Thursday, June 20, 2013

My First Foray into the No-Shampoo Method

As of today, it's been 2 months since I last used shampoo, and my hair has truly never felt cleaner.

Let me give that statement a bit of context.

I've always had "oily hair". I needed to wash every other day with two helpings (two!) of cheap Suave shampoo. Else my hair would end up looking greasy.... as in, "Is it raining outside?" greasy.

I've known for a long time that the excessive use of shampoo probably wasn't really doing my hair any favors (due to stripping the natural oils from my hair and whatnot). Thus, after much mental debate, I finally decided to take the plunge in April and ditch the shampoo. Entirely.

I had happened upon this easy-to-read (and recommended) article where the author lists 10 things she's used to wash her hair as alternatives to shampoo. Besides plain water, using Baking Soda paste and/or a splash of Apple Cider Vinegar (henceforth known as ACV) in water seemed the simplest, so that's what I went for to start.

Buying in bulk, yeah!

Again, my hair "type" is as follows: very straight, "oily", about average thickness, and currently very short. Everyone's hair is different, and thus your hair's reaction and your overall experience may end up quite different than mine! My main point in sharing my experience, though, is to provide a look into how forgoing shampoo can work out, and to provide a "you can do it, too!" to anyone on the fence about trying it.

The Experiment

To be honest, I went into this experiment expecting my hair to look terrible and greasy and gross for several weeks, if not several months, and just hoping I could power through and possibly emerge with acceptable-looking hair at the end of it all.

For about the first week, I washed with a Baking Soda paste alone every other day, making sure to scrub out my hair well with just water before and after. I was pleasantly surprised to find that, although my hair didn't feel as "clean" in the shower as it had when I had been using shampoo (it still felt like there was some grease in it), it looked really pretty clean once dry. In fact, that first week I found my hair almost *too* dry, so I supplemented the hair-washing routine with a splash of ACV in about half a cup of water henceforward.

For the next several weeks, I used  a "Baking Soda followed by ACV" routine every other day. My hair still seemed to feel a little "greasy" in the shower (although the ACV seemed to do a good job of cutting this down), but it looked fine and clean once dry. I then started trying washing with just water (and an ACV rinse) every second time or so, with good results. As someone who had never been able to get by with more than a couple of days of no washing - or even with just using water rather than shampoo - this seemed nothing short of amazing to me!

Now, two months in, I'm finding that I only feel the need to use Baking Soda a couple of times a week, if that; my hair does just fine with a water scrub and the splash of ACV. My hair has also recently started feeling clean and non-greasy in the shower as well as out - there really seems to be much less of any oily buildup.

(FYI, it's way harder to take a picture of one's own hair than it seems. I didn't put any gel in my hair this morning and let it dry funny to try to best show that it is Decidedly Not Greasy! Hopefully you can sort of tell.
Also, I need a haircut.)

And for those wondering - yes, Apple Cider Vinegar does have a rather strong smell to it. I do still notice the smell after rinsing right when I get out of the shower and my hair is still wet (note that I have a very sensitive sense of smell). But once my hair is dry, any sort of residual smell is undetectable. I even asked a few trusted family members/friends to smell my hair to check this, and they all reported that "your hair smells like hair." Woo!

The Cost

Since thriftiness is my thing, I decided to chart out how much washing with the Baking Soda and ACV was costing vs. my old shampoo routine. The results? Very interesting (to other intrigued-by-math nerds).

Baking Soda prices vary, of course, depending on region and amount bought, but the 13.5 lb bag above cost $6.79 (and apparently, you can also use it to clean your pool!). The "serving size" is listed as 1/8 tsp, and there are 10,863 servings in the bag. Estimating that one hair wash takes about 1 tsp (this will vary based on hair length, preference, etc), the cost of the hair wash would be $0.005, or half a cent.

Similarly, Apple Cider Vinegar prices vary, but the 32oz bottle pictured above was $1.98. I use a "splash" of ACV mixed with water in a small plastic cup; I estimate one wash uses roughly 1 Tbsp. One "serving" is listed as 1 Tbsp, and there are 63 servings in the bottle, making the cost of the hair wash $0.0314, or about 3 cents.
[for comparison's sake, I could buy a gallon of Great Value ACV for $3.83, bringing the cost per wash down to $0.015, or I could buy a gallon of organic Bragg ACV for $19.09, making cost per wash $0.075]

Thus, using the prices above, a wash with both Baking Soda and ACV would cost about 3 and half cents per wash. Using just ACV would be 3 cents, just Baking Soda 1/2 a cent, and using water alone is "free".

