It started as a month-long experiment and has become permanent. Here's why I love washing my hair with baking soda and apple cider vinegar and will never go back to shampoo.
It’s been a year and a half exactly since my editor at TreeHugger challenged me to do the unthinkable – to stop using shampoo for one month. I agreed only because it was January, and I figured I could wear a hat the whole time if things got really bad.
Together with fellow writer Margaret Badore, we embarked on the same experiment with two slightly different approaches. She stopped using shampoo altogether, while I replaced it with baking soda and apple cider vinegar. At the end of the month, we compared notes. Margaret didn’t like it. Going cold turkey is admirably hard-core, but her hair never adjusted to the lack of washing. I, on the other hand, loved the results I got and didn’t want to stop.
Over the past 18 months, I have continued to use baking soda and apple cider vinegar as my standard hair-washing procedure, and I'd say that my hair has only gotten better over time. Only while travelling in Brazil for 10 weeks did I revert to shampoo – partly because I was curious to compare after being ‘off the bottle’ for so long, and because it was easier to travel with shampoo in my suitcase than a box of mysterious white powder and a jar of smelly vinegar.
It was interesting to see the difference. The shampoo made my hair look duller. It was frizzier and harder to control after washing, and took a couple days for the natural oils on my scalp to return and calm the strands. By then, however, my hair felt and looked greasy, and I found myself having to wash it every 2-3 days. It was impossible to go past the third day without looking awful.
As soon as I got home to Canada, I switched back to baking soda and vinegar and was relieved to see that my hair returned to its former easy-to-manage and low-maintenance state. Because the baking soda merely absorbs the excess oil, it isn’t being stripped of its natural oils with every wash and doesn’t feel dry and frizzy; the apple cider vinegar leaves it feeling silkier, smoother, calmer, and generally more manageable. I don’t have to wait a day and sleep on it before being able to straighten or style it, as I did with shampoo.
Best of all, it doesn’t turn greasy very quickly. By the fourth day, it starts to look a bit too shiny, even though I don’t feel it on my scalp. At that point, I usually rub in some homemade dry shampoo, a.k.a. cornstarch scented with a few drops of lavender essential oil, which absorbs the excess oil and buys me an extra day or two. Now I only have to wash my hair every 5 or 6 days.
I’ve noticed the financial savings, too, since baking soda and apple cider vinegar are far cheaper than the all-natural shampoo I’d been buying before. It’s also a huge reduction in waste; I much prefer using cardboard boxes and glass jars, instead of plastic bottles, and they last for months.
If you’re curious about ditching shampoo, this method is definitely worth a try. I tell people to start by stretching out their shampoo washings as much as possible. If you wash daily, you may produce so much oil that the baking soda-vinegar combo might not be effective and could dry out your hair. Once you switch, allow for a two- to three-week adjustment period before giving up. Use a splash of Dr. Bronner’s pure castile soap to aid transition, if it’s particularly rough, but make sure you condition with the vinegar. Most of all, just hang in there; it’s well worth the results!
How the method works:
Use 1-2 tablespoons of baking soda, depending on the length of hair. (I use 2 tbsp. since my hair is very thick and goes just past my shoulders.)
Use 1 cup of water per tablespoon of soda. I dissolve the soda in a 1-pint/500 mL glass jar once I’m in the shower, mixing with a comb. Pour over your head, scrubbing with the other hand. The key is to get it all over your scalp; the ends will get cleaned as the mixture runs down.
Rinse, then do the same with the apple cider vinegar: 1-2 tbsp. dissolved in 1-2 cups of warm water. Pour over your head to condition and rinse almost immediately.