10 Surprising Ways to Clean Your Hair Without Shampoo

(Last Updated On: September 17, 2019)

Why is hair care so difficult? It seems like everyone is fighting a constant battle against dry hair, oily hair, brittle hair, dull hair, frizzy hair, hair with split ends, or hair with strands that have kinked.

There’s a dizzying array of hair care products out there, However, hairdressing scissors are one of the most important products when it comes to improving your hair’s growth, from bargain-basement shampoos to pricy professional formulas, conditioners for every possible hair care calamity, and endless restorative serums and hair packs.

They all come in attractive packaging and when you pop the top, they all smell really good. They also all have two other things in common.

  • One – they promise healthy, soft, shiny, trouble free hair
  • Two – they actually wreck your hair

Hair ‘care’ really is a misnomer with these products. The companies that produce the brands couldn’t care less about the health and condition of your hair. People with healthy hair wouldn’t need to buy their products.

They create shampoos made with harsh detergents that ruin your hair, then you need to spend more money on creme rinses and serums to mask the damage. Not fix the damage, just mask it.

The natural oil that your scalp produces is constantly washed away, and it doesn’t get a chance to work its way along the hair strands to offer natural condition and shine – like it’s supposed to.

A conditioner might work for you to begin with, but soon you have to switch because as the damage to your hair progresses you need stronger and stronger conditioners.

Then you get a haircut which removes the most damaged hair that’s been subjected to hair ‘care’ products for the longest, and things aren’t so bad for the next little while.

Conditioners don’t really condition your hair either. They leave a fine layer of product coating each hair strand, this smooths out the damaged strand and stops it tangling. And it’s actually that film that shines, not your poor, suffering hair.

The vast majority of hair care brands are owned by just a few mega companies, it’s the same with food brands, drink brands, clothing brands, even banks, airlines and media companies.

Even though we’re led to believe that we have choice via all of these different brands, that choice is delivered by a few global companies with just one goal. To make as much money as they can, by using the cheapest ingredients possible, and then advertise the goods as something we just gotta have.

These companies are responsible for wrecking the world’s water supplies with their effluent, for wrecking the air with their pollution, for filling the earth up with garbage that won’t degrade for a million years and for choking the oceans with plastic that kills marine life.

Then they use the media companies that they own to divert attention from the wreckage they’ve created, and they buy politicians to keep their wheels greased and their money train moving along.

Toot toot nothing to see.

They could play nice and produce goods responsibly but they don’t, because all they care about is their bottom line.

They don’t care about the only planet we have to call home and they sure as hell don’t care about the state of the hair on your head.

The global shampoo market is forecast to be worth almost $26 billion by 2019. That’s a whole lot of money spent on something that causes so much damage.

So how about we stop giving them so much of our money? And we can make a start on that by waving goodbye to their cruddy shampoos and conditioners.

Go Natural

Whether you’re a proponent of evolution, or you believe that god put mankind on this wonderful rock hurtling through space, you’ve got to admit that we turned out pretty well.

Our bodies are an amazing achievement. We’re magnificently complex, but we’re also beautifully simple. Strip the modern world away and our needs are very few.

  • Shelter from the elements
  • Healthy food
  • Clean water
  • Companionship
  • Love
  • Purpose

That’s it. When the human body has clean food and water, a protected environment, and a sense of belonging and being loved, things tick along nicely. Barring unfortunate encounters with infectious diseases or broken bones our bodies can pretty much take care of themselves.

Light surface dirt is shed from our skin as dead cells continually slough off 24 hours a day, and a rinse with clean water freshens us up.

A clean diet makes body odor a rarity because the colonies of bacteria living on our skin have the right balance.

When we eat badly (seduced by those shiny brands) the balance of bacteria shifts inside our bodies (which causes its own set of problems) and the bacteria on our skin change. We get more of the type of bacteria that cause body odor when they digest our sweat.

When you can freshen up with warm water and when you don’t need to resort to harsh soaps and body washes all of the time, your skin gets to hold onto its sebum, it doesn’t get dried out, irritated or aggravated by chemicals that the human body has trouble dealing with.

We’ve been on this planet for millions of years, but we’ve only been exposed to these chemical brews for less than one hundred years. Our bodies don’t know what’s going on!

It’s the same deal with hair. Our bodies have a process for everything. If we needed shampoo to clean our hair, it would probably squirt out from the palms of our hands ready to apply.

Hair that isn’t subjected to daily chemical assault is healthy hair (as long as a relatively good diet is being followed).

Left alone, hair follicles regulate sebum production to just the right level to form protection for the skin on the scalp and the hair strands, they don’t overproduce greasy sebum in reaction to a daily dose of harsh oil stripping shampoos.

Hair care is easy. We’ve made it hard for ourselves by buying into the idea that we need chemicals concoctions cooked up in huge vats in factories to make our hair look good.

