Baking soda and apple cider vinegar for your hair?
February 10, 2011 11:22 PM   Subscribe

Anyone use baking soda instead of shampoo to wash your hair?

Lately I've been experiencing hair loss and an itchy scalp, I've done research into many of the common irritants such as sodium sulfate, etc in many commercial shampoos. I've tried various organic shampoos from whole foods but most seem to dry out my scalp and make it worse. I've booked an appointment with a dermatologist but that's not until another month, I was wondering if anyone else out there has switched to using baking soda as a shampoo as well as apple cider vinegar as a rinse. Thus far this combination seems to be less harsh than any shampoo out on the market.
posted by HonestAsian to Health & Fitness (28 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Since I stopped the shampoo/conditioner duo every second day I only need to wash my hair every three or five days or so. I 'wash' in straight water, making sure my scalp gets a good massage then I add some conditioner to my ends (I have fine hair) and rinse in diluted vinegar. My longish hair has never been healthier or as long lasting between washes. No more dandruff, split ends or itchy scalp. $ in pocket. Such a win. I've not tried baking soda as a wash but it can't hurt. Give your new hair regime a few weeks and see how it goes. I do recommend the vinegar rinse.
posted by Kerasia at 11:41 PM on February 10, 2011

Baking Soda is a salt (aka Sodium Bicarbonite), just like sodium sulfate. Not sure what you hope to gain there because it seems like it would be just as harsh on hair (I do use it as a scrub and mixed into my toothpaste. just think the chemical properties AND the texture of baking soda will be no good for hair!)

I suggest you try jojoba oil. I apply a little while my hair is wet and let it dry like leave-on conditioner. Does wonders!
posted by jbenben at 12:34 AM on February 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

Yeah, baking soda is a pretty extreme alkali. Erm, so no, don't do that. I mean, yes, your hair will be "clean" afterwards, but it probably won't do it or your scalp much good at all. Would you wash your hair in battery acid?

Try what Kerasia said - washing with just water will not wash any of the (good) oils out but will remove gunk, and adding a little conditioner at the end will make it look better.
posted by BigCalm at 1:05 AM on February 11, 2011

i started to get all sorts of nasty scalp symptoms including dandruff and general scalp itchiness. I tried baking soda and yes, it did clean my hair but it felt awful. Like every bit of moisture or oil had been stripped and my hair was uncontrollable. I have since stopped using anything on my hair except water and my hair & scalp has never been better. I just rinse hair under the shower and run a comb though it a couple of times to stimulate my scalp and make sure I get rid of any hair that has fallen out.

I exercise everyday (and in fact sweat a lot by most standards) and I have no problems with the look, smell or control of my 'unwashed' hair. I highly recommend at least trying the no shampoo route.
posted by MT at 1:20 AM on February 11, 2011

A friend of mine brushes baking soda through her hair when she doesn't have time to wash it. It soaks up the excess oil.

Tresemme has a dry shampoo that will soak up the oil also, so you don't have to wash as often, if you think that will help. In my experience you will smell it all day long. It's not a bad smell, but for those of you sensitive to smells...
posted by IndigoRain at 1:35 AM on February 11, 2011

Baking soda was good for my scalp but fucked up my hair a LOT. It was uncool.

If my scalp is super bad I use the medicated lotion from my doctor (oh god the burning if I've been scratching) but mostly I stick to mild organic shampoo, once every two or three days and NOT wetting my hair between times. Soggy scalp = unhappy scalp for me. I tried the no shampoo as well and that was highly unpleasant (chunks of scalp on my desk unpleasant) but not washing excessively has helped.
posted by geek anachronism at 1:46 AM on February 11, 2011

You might try looking up some of the online communities dedicated to long hair - I know there's one in particular that really goes into alternative hair cleaning methods and their virtues, but can't remember the exact name at the moment. They'll have a lot of advice for you re: baking soda, apple cider vinegar, water-only washing, and probably many more shampoo-alternates you've never heard/thought of.

