no problems.

Thanks for a great blog,


Ivory Soap May 2, 2013 at 3:26 pm

Awwww, thanks!

Sarah May 2, 2013 at 9:21 pm

My husband had itching problems too and we determined it was the vinegar, as soon as he stopped using vinegar the itching stopped.

Mim May 2, 2013 at 9:44 pm

Were you using apple cider vinegar, rather than ordinary white vinegar? It’s a bit less acidic; I use about 1 part vinegar to 2 parts water and it works nicely, but I have a hide like an elephant 😉

Sarah May 2, 2013 at 9:48 pm

He was using ACV and it was 1 part vinegar to 2 parts water. I still use it and it doesn’t bother me, just him, so he went back to regular shampoo. I am loving it though!

Mandy May 6, 2013 at 8:15 am

I am interested in trying this. Do any of you use other products (such as hair gel) on your hair? I am curious as to how they would “get along” with the baking soda and vinegar – or does your hair adjust and behave well enough that you don’t need styling products?

Kass May 7, 2013 at 3:06 pm

Question: So, one would use the vinegar/soda wash once a week, but still rinse hair with just water every day or every other day? I am transitioning from every day shampoo/conditioner routine and am nervous about my hair looking dirty, especially since I run outside in the sun almost every day and definitely sweat.
Or are you completely dry between vinegar/soda washes? Even post-work out. Thank you!

Joan Rumer June 25, 2013 at 10:20 am

Does anyone get a salty taste in there mouth from the BS? I was at the begining but now turn my head down when I do it so I don’t swallow any water in my mouth. It has gotten better. I just towel dry by patting my hair then I can slowly pick it out and air dry it. Seems fuller since I do have a perm. I was planning a new perm should I use regular shampoo before I get it??
Thanks, Joan

AuntiePatricia July 4, 2013 at 12:47 pm

joan, yes, baking soda is sodium bicarbonate, so it tastes like sodium. some people intentionally drink it a few times a day to help their cancer go away… as well as other diseases. might want to google its uses. no need to fear.

Candace July 28, 2013 at 7:37 am

First of all, I love your blog and your book, and have had great success with many of your recipes and approaches. Especially my 1st veggie garden–thank you so much! That said, washing with the baking soda and acv is my one big failure. I love this idea and tried it last April. I only tried it 2 or 3 times. It left my hair dry, coated feeling and knotted and I actually started losing hair for four months after. (With one patch of particular damage near the top front.) I don’t know if I used too much baking soda for my hair, or if my apple cider vinegar was too cheap at the time (no “mother” in it). Or of our hard water complicated things or if this just cannot be used with highlighted hair. (It was not over-processed or damaged highlighted hair, it felt very soft and looked healthy.) Though I really want a natural approach and am envious of all the other successful comments here, I am afraid to try again. Maybe I will try the coconut milk approach above and see if that works. If you have any feedback on whether you think I could have done wrong, let me know.

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