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How to Live without Shampoo

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The Birth of Venus by Eugene Emmanuel Amaury DuvalAll my life, I’ve wondered about the personal hygiene of my favorite heroines. How often did Anne of Green bathe? When did Jo March wash her hair? I couldn’t believe that all of my favorite characters were dirty and greasy all of the time.

It turns out that millennia of women washed less often than we do in part because they didn’t have to wash so often. In fact, the more often we wash our hair, the more often we have to. It’s like an addiction. And, once I found out I was addicted, I wanted to sober up.

That’s why I’ve gone “no poo.”

What Is No Poo?

“No Poo” is the tongue-in-cheek name for giving up commercial shampoo. The most serious “no-pooers” use only water to wash their hair. Most of us use alternatives like diluted baking soda, tea, or even raw egg.

Why Go “No Poo”?

Sure, I get a sense of pride out living a little bit more like Louisa May Alcott. But there are a lot of other benefits to giving up shampoo.

  • Protect your hair. My stubbornly wavy hair used to look kinky and frizzy. Now it looks full-bodied and fabulous.
  • Protect your health. There isn’t really a clear consensus whether the chemicals in shampoo—like parabens and sulfates—are dangerous or not. But the ingredients in “no poo” hair washes are definitely safe.
  • Protect the environment. If you go “no poo,” you’ll never need to purchase a plastic shampoo bottle ever again.
  • Protect your budget. There are shampoos out there that cost about the same amount per ounce as baking soda, but most mid-line shampoos cost at least twice as much per ounce.

How to Go No Poo

  1. Gather your supplies. My “no-poo” kit includes a box of baking soda, a bottle of apple cider vinegar, a jar with a screw-top lid, a measuring spoon, an empty shampoo bottle and big, plastic cup. (Look for screw-top jars in your recycling bin.)
  2. Make the time. Washing my hair without shampoo takes about twice as long as it does to wash it with shampoo. The upside? I only have to wash it half as often! Besides, it’s a lot more relaxing to do something slowly once or twice a week than to rush through it every other day. A bath with a hair wash now takes me about twenty minutes from turning on the faucet to draining the tub.
  3. Mix it up. There are dozens of different ways to work “no-poo” into your morning routine. I add 2 TBSP. of baking soda to the bottom of a 16-oz. plastic cup. (1 TBSP. of baking soda for 8 oz. of water! I’ve heard that a higher baking-soda-to-water ratio can really dry out your hair.) I add water from the faucet to mix it up. Then I empty about half the contents of the cup into an empty shampoo bottle. Be sure to keep the mixture out of your eyes—baking soda contains a lot less salt than ocean water, but it’s enough to sting if you aren’t being careful.
  4. Scrub, scrub, scrub! You know how great your scalp feels after a hairdresser scrubs it clean? That’s thoroughness. You’ll have that feeling every time you wash your hair if you no-poo thoroughly. I start with the oiliest part of my head, the very top. Squirt a little of the baking soda mixture onto your scalp and scrub it in with your finger tips. Keep scrubbing until your fingers glide easily across your scalp and through your hair. (If your hair feels waxy or tangled, add a little more of the mixture. It usually takes me a shampoo-bottle and a half to completely scrub my head.) Move outward from the top of your head in small circles. Don’t forget behind your ears and at the nape of your neck.
  5. Rinse. After you’ve scrubbed your scalp, stop. With “no poo,” you should rarely or never wash the shaft of your hair. Give your hair a good rinse with clean water to remove the baking soda and oil.
  6. Condition. Although there are hundreds of DIY, “no poo” conditioner recipes on-line, I stick to the basics. (I once did an avocado-honey deep conditioning treatment. It worked great, but I smelled like guacamole until I washed my hair again.) I add a 3-4 TBSP. of apple cider vinegar to a 16 oz. cup full of clean water. I soak the ends of my hair in the mixture for a few minutes. Supposedly the soak is enough. I need a little extra moisture, so I dump the leftover mixture over the rest of my hair. If your hair does dry out every once and a while, then it’s time to try something a little more exciting.
  7. Rinse again. Rinse your hair with cool, clean water to close the cuticle and make your hair really shine. Believe it or not, this rinse also gets rid of any lingering vinegar smell in your hair. I asked my husband, who hates the smell of vinegar, what my hair smelled like—“Hair.”
  8. Style as normal—or not! One of the great things about “no poo” is that it is the best way to wash your hair when you won’t be styling it. Try throwing your hair back into a bun for wavy, full-bodied hair once it dries.

