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How To Wash Dreadlocks Naturally At Home

You don’t have to visit your stylist every time you need to wash your locs. Learning how to wash dreadlocks naturally at home will not only save you time and money, but it’ll help you figure out your role in keeping your dreads healthy.

Table of Contents

Are You Supposed To Wash Dreads?

You should wash your dreadlocks.

It’s not necessarily your hair that needs to be washed frequently, but your scalp. Your scalp has more pores than any other part of your skin, and it gets irritated easily. Oil buildup, dead skin, and debris that gets trapped in your dreadlocks can clog those pores, causing bad scalp acne or even long-term folliculitis.

You shouldn’t wash your dreadlocks too frequently – that could unwind them – but you also can’t skip out on washing entirely. Aim to wash your scalp once a week, and adjust as needed.

How To Wash Dreadlocks For The First Time

You’ll follow these same steps whether you’re washing your dreadlocks for the first time or the 10000th time. The one difference is that you should wait a few weeks to wash new dreadlocks for the first time. When your locs are still forming, washing them sooner than 2 weeks can unwind them.

What you’ll need:

• Watered-down shampoo. Most guys add 2-3 tablespoons of dreadlock shampoo to a cup of water. It’s not an exact science. If you’re feeling fancy, you can add a few drops of your favorite essential oil to this mixture.

• Watered-down apple cider vinegar – 1 cup ACV, 1 cup water.

Then you’ll want to follow these steps:

  1. Get your scalp and dreadlocks wet. 
  2. Take the container of watered-down shampoo and pour it over your scalp. Massage your head, focusing on the roots of your hair.
  3. Let it sit for 2-3 minutes, then rinse, letting the shampoo run down the length of your locs. Double check that you’ve fully rinsed all the shampoo.
  4. Pour the watered-down ACV mixture over your scalp. You can try to massage it in, but the mixture will feel watery. Let it sit for 5 minutes, then rinse. (You won’t be able to smell any vinegar once it’s dry).
  5. DO NOT use conditioner. Conditioner will leave residue in your hair and unwind your locs. Use the ACV rinse instead.
  6. Once you’ve rinsed everything out of your hair, you need to start the