A Complete Guide to Going No ‘Poo (aka Never Pay for Hair Products Again!)

Total Amount Spent on Hair Care for 6 months = $3.06 <– This long read is worth your time.

If you search “No ‘Poo Movement,” you’ll find a variety of methods for ridding yourself of a daily dose of scalp toxicity.  Over the past 5 months, I’ve guinea-pigged myself and figured out what works, what doesn’t, and I now understand why many fail in their attempts to leave behind shampoo.  Below, I’ve compiled the very best advice from the interwebs and beyond of how to go about ridding yourself of shampoo and conditioner, but first…

Nothing But Tears (thanks to The Onion for this add)

Why going No ‘Poo is green:

  • Out of sight, but still physically on your mind: We all know how harsh shampoos often need the help of other products, otherwise you may find your hair feeling stripped, dry, and damaged.  After those chemicals are done reeking havoc on your hair, they run straight down the drain and reek havoc in your local watershed (unless you’re willing to cough up the major bucks needed for biodegradable, cruelty-free, SLS-free shampoos).
  • Unruly hair?  We’ve got a product to fix that!: The ensuing dryness caused by regular shampoos causes curly hair to frizz and straight hair to never hold a ‘do.   They’re designed so you need to follow up that chemical follicle stripping with lots of other chemical greases, waxes, mousses, and sprays – and those products require straightners, special brushes, curlers, and driers – and those products further damage your hair so you buy hot oil treatments and expensive conditioners – but you have to wash the treatments out or your hair will go limp… This is what is known as the Treadmill of Production.  Notice the cyclical nature?  You buy a product to compensate for the short comings of another product, and eventually all of these products end up in a landfill or go directly into the air and water supply.
Why going No ‘Poo will save you green:
  • Zero Maintenance = Zero Cost: See all those products listed in the second bullet?  Yeah, I used to own those products too – and I used to have to replace them when they failed/emptied.  Not anymore!! The less you own, the less you have to spend to maintain that ownership.
  • Don’t waste money on greenwashed alternatives: I don’t buy fancy biodegradable shampoos either (well, I did buy one bottle, just so guests would have a “more traditional” option, but that 16 oz bottle shampoo will likely hold me over for the next few years).
Other Perks to losing the ‘Poo:
  • My real GTFO moment: I looked in the mirror the other day and thought “Holy crap.  I have the hair I’ve always wanted!” My hair used to be pin-straight, colored beyond recognition, and wouldn’t hold a hair style other than pin-straight.  Now that my hair isn’t weighed down by artificial conditioners or practically melted from colors and harsh shampoos, I have long, manageable hair that curls in defined ringlets toward the bottom.  My hair is always light, looks great, and I never worry about it!
Sold?  Cool, let’s do this.  Below is a list of tips to get off the treadmill of hair product production and have the best feeling and most manageable hair you’ve ever had!
The transition time tips:
  • I never liked the idea of going 6 weeks without washing my hair in order to break my hair’s oil cycles.  That sounded like a nightmare to me, and by most accounts from those who had done it, it really is dreadful.
  • Instead, I decided to gradually space out the frequency of my hair “washes.”  I used to have to wash my hair every single day, because like clock work, my thin, straight hair flattened from grease after just 12 hours.  So, I would space out my washings one day at a time.  I know that the baking soda and vinegar treatments can dry your scalp if used too frequently (more notes on that to follow), so I wanted to try to stick as close as possible to the recommended 2-3 washes a week without letting my hair get so greasy that I gave up right away.  So, I would wash my hair first thing in the morning on Day 1 and then skip a day.
  • After about 2 weeks of every other day, I noticed that my hair had easily made the adjustment.  That’s when I slowly started to space out the washes further and further.  I’d started skipping 2 days, and then I would skip 2.5 by washing my hair early on Day 1 but at night on Day 4.
  • I’ve now established a washing cycle that I’m very comfortable with: Day 1, shower with hair wash.  Day 2, no shower just wash my face and freshen up.  Day 3 shower, but only water on my hair.  Day 4 is the same as Day 2, no shower but face wash and freshen up. Day 5 = Day 1.
  • It took me longer than 6 weeks for my oil cycles to get fully adjusted to this schedule (probably closer to three months, but that will vary person to person).  However, I never felt I was depriving myself of washing my hair, especially to the point where I felt like I couldn’t go out in public or had to cover my head (as I’ve seen others report), and I never felt so disgusted that I gave up (also a common occurance).
The cheaper, greener ‘poo replacement – tips for your baking soda and apple cider vinegar washes:
  • I’ve seen different reports on how much you should or should not dilute the baking soda (some say it should be a paste, others a watery-wash).  I’ve found that most folks who claim to use a 1-2 Tbsp water and 2-3 Tbsp of baking soda (making a paste) haven’t been using this method more than a week or two.  If this concentration works for you, then have at it, but for me (and many others out there) this is just way too strong and will almost certainly lead to the most common complaint in this process: dandruff.