What Not to Expect

  • “Silky-Smooth” Wet Hair. When it’s wet, hair is naturally coarse. My hair feels softer now dry than it used to, but I do sometimes miss that “liquid silk” feeling shampoo can give wet hair.
  • Overnight success. “No poo” is supposed to have a rough “transition period.” Hypothetically, your hair will look oily until the natural oils in your hair are distributed to the ends of your hair. My hair actually looked great the first time I went “no poo.” At least for me, the “transition period” was more of a learning period—the more thoroughly you wash the oil from your hair, the more quickly it will look at feel great.
  • To ever go back. I love my shampoo-free lifestyle. My scalp is as clean as it has ever been. I hardly ever have to deal with the hassle of drying my hair. Who needs shampoo?

Are you willing to try no poo?

12 responses »

  1. My family isn’t quite no poo yet, but we’re using heavily diluted liquid castile soap (Dr. Bronners) in a foaming bottle.

    It’s soooooo silly, our reliance on all the unnecessary commercial products. We’re also doing laundry detergent, dishwashing detergent, wipes, and deodorant (amazing!).

    It’s worth the effort, and all these things usually work even better than the spendy ones!

  2. ladyofquality

    The recipe is:

    1/2 C. Coconut oil
    1/4 C. Baking soda
    1/4 C. Corn starch
    2 vitamin e caps (squeezed out, or 1/2 tsp.)
    1/2 tsp. almond or other oil
    1 probiotic cap (shelf stable)
    Essential oil

    Mix all. I put the mixture into the smallest (2 oz maybe?) canning jar they sell, it filled almost 2.

    A few of the ingredients are a bit odd, but doable thanks to Amazon, and well worth it.

    I’ve tried the Tom’s of Maine natural deodorants as I don’t like the aluminum in regular deo, and I had decided it was just my lot to have b.o. or have to douse my underarms with perfume, but this deodorant has completely shocked me. Even my husband smells like a rose with this stuff, and he’s a farmer!

  3. ladyofquality

    Just checked, the little jars are 4 oz to the top.

  4. ladyofquality

    Question about the baking soda mixture; can you pre-mix and just shake up the bottle, or do you mix it up separately each time?

    • I do it separately each time. I assume you could pre-mix it, but I also know that water-based cosmetics without preservatives only stay fresh so long.

  5. I’ve seen the no-‘poo technique all across the internet recently. It’s nice to know that someone I know has actually tried it with success! I’m thinking about it for when my current shampoo is used up.

    I was wondering, how long is your hair? It seems like most people who have success with the baking soda washing have shortish hair (no longer than shoulder length). I was worried that with my long, straight hair it might be more nasty and lank.

    I, too, always wondered about the hair of my favourite heroines…women in 19th century novels always wear their hair with such pride, but I used to wonder about all the grease! It’s reassuring to think that maybe their hair wasn’t that greasy after all!

    • My hair is at the bottom of my shoulder blades right now. It works really well for me.

      I’m glad I’m not the only one worrying about the hygiene of fictional characters!

  6. I just wanted to add (after my above comment) that I tried out a cowardly version of this technique this week – that is, I diluted some baking soda in water and then added a little of my normal shampoo (a tiny squirt). I mixed up about a cup of the watery mixture, which I have used all week with some left over. I couldn’t quite bring myself to go all the way at once, hence the bit of added shampoo! I used apple cider vinegar, diluted, in a spray bottle for the rinse.

    Well, it has worked nicely. Like you, I haven’t had a huge transition period of major greasiness. My hair feels much softer. My husband also noticed, unprompted, that it was looking especially good! I’ve kept asking him every day to smell my hair to see if it stinks, but he says it just smells clean.

    I will say, my hair doesn’t have that squeaky-clean feeling it used to after shampooing, but it does generally have a more ‘balanced’ feel – it doesn’t feel as greasy on the in-between days. It’s also easier to style. I do blow dry it after washing, but have found that I don’t need any mousse or blow-dry lotion to keep it from going frizzy, and if I want to pull it back I don’t need hairspray to keep the wisps under control. I guess the natural oils are having a similar effect to those products. That, for me, is a huge bonus!

  7. I love your blog! I started my no-poo adventures a few months ago, and LOVE how my hair feels now. My routine is a little different than yours, though I think I might give your ideas a try to help with some dryness I’m experiencing. I’m curious–are you still no-pooing a year and a half after you posted this blog?

    • Thanks for the positive feedback! I’m not going no-poo anymore. It takes too much baking soda to get all the grime off my scalp! I did learn from the experience how rarely hair really needs to be washed–I only wash it once or twice a week.

      Let me know how it works out for you.


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