Figuring out "cost per wash" of shampoo is a little trickier, as there aren't any "serving sizes" listed. A bit of online research revealed a vast variety in the amount of shampoo people used per wash. "About quarter sized" seemed to be average/recommended, but there were a good number of people saying that they used "a palmful" of shampoo per wash! I tested the amount I used (roughly quarter-sized), and it's about 1 tsp [5ml]. Since I would wash twice, it's safe to assume that I was using about 2 tsp [10ml] of shampoo per wash. A 665ml bottle, then, would yield about 66.5 hair washes for me. At $1.98 a bottle for my current shampoo, it was costing me $0.0297 per wash, or about 3 cents.

For me, then, the cost of a wash for my cheap shampoo (3 cents) is a bit less than the cost of a wash with Apple Cider Vinegar and Baking Soda together (3.5 cents). If I wanted, I could bring the cost of a Baking Soda/ACV wash down to 2 cents if I bought ACV in cheap bulk. I could also use just Baking Soda alone to bring the cost down, but that alone tends to make my hair feel dry. Washing with water alone would obviously be the cheapest of all, and I feel that as my hair continues to adjust, I'll be able to do this more and more often.

The above is, of course, a very individualized price discussion made up of rough estimates. Perhaps your default shampoo costs much more than $1.98 and you also use conditioner. Maybe Baking Soda costs more in your area. Maybe you use much smaller or much higher amounts than I calculated for my individual preferences. Maybe you don't even want to use Baking Soda or Apple Cider Vinegar and would rather use one of the other suggestions in Lulastic's article - or you would prefer something like a shampoo bar. Whatever your situation, you can usually fairly easily calculate out the cost to know what various options would cost you. In my case, despite the fact that there isn't a huge difference in cost that my new natural routine has over my old, I much prefer it for several reasons:

1. I don't get exposed to any "unnatural" or unknown ingredients, and I create less waste overall.
2. Both Baking Soda and ACV have many other uses besides hair-washing; multi-use products tend to save time, money, and space.
And most importantly,
3. My hair is much cleaner and happier using the "natural" household ingredients I've tried vs. using shampoo.

So, have you ever tried going shampoo-free? How did it work out? If you've never tried it, would you ever?

For a bit more further reading, VenusianGlow has a post on hair care, and Lulastic details some of the misadventures of her No-shampoo journey and gives a one-year update.


  1. This is really interesting - I have always assumed I would never be able to go the "no poo" route, since my hair is very sleek also and ends up looking like an oil slick about 36 hours after a wash. However, your post is making me believe that it might be possible! I had a question for you though - it sounds like you use some styling products, do you feel the baking soda/ACV/water rinse is effective at clearing the residues from your hair?

    1. Leslie - it's really worth a try! I feel I got lucky that I had such good success with the Baking Soda/ACV combo; I think what my hair mostly needed was a break from the frequent oil-stripping that I was giving it with the frequent shampoo usage.

      I do sometimes use a basic Studio Line hair gel, and find that my current hair washing routine gets rid of any residue. For the first month and a half or so, I was noticing more of a greasy build-up when I scrubbed out my hair (not sure how much the gel played into this), but now I don't notice this.

  2. I have long curly hair, lightweight and frizzy in texture. I also use hair spray quite a lot as this is the only way to get my hair to hold a shape. I usually need a lot of lather and conditioner to keep my hair untangled. Do you think it even makes sense for me to try this method? I

    1. Since I have very straight hair, I personally have no idea about the effectiveness of the method I used on other hair types :( From what I've read, though, it seems that those with curly hair do best with using sulfate-free shampoo and/or a good conditioner as a sort of "no-shampoo" method. Baking Soda/ACV seems like it may be less effective for curly hair, but everyone's experience is very individual.

      There seems to be a lot of informative articles out there to check out (most seem to be going off "The 'Curly Girl' Method"). If there are any other curly-haired ladies out there who've tried going no-shampoo to some degree, I hope they'll share how it worked for them!

      Great question, thanks for asking! :)

    2. Have you ever heard of The Curly Girl Handbook, by Lorraine Massey? I highly recommend it for anyone with curly hair; I've found it to be invaluable.

  3. Yay! Welcome to the no-shampoo brigade. I haven't washed my hair with anything but water for a year and a half now. Since laziness was a big factor in giving up the shampoo and conditioner (and loathing the feeling of conditioner) I went straight to water-washing. My hair has only been a couple of inches long for most of my time water washing, but I'm growing it out now, so that should be interesting.

    My hair is fine, wavy when short and straight when long and prone to looking greasy also. I read that not washing with shampoo can change your hair's texture, so I'm really hoping mine will have more body. I love wild hair, but the best my hair can do is fluffy :(

    I'd say my hair is more difficult to manage and more greasy without using shampoo, but I prefer it anyway. It always feels kind of greasy when it's wet - more of a heavy kind of grease than oily though - and smells a bit funny, but when it's dry it's totally fine, although an ex-boyfriend described running his hand through it as like an animal - you know how animal fur has that very slight layer of greasiness to keep water out?