What’s in those shampoo bottles, anyway? Run off to your bathroom and grab your bottle of shampoo. Do you know what any of those ingredients are? Can you even pronounce them? They’re pretty tongue twisty, and they’re good for making your eyes glaze over.

Do you know how they react with one another, or how they react with the other chemicals in the other products that you use? Are you happy running that experiment on yourself? On your kids?

Some of the ingredients in shampoos are known carcinogens, others are hormone disruptors, others can cause allergies, damage to your airways and some are even neurotoxins – yep they’re wrecking your hair and scrambling your brain.

Sure, the manufactures say that those poisons are in amounts too small to cause damage. Well duh!

They aren’t exactly going to stand there and say “Hey guys, you know, what’s a bit of poison here and there, you’ve got to die of something don’t you!”

The point is none of those chemicals should be anywhere near a product designed to go on our bodies.

I make soap. It’s one of my hobbies. I can make a great skin cleanser and shampoo with just three ingredients. Olive oil, water and lye. The lye reacts with the fat and saponifies it. Hey presto, soap.

I can add any number of other rich oils and nut butters, herbs, milks, honey, and essential oils to make it even more luxurious.

And with the exception of the lye and the essential oils I can eat all of those ingredients. I can pronounce them too!

You can buy soaps and shampoos made that way from small artisanal companies. Why can’t Proctor and Gamble or Unilever ditch their toxic brews and make products in the same way? And why the heck can’t they sell their products in fully recyclable or compostable packaging? They could if they wanted to. They could if they cared about anything besides making more money.

So here’s the good news. You can clean your hair and make it truly healthy with natural ingredients.

  • No more frizz, no more breaks or split ends.
  • No more hair overloaded with grease, or at the other extreme hair stripped drier than a desert.
  • No more tangles, and no more needing to wash your hair every day because product residue has attracted dirt and dust like a garbage can on a hot day attracts flies.

One hundred years ago people used to wash their hair once every month or couple of weeks. By the 1950’s with the advent of widely available, very affordable and heavily advertised shampoos people were shampooing once a week. Today the average American washes their hair 5 times a week, and huge number of people can’t imagine not washing their hair every day.

Did we all develop really mucky hair in the space of a few decades, or did the gunk manufactures decide that they could shake more cash out of our pockets by floating the notion that daily hair washing was somehow a good thing?

Your hair will get along just fine with less frequent washing. It will reward you with condition and shine if you just leave it alone most days. An added bonus is that once your hair regains its health, it will also gain some body. So if you’re battling flat lifeless locks and spending an age trying to blow dry some oomph into your hair, you’ll be able to wave all of that goodbye too.

Okay then let’s get down to business.

1. Apple Cider Vinegar

Apple Cider Vinegar

This is hands down the easiest and – I think – the most effective way to transition away from shampoo. ACV removes dirt, grease and product build up and it conditions your hair while it’s at it.

Regular conditioners coat your hair to make it behave. ACV works with the structure of your hair instead. Each hair strand is composed of overlapping layers, like shingles on a roof. Shampoo roughs them up. Without treatment they stay open and leave the inner structure of your hair exposed. Your hair will lose its precious moisture and your hair will also tangle like crazy.

Conditioner coats the roughened cuticle and weighs it back down. ACV on the other hand just creates the right slightly acidic environment that your hair needs and it smooths right back down. No fuss, no heavy conditioner.

ACV also tackles dandruff!

Mix about 4 tablespoons of ACV with 8 ounces of water. Use a jug or a squeeze bottle to apply the rinse to your hair. Use a little bit at a time and massage it through your hair as though you were shampooing.

Rinse with clean water.

The only thing you have to be careful with is keeping the rinse away from your eyes. It will sting if it trickles down.

Your hair won’t smell of vinegar once it dries and it will be squeaky clean, soft and shiny.

2. Honey

Honey cleanses and moisturizes. It also has antibacterial and antifungal properties which makes it a good choice if you have dandruff.

All you need is one tablespoon of honey and 3 tablespoons of water. Mix together (it will be fairly watery) and apply to damp hair. Massage into your scalp and through your hair, then rinse.

Only make up enough to use each time that you wash, it can get moldy if you make a bottle full at a time.

3. Egg

Egg yolk contains an emulsifier called lecithin. It works to mix the oil in your hair with water which you can then easily rinse away. It might sound weird and a bit gross, but egg will cut through grease and dirt and leave you hair super soft and shiny.

Crack two eggs into a bowl and whip them up. You can add a teaspoon of olive oil if your hair is very dry or a couple of teaspoons of lemon juice if you need to remove product buildup.

If your hair is very oily, use the egg mixture on dry hair. Massage it in well and then rinse out. Other wise wet hair, apply the egg wash and then rinse out.

4. Bentonite Clay

Bentonite clay gets your hair really clean, and it’s safe enough to eat. You can make cleansing face masks with it too. All you need to do is mix a gloopy paste (a bit like a whipped up egg) with a couple of tablespoons of clay and a little warm water.