For myself, I did try baking soda a couple times, but had experiences similar to those described above - good for scalp, but nasty on the hair. Never used apple cider vinegar. Tried water-only for a short time, but my head simply seems to produce too much, too "sticky" oil, and the results were nothing short of disgusting. (I gave up on day six or so, when the oiliness was just waaaaaaay too much for me to handle any longer.) I have a friend who tried the water-only method for a much longer period, and it was also disgusting. So YMMV on that. Some people seem to be blessed with magical hair oil that comes off in water, while others just can't stay clean by water alone. Good luck!
posted by po at 2:11 AM on February 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

I stopped using shampoo for the reasons you mention in November. At first I tried the cider/baking soda/conditioner routine and it worked fairly lousy, but then I wound up buying a .99 bottle of Suave conditioner and using a good handful of that every day, working it in thoroughly, then rinsing it out and this has worked just fine. I used regular shampoo yesterday because I thought I might have product in my hair and should get it out and my hair just felt kind of brittle and lifeless all day. I'm probably not going to do that again, although it'll get shampooed when I get it cut.

I do use silicone products now and then and I can't see or feel a build-up -- I think that might be an overstated worry.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 2:55 AM on February 11, 2011

The baking soda thing - btw - my understanding is that you use a quite small amount in a large glass of water which shouldn't feel gritty. So like a teaspoon.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 2:56 AM on February 11, 2011

Kerasia - how much do you dilute the vinegar by? Might give that a try some time.
posted by penguin pie at 3:37 AM on February 11, 2011

I tried washing with baking soda and vinegar quite a few times and my hair just felt disgusting, no matter how much I varied the quantity of each. Either brittle and dry or sticky and limp. So I can't say I'd recommend it, but I know it does work wonders for some people.

There are some great forums at The Long Hair Community; I haven't been there in a while but as far as I remember, the baking soda and vinegar technique was fairly popular among its members. So there are probably some threads with detailed advice to be found there. And I remember it as a pretty friendly and helpful community, so you could always ask for advice.
posted by badmoonrising at 4:55 AM on February 11, 2011

I tried this one summer, dry baking soda on wet hair with apple cider vinegar rinse, yes your hair will continue to get oily even if you do this every day so maybe shampoo with real shampoo once a week, I found just rinsing my hair with water worked just as well between shampooing, the acv will dry your hair out like crazy so put something like coconut/olive oil on the ends at least, also rinse acv out good or you will smell like vinegar all day, it was just too troublesome to keep doing to end up with oily scalp/dried ends, get to the root of the problem, stop eating grain and read The Paleo Solution, this solved my multiple, life long skin problems!
posted by sadieglass at 5:28 AM on February 11, 2011

I tried it for a few weeks using this method, but all I got was nasty hair. Now I shampoo maybe once every five days or so, either keeping my hair dry or just using conditioner on the other days. It's working really well for me - my scalp is not itchy and my hair is not frizzy.
posted by beandip at 5:48 AM on February 11, 2011

For itchy scalp, try tea tree oil - just a few drops (5 - 10) to a cup of water, or apple cider vinegar, or whatever you're using in your hair.
posted by lesli212 at 6:12 AM on February 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

I gave up shampoo and conditioner for about a year and used baking soda/acv on my hair. FWIW I have oily, thin hair.

I showered daily with just water, giving my scalp a very good scrub with my fingertips. This generally did the trick of getting rid of the greasy look. Sometimes, if my hair smelled rank, I would "wash" it with conditioner.

About two or three times a week I used the baking soda/ acv mixture. I diluted the baking soda (about 1 TB to 1.5 cups water) and kept the mixture in a jar in the shower. I shook it up and dipped my fingers into the liquid (it's not gritty at all, more slippy-feeling) and gave my scalp a scrub. If you get any sort of lather, it's too much baking soda and your hair is going to feel like straw. I then rinsed it well, and gave my ends a spritz of a half water/half acv mixture. I wouldn't let that stuff get near my roots or I'd be seriously greasy.

