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Using Baking Soda and Vinegar: Better than Shampoo!

written by: Beth Janicek•edited by: Donna Cosmato•updated: 7/1/2011

Washing your hair with baking soda and vinegar is easy, affordable, and eco-friendly. Shampoo strips hair dry, conditioners make it greasy, and both contain harsh ingredients. This guide explains how and why to wash your hair with baking soda and apple cider vinegar as an alternative.

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    Why Go “No ‘Poo"?

    Washing hair with baking soda and vinegar is not only great for the hair itself. It’s also incredibly eco-friendly (and budget-friendly) to boot. Here’s a primer on why people are ditching shampoo, and how to go about washing hair with baking soda and vinegar in its stead.

    Even with its less than attractive moniker, the anti-shampoo (“no ‘poo") movement has been building traction. Its advocates cite a laundry list of potent chemicals contained in most conventional shampoos. Some are documented environmental hazards once they pass through drains into the water supply (see: phosphates), and others have surprisingly abrasive uses elsewhere (ex: propylene glycol is also used to de-ice airplanes).

    The other strong argument against shampoo and conditioner is that they put our hair through unnecessary stress. Why do we use conditioner? Because shampoo is so abrasive that it strips our hair of oils. But why not just stop stripping it in the first place?

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    Alternatives to Shampoo

    As interest in not-so-harmful shampoos rise, more naturally-based alternatives are starting to appear on shelves. These range from plant-based shampoo bars to designer bottled shampoo. Check the labels, as the actual eco-friendliness of these “natural shampoos" can vary.

    But many people are taking it a step simpler (and cheaper) by opting to use simple household baking soda to cleanse the hair, and vinegar to keep it soft and smooth.

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    Why It Works

    Baking soda is mildly abrasive, which helps it scrub off buildup on your hair and scalp. It also absorbs excess oils without stripping your scalp or leaving hair overly dry.

    Vinegar is a naturally-derived acidic liquid that can come from anything containing sugar (usually fruit). In addition to providing a light shine, vinegar actually smoothes out the hair by closing off the tiny cuticles along each hair shaft, which had first been opened by the scrubbing action of the baking soda.

    Chemically speaking, baking soda is a base and vinegar is an acid, making the two a logical pair.

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    How To Do It

    Step 1: Washing hair with baking soda.

    1. Spoon 1-2 tablespoons of baking soda into a glass.
    2. Once in the shower, add 1-1.5 cups of water and swirl to dissolve.
    3. Carefully pour a small amount onto your scalp, and massage in.
    4. Repeat until all areas of your scalp have been cleaned.
    5. Rinse off.

    Step 2: Conditioning hair with vinegar.

    1. Pour 1-2 tablespoons of vinegar into a glass.
    2. Add 1-1.5 cups of water.
    3. Carefully pour over all areas of your hair.
    4. Rinse off.

    Any standard baking soda will do; they are all the same. Most people use apple cider vinegar, simply for its fruity scent, as opposed to plain white vinegar. If you are particularly health- and eco-conscious, check the label of the apple cider vinegar you are using; some are not made from apples at all, but actually contain corn syrup. (Anecdotally, these vinegars still work just fine as far as hair is concerned.)

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    Tips For Transitioning

    The amount of baking soda and vinegar you need depends on the length and texture of your hair, as well as how often you wash. At first, you’ll need to play around until you find the right proportions for you. If your hair is getting greasy, use less apple cider vinegar; if it’s frizzy, use less baking soda.

    Washing every day is not necessary, and in fact you may find your hair looks even better on the second day. Some people wash just twice a week, and others report transitioning away from washing their hair altogether.

    When you first starting washing hair with baking soda and vinegar, you may have an adjustment period in which your scalp keeps over-producing oils to make up for the harsh shampoo it’s used to. Some people report this lasts a week or two, while others have no trouble at all. But it shouldn’t take more than a week or two for it to scale it back and find a good balance with the baking soda and vinegar.

    If you're not quite ready to stop shampooing altogether, you could try this recipe for organic, homemade shampoo.

Baking Soda Uses: Natural Health Tips

Here are a few natural health tips on baking soda uses for your home, hair, and hygiene.
  1. Using Baking Soda and Vinegar: Better than Shampoo!
  2. Using Baking Soda As Facial Skin Cleanser
  3. How to Make Organic Toothpaste