    The biggest reason I continue to water wash is that it makes my hair dye last way longer than when I use shampoo xD

    1. That's really interesting to hear - I'm moving slowly towards using just water to wash. I'll try to update again in a few months!

      I'd been getting a similar feel as you describe when my hair is wet (sort of a heavy greasy feel), but that's diminished more and more recently. I feel like using the bit of Apple Cider Vinegar for a few months has helped cut that out - maybe it would help you if you tried it?

  4. This is really interesting Christine! You're so brave.
    I have to laugh at your surprise that some people use a "palmful" of shampoo - I know you used to have long hair! ;) Up until I cut my hair off again recently (and by cut my hair off I mean chin length, not pixie) and it had not been thinned in a while, I was using a lot of shampoo.

    I think the cost difference would be a lot more dramatic for those of us who use Pantene, for example. (Although I always used 2-in-1 because I'm lazy)

    Ok one more thing - you only used shampoo?! Granted I am not familiar with short short hair, but is this what you've always done? I have similarly oily hair - must wash every other day or hide in a slicked back pony tail (for real- slicked) but I've always used at least a little bit of conditioner, especially on the long part/ staying away from the scalp. I have to wonder if your hair was extra oily because you weren't giving it any conditioner....hmmm. BUT you know what? It's YOUR hair you've been living with YOUR whole life so I'm sure you know! :D I'm just curious. :P

    1. Even when my hair was my longest, I used maybe a little bigger than quarter dollop, so I guess that's why I was surprised to read that! But I'm also one of those people that tries to use as "less as possible", so... maybe I'm just weird ;)

      I've also used Head and Shoulders and Pantene in the past, which are both admittedly more expensive than Suave - but I figured it was just easiest to use the shampoo I used most often as the example. Savings are definitely MUCH more if you're using pricier shampoo.

      I've only rarely ever used conditioner because, interestingly, it always makes my hair even more greasy (as in, I would have to wash it every day rather than every other day)!

      If you ever decide to try any no-shampoo methods, I'd be interested in hearing how it works, as it sounds like we have fairly similar hair types! :)

  5. I found this to be fascinating. Like you, I have naturally oily hair (in large part because the hair is fine), and if I do not shampoo daily, my hair turns very greasy. It clumps together and generally looks dirty, and friends of mine (all with thick hair) kept saying to scrap shampoo, use conditioner only, and "power through" the gross phase. Well, I tried that for two weeks when I was still working from home and was absolutely miserable. Your method sounds better because there's actually a "cleaning" component. I have a stockpile of shampoo right now, but when it's done, I'll try this. Are you following up with conditioner? I'm not sure I should scrap that because I heat style my hair, but maybe I could do without the shampoo.

    1. Conditioner only has it's best results on ladies with curly or wavy hair. From what I've seen, your hair is pretty straight. Additionally, you can only use water soluble conditioners, which most just aren't.

      I recommend shampoos with less ingredients because they make my hair feel better, and helped ween me off shampooing so often (this saves so much money). I personally use Morrocco Method, even if I don't actually subscribe to the same pseudoscientific notions that the owner does, it works and smells really nice.

  6. Why did you not want to use natural shampoos from the healthfood shop? The proper ones that are sulfate free and made up of real ingredients, I mean...

    1. Lynn, I guess it's a bit of combination between laziness (not wanting to take the time to research all the different brands, and then go out and try to find any of them) and expense (baking soda is about as cheap as it gets!). I may try natural shampoos someday, but I feel that personally, I don't really "need" them and wanted to try to wean myself off my dependence on any shampoo :) However, natural, sulfate-free shampoo is a great option for many!

  7. Very interesting! I always told myself that I could never try to go shampoo-less because of working in an office and having to be in the public eye on a daily basis. Now I'm a stay at home mom and it's summer so my hair is always in a ponytail anyway. My hair is fairly thick and wavy and it starts to get greasy in about 24 hours, fact that has always frustrated me. I usually shampoo it every other day. Maybe I should give the baking soda a shot.

  8. This is interesting and made me want to look into it more. To be honest I am skeptical of how well it would work for me.. I also have very oily blondish colour hair that requires daily shampoo or it looks very dirty. It can start to look oily within 12 hours of washing. I also have longer hair than yourself, and wonder how effective this method is for hair longer than shoulder length for example. your post has though as I said, made me want to look into it more. (I also do not use conditioner other than a little bit on the neds of my hair- definitely not on the roots as a) I have fine hair and it can weigh it down and b) it makes it oilier!.)

  9. Some shampoo leave behind residue on your hair. So your hair will be harmed, dulled, greased by the residue byproducts. In spite of residue most hair type are able to keep its good position. So you should try to avoid the shampoo which is not Anti-Residue. The Anti-Residue Shampoo is best shampoo for oily hair