The end result was much different than conventionally shampooed hair. It did have a lot more volume, but it was always a bit... tacky feeling, I guess. The opposite of the clean, bouncy look and feel you get with shampoo. It never looked as well kempt, but that wavy, greasy hair look was "in", and I was in college.

My scalp felt quite healthy, but I think the daily scrubbing I gave it helped more than the baking soda and apple cider vinegar.

I stopped because I ran out of money and had to move home, and my dad said he wouldn't let me in the door until I washed my goddamned hair.
posted by pintapicasso at 7:24 AM on February 11, 2011

I tried the baking soda once. Never again!
posted by Rash at 8:38 AM on February 11, 2011

Does acv smell when you're done?
posted by crankyrogalsky at 8:54 AM on February 11, 2011

I did this for awhile, but switched to shampoo bars. I have long, thick hair, and once in a while I'll put some baking soda on my scalp to scrub. ACV and water, 50%-50%, is a great alternative to conditioner. I rub coconut oil on the ends when they get dry.
posted by Leta at 9:04 AM on February 11, 2011

I do the finger scrub daily in the shower and only shampoo every third day using sulfate/paraben free shampoo. I mix baking soda in with my shampoo occasionally as a clarifier. I live in the high desert and have long, thick, oily hair. This has worked for over a year. And this was after getting itchy and scaly, which I blame on the sulfate/paraben combo. I think BS works best as a clarifier and not as a regular wash.
posted by nikitabot at 9:29 AM on February 11, 2011

One more alternative for you - I've ditched commerical shampoos (my skin really doesn't like SLS, which is a common ingredient), and use shampoo bars instead. Many of them are made superfatted, which means additional moisturising oils.

I like Chagrin Valley Soaps, but there are bunches of other sellers out there, including on Etsy, etc. Chagrin Valley has a number of bars with herbs in them that are particularly good for dry scalp, too.

I do need to do an ACV regularly (once or twice a week, not daily), as well, but I end up with happy and healthy long hair. As a bonus, the shampoo bars last very well if you don't let them sit in water, so they're less expensive than all but the cheapest shampoos.
posted by modernhypatia at 9:57 AM on February 11, 2011

I tried the BS/ACV combination for a few months until I went to get my hair cut and the stylist told me that my hair was very rough and brittle. Since then I've experimented with different shampoos/conditioners (I used Aveda while I was in the US, and now Lush) but I might try some of the other answers here since my scalp's acting up again.
posted by bettafish at 11:18 AM on February 11, 2011

I sometimes use the apple cider vinegar (diluted with water about 5 times) and it does help my scalp. Baking soda, on the other hand, just made my scalp itchier and my hair brittle.
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:36 AM on February 11, 2011

I've not tried baking soda but I did stop using Shampoo almost one year ago.
Instead I wash using only conditioner. Conditioner will clean your hair just fine, you just have spend a little more time agitating as it does not suds up.
I switched because my scalp would get insanely itchy whenever I went a few days without shampooing. It doesn't anymore and I can go like a week and a half or more now between washings without irritation. If you try this then experiment with different brands and formulas of conditioners. You'll find some of them get you as much "squeak" in terms of clean as shampoos do. I like a conditioner that just gives a little squeak.
posted by No Shmoobles at 12:53 PM on February 11, 2011

I tried the baking soda/vinegar proportions that beandip linked to--alternating it with conditioner washing--and it worked all right for about two weeks. My scalp was fine but my hair got...gummy or something. Really nasty. I've compromised with sulfate- and silicone-free products.
posted by martianna at 4:59 PM on February 11, 2011

I switched to baking soda w/vinegar rinse a couple months ago and I'm loving it. I make a paste from 1/2 t of baking soda and some water, scrub my scalp, rinse it out, and then rub about a tablespoon of 1 part vinegar/3 parts water solution over the rest of my hair (staying 2 inches down the strands from my scalp). The vinegar is to balance the alkali in the baking soda. And then rinse the vinegar well. No, it never smells after you get out of the shower. Prior to the switch, my hair was oily, had dandruff, and got very itchy within 18 hours of washing my hair before -- now I can go 3-4 days between washings, more if I make use of a baby powder/cocoa powder "dry shampoo" I mixed together for brown hair. Seriously. I visited my bathe-twice-a-day friends last weekend and told them my hair was 4 days worth of dirty -- they couldn't believe how clean it looked and felt.