  • Grab an old glass out of your cupboard that you know you won’t miss and a big soup spoon (Tbsp) from your utensil drawer.  These will now reside in your shower 🙂  The best ratio I’ve used for this is 1 Tbsp of baking soda or apple cider vinegar to about 1 cup (8 oz) of water.  Keep a bottle of vinegar in your shower.  Before you get in the shower, scoop yourself a Tbsp of baking soda and put it in your cup, then hop in the shower and add 1 cup of warm water, stirring with the spoon to dilute.
  • Just like the baking soda in Alka Seltzer, the baking soda will collect at the bottom if you let it settle.  Just give it another stir to keep it suspended.  Pour the watered-down baking soda around your hair line in small doses (not all at one place), and concentrate it around the entire crown of your head (where the grease collects most).  This is not shampoo. It will not lather.  You’re getting away from shampoo, so don’t expect the same behavior as shampoo, right?
  • Using your fingers, massage the baking soda water into your scalp for 30-90 seconds, making sure to work it in and not miss any spots, including the back and base of your head (enjoy the scalp massage too!).   Rinse thoroughly.  If you have soft water, the baking soda will leave a nice slick clean feeling after you rinse (but if you have super hard water like me, then sorry, it just feels like hair).
  • Rinse out the cup with a few swishes of water, and then pour 1 Tbps of apple cider vinegar into the cup.  Dilute the vinegar in 1 cup of water, just like the baking soda.  Pour the vinegar wash around the scalp line and crown, just like you did the baking soda, and try to make sure you get the entire length of your hair with the vinegar wash (the acid makes an excellent conditioner even when not preceding with the baking soda wash).  This is different than most sites suggest, but it is vital for long-term success and to avoid getting dandruff!!  Massage the vinegar into your scalp about 30 seconds, and then work it into the rest of the length of your hair (I usually use a brush I keep in my shower for the ends – you’ll see the vinegar also helps fight tangles!).  Rinse thoroughly.
  • Why massage in the vinegar?  You must neutralize the baking soda.  (Pardon the non-scientific explanation that follows) When you apply the baking soda wash to your scalp and work it in, yes it is a mild cleanser that is cleaning your hair without stripping it, but it also triggers a reaction in your hair follicles.  When your scalp feels the baking soda (a base/alkaline), that tells your oil (sebaceous) glands to stand up away from the hair shaft.  This means that if you don’t tell the oil glands to relax and lay back down onto the hair, then the oil they release won’t be properly distributed on your scalp, causing dryness, itchiness, and often dandruff.  The quick massaging in of vinegar (an acid) neutralizes the effects of the baking soda by telling the oil glands to lay back down and simultaneously conditions your hair.
  • If you find the vinegar weighs down your hair (could be an issue for different hair types), then try a milder acid like lime/lemon juice diluted in water.  If you’re still having serious problems with dryness, I’ve heard that a few drops of honey mixed in with the baking soda wash works wonders for soothing the scalp.
Other tips and tricks you really oughta know before you start:
  • Baking soda is often an ingredient in hair color removers.  I was incredibly happy to see the return of my natural color after more than a decade of dyes, streaks, and treatments (this time 6 months ago, I wasn’t totally sure what my natural hair color was anymore!).  But! If you like your colored hair, then this might not be a good strategy for you, and I suggest looking up the version of No ‘Poo where you “wash” your hair with store-bought conditioners (something that gets excellent reviews from those who stick with it).
  • Brush your hair with a wash cloth!! Yes, I’m serious!  I found this trick on only one or two of the forums on No ‘Poo, and it was truly the secret weapon for my success in this process (especially since I didn’t attempt the traditional transition).   Every night before bed, I comb my hair to remove knots from the day, but I also stroke my hair with a washcloth (old, natural, soft-bristled brushes work well too, but they’re damn expensive if you didn’t get a hand-me-down from your grandma).  This is apparently a trick that has been used by Mexican grandmas and Native Americans for generations.  “Brushing” your hair gently with a washcloth moves the oil that is concentrated at the scalp down along the entire hair shaft, causing your hair to become softer, shinier, thicker, and repair itself faster from a lifetime of ‘poo-induced damage.  This same mechanism also allows you to go longer in between washes, because it prevents the oil from staying built up around the crown of your head.
  • Massaging your scalp regularly will make your hair grow faster.  Have you ever heard that old-lady aphorism that your hair seems to grow faster after a trip to the salon?  Well, it’s true!  The thorough stimulation your beautician/you give your scalp when you wash gets your follicles all excited and your hair grows faster.  Good to know if you get a less than stellar cut!
  • Don’t fret about the vinegar smell.  As soon as your hair is dry, it won’t smell like anything.  Some like to sprinkle a few drops of lemon or lavender essential oils on their brushes and brush in a scent after a shower.  I don’t personally because I like feeling fresh rather than scented, but of course you always have options!
Best of luck in your ‘poo-less adventures!!
Money spent on hair care (for 6 months) =
     One 32 oz. box of baking soda @ $1.12/box
 + Two 16 oz. bottles of apple cider vinegar @ $0.97/bottle
  = $3.06 Total

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