Six Months No-Poo

january-50I’ve gone without shampoo (aka “no-poo”) several times unsuccessfully in the past. There are various ways to go no-poo – from simply abstaining from shampoo forevermore to using castile soap instead – but I use the most common version: a baking soda rinse followed by apple cider vinegar. The theory is that the baking soda helps clean out the gunk in your hair, but leaves it dry and brittle at the wrong pH. Apple cider vinegar is the conditioner – it restores the pH and makes your hair soft and shiny again.

On my first few tries, my hair inevitably would just feel too greasy, and I’d cave and use shampoo again. But I kept trying, partially because I couldn’t be bothered to buy my own shampoo at that point, and partially because I henna my hair, and conventional ‘poo drains the color quickly. I’d noticed with no-poo that the color stuck around longer – months longer.

My hair’s history can be summed up in one word: oily. Back when I lived in hot, humid Florida, I’d sometimes wash my hair twice a day. Eve in the not-so-humid desert, I still found myself washing my hair every day, just to keep the gross at bay. I’d try to stretch it out, but couldn’t make it past day two, feeling as if someone had dumped olive oil all over my head. Yuck.

But I’ve also been henna-ing my hair for over a decade, and that is a process I don’t like repeating often. Unfortunately, it fades quickly when I wash it so often, so I was redoing it every month or so. Not fun. Also, orange hands.

The first time I tried no-poo, it was actually more because I was on a hippy, no abrasive chemicals trip coming off my first Whole30. I lasted a whole two weeks before giving up. It was just awful. My hair looked worse and worse every day, more like a helmet than anything. It also felt awful. I persevered for those two weeks because I’d read that it took some time for your hair to get used to the change, but it just wasn’t worth all the oil.

(Side note: It probably didn’t help that I tried this during monsoon season, the only time it’s remotely humid here, btw.)

I tried a few more times after that, always going through the same greasy-monster-on-my-head game before throwing in the towel. Once I made it a full month. I could tell the grease had improved slightly, but my hair wasn’t nearly as awesome as the internet had promised.

Finally, I sat down and actually read a little bit more about the process, and about the troubles others’d had. That’s when I discovered that all sorts of things make a difference as to how well the no-poo process works. Like soft water vs hard, how long you leave the vinegar in, how much baking soda you use, what kind of hair you have, etc etc. You know. Basic chemistry.

Soft water is ideal with the baking soda method, because the extra minerals in hard water just don’t jive well with baking soda. I had noticed it didn’t clean as effectively but it wasn’t until I was visiting someone who had soft water that I found out how much of a difference water quality makes – much softer hair was had, and going much longer between cleans was possible.

Unfortunately for those of us living in apartments, it’s difficult to install a water softener. So we have to be creative. Thankfully, simply boiling the water and pouring it over the baking soda you’re going to use is enough. With hot water, the baking soda acts like the salt in a water softener, binding to the metals. Suddenly, the water is soft! It actually feels slippery, too.

I’ve read that you can also just use distilled water bought from the store, but I’m way too lazy to do that.

As everyone’s body is different, so too is everyone’s hair. Once I had soft water, I still had to experiment with the ratio of water to baking soda, and apple cider vinegar to baking soda. Where I was using a whole tablespoon of baking soda with hard water, now I use just under a teaspoon. But also, where I was using a tablespoon of ACV for each rinse, now I have to use closer to two tablespoons. And this can even change on a week to week basis, just depending on my own body’s whims and the humidity levels.

With soft water, I can also now get away with three or less rinses a week, instead of closer to every other day. I could do twice a week regularly if I had more patience for slightly greasy hair. I know eventually I’m supposed to be down to once a week, but considering just how greasy my hair is naturally, I doubt that will happen. Still, I’ve read about others’ successful no-poo journeys.

So, after six months, how do you feel about no-poo? hypothetical reader number Awesome asks.

I like it. It takes some time to adjust to, but it also takes some time to learn what method works best for your hair. I like that I still have some color in my hair after several months, and I like the way it puffs on a rinse day. I haven’t bothered to calculate how much I’m saving on shampoo, but I do like not having to go down that aisle any more. Also, my hair feels softer than it ever did with shampoo.

Any cons?

Yeah – sometimes I want to clean it, but I feel pressed to wait an extra day. Sometimes I don’t want to wait for the water to boil and cool. Sometimes I just like getting my hair wet in between cleanings, but with our hard water that usually makes my hair feel yuckier faster.

Basically, if we had soft water all the time, it would make things a ton easier.

What about on the road?

Well, the cool thing is, if you’re just gone a few days, you don’t need anything. Just wait to clean until you get back. Or if you’re staying at a friend’s/relative’s, then raid their pantry. They’re bound to have baking soda, but if they don’t have ACV, any acid will do. I’ve used lemon & grapefruit juice to good effect, although I smelled citrusy all day.

For longer trips, bring a small bottle filled with ACV, a jar of baking soda, and a small cup. That’ll work just fine.

That’s about it. Any questions, thoughts? Your own experiences with no-poo?

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