I got travel bottles from Target and mixed the baking soda & water, another for the vinegar in water -- the 3 oz bottles have lasted me 3- mos. So cheap and I really like how my hair feels.

As for the harshness of baking soda -- baking soda is what they use in many whole-house water filtration systems to soften hard water for people who have wells or even in fish tanks. I'm used to hard water, so softened water feels slimy to me, like I can't get the soap to rinse off. But supposedly soft water is better for people and clothes . . . so I don't think it's harsh on hair.

I'm becoming convinced the SLSs are bad for hair, and I'm grossed out that it's also used to make toothpaste & mouthwash foam up -- even the 'natural' brands.
posted by MeiraV at 6:21 PM on February 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

Oh, and my apple cider vinegar is With The Mother!

I have no idea if that makes any difference, I just think it's funny the way they emphasized it on the bottle. With The Mother!
posted by MeiraV at 6:22 PM on February 11, 2011

My only problem with baking soda shampooing is that it's hard to get good coverage. Usually the top layer of my hair looks awesome, but if I pull it back I discover that the deeper layers are less clean. And that really thick area at the nape of my neck? Yeah, good luck penetrating in there. My choice seems to be to spend triple the time massaging the baking soda into my hair or to deal with the fact that only a third of my hair gets clean.
posted by Sara C. at 8:32 PM on February 11, 2011

Best answer: From what I understand, this combination can be used as a shampoo, but the apparent point is to save money, not to treat unidentified scalp conditions. Disclaimer: IANAD, IANYD, IANABeautician, IANYB, etc.

Aesthetically, this reminds me of the Babylon 5 episode in which Delenn is trying to cope with transforming into an Earth woman, and the last straw is her struggles with her hair. It turns out that Minbari exfoliate their heads daily and she was continuing with that routine now that she had hair.

Consider that hair conditioners work by smoothing the rough cuticle down, and exfoliants work by scrubbing away the rough stuff on the surface. Exfoliating your hair is not at all likely to do its appearance any good. Even if you follow it up with an acid that is supposed to do the same job as conditioner.

But since exfoliating your scalp can be good for you, will it help with your hair loss? Well, scratching at your scalp can not only dislodge hair but damage the follicles, too, so if you add an abrasive substance like baking soda into the process I should think it would help somewhat in accelerating your hair loss. If you wanted something to slow down hair loss, though, baking soda is abrasive enough that I imagine it's better avoided. In the interest of disclosure I will say that I used baking soda on my face for years to treat acne, and I cannot tell whether that particular step in my routine made the acne better or worse. I got a lot of broken veins, though.

As for the itchy scalp, it depends what's causing that and whether scrubbing your scalp with an abrasive, alkaline substance is good or bad for that particular condition. I think that any unprescribed treatment that irritates your scalp, which this method would definitely do, risks making the problem worse.

The only thing that has helped me with various nasty scalp problems, which have not included hair loss, has been specialized treatment shampoos. I bought all of these over the counter, but since some of them made my problems dramatically worse there's no point in my recommending one over the other to you.

Still, anecdata:
Best: Nizoral over-the-counter treatment shampoo, Alphosyl 2 in 1. Better: Neutrogena T-Gel Treatment Shampoo; Alphosyl 2 in 1; L'Herbier de Provence Cade shampoo; raw dishwashing liquid (on an Eton crop); this camomile shampoo recipe using green tea instead of camomile; the cheapest bottle of green Co-op shampoo on the shelf.
Worse: Oilatum; the same cheap bottle of green Co-op shampoo the second time I bought it because in the intervening weeks they had changed the formulation to include lots of lovely acnegenic proteins and silicones.

Which of the above will improve your situation and which will make it worse? Unknowable.
posted by tel3path at 6:34 PM on February 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

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