Massage the clay through your hair and rinse well. Follow up with an ACV or lemon juice rinse to smooth your hair shafts.

This is a good shampoo alternative to use if you have thick greasy hair, but it can be a too drying for fine hair.

Bentonite clay makes a good cleanser for transitioning away from shampoo until your hair settles down, and for an occasional deep clean.

5. Shampoo Bars

Shampoo bars are soaps formulated to wash your hair, but instead of being made with detergents they are made with natural, moisturizing ingredients. You can make your own shampoo bars if you want to get into soap making. Soap production uses a method called cold process soap making to produce solid bars.

It’s easy and it’s fun! Take a look at Soap Queen to learn how.

Making soap not your style? No problem, you can buy amazing shampoo bars from Chagrin Valley soaps. All of their products are certified organic and you’ll recognize all of the ingredients on their lists – no tongue twisty ingredients in sight!

How does a coconut milk bar sound? Or how about henna and strawberry, lavender and spice, chamomile and citrus, or rosemary and lavender.

6. No Poo

If your hair isn’t too greasy, you can switch to no poo right away, otherwise transition using one of the other methods. No poo simply means no shampoo. You can go full no poo and just wash your hair with water, or you can stick with an ACV shampoo for example. Your choice.

A good way to work with the no poo method, is to wash your hair with warm water and a finger massage in the shower each day and then use a natural cleanser once a week.

Once your hair gets used to not being subjected to harsh shampoos, it will settle down, and after the transition period is over you will have healthy, shiny hair without grease!

If you find that your hair has too much oil for your liking in between ‘shampoos’ use the ultimate dry shampoo – a microfiber towel.

Take a section of hair at a time and gently squeeze it in the towel, any grease will soak into the towel and your hair will look and feel great.

7. Lemon Juice

Lemon Juice

Lemon juice works in the same way as ACV. It’s a mild acid that cleans and smooths your hair. Lemon juice smells lovely and fresh too. If you want to lighten your hair, you don’t even need to rinse it out, just leave the juice in your hair and sit in the sun for a little while.

Make sure that you don’t get the lemon juice into your eyes because it will sting.

8. Brushing

Brushing with a natural bristle brush distributes your natural oil throughout your hair, and any excess oil collects on the bristles of the brush. Then all that you have to do is wash your brush and let it dry. Dry brushing is good for use in between other cleansing methods.

9. Soap Nuts

Soap nuts are better known as a natural soap to use in place of laundry detergent, but they make a really great mild natural shampoo.

Soap nuts come from trees in the same family as the Lychee. The soap nut berries contain natural saponins which are mild but effective cleansers.

All you have to do is simmer a handful of soap nuts in water and then strain the liquid to use as shampoo.

  • Place 6 or 7 soap nuts in a medium saucepan along with 2 cups of the water and heat to boiling.
  • Turn down the heat and simmer for 20 minutes.
  • Add another cup of water and simmer again for 10 minutes.
  • Remove from heat and leave to cool down.
  • Strain the liquid to remove the soap nut berries.
  • Store the liquid in a jar in the fridge until you need to use it.
  • Use a small amount of the liquid just as you would use shampoo.

Soap nuts don’t foam like shampoo. Shampoo has an added foaming agent to make the lather. The lather doesn’t clean anything, but people expect bubbles in shampoo, so an extra unnecessary chemical goes into the bottles. It’s strange at first to wash your hair without lather but you’ll quickly get used to it and you’ll appreciate how easy it to rinse your hair too.

10. DIY Shampoo

  • ¼ cup coconut milk
  • ¼  cup liquid Castile soap
  • 20 drops of your favorite essential oils blend
  • For dry hair add ½ teaspoon of olive or almond oil
  1. Add all of the ingredients to an old shampoo bottle
  2. Shake well to mix.
  3. Keep in shower for up to a month, or longer if you add 4 drops of grapefruit seed extract
  4. Shake before each use to mix the ingredients.
  5. Use about a teaspoon of the soap mix each time you wash your hair.

You can mix and match all of the shampoo alternatives. Play around and come up with your perfect hair cleanser.

Written by Irina Radosevic MD
Irina graduated from the University of Belgrade, School of Medicine as a Doctor of Medicine (MD) and spent over 3 years working in the Clinical Hospital Center Zvezdara, in the Department of Emergency Medicine. She also undertook a postgraduate in Cardiology from the same University and had previously worked for over a year as a Physician and Nutritionist Dietitian for the Fitness club Green Zone. She eventually left her chaotic but fulfilling job in the ER to pursue her passion of writing, travelling and mountain climbing which has included writing a first aid course for the alpine club of Belgrade. Irina currently works as a VA for PintMedia focusing on medical and travel writing. Feel free to connect with Irina on LinkedIn and FaceBook. Her CV can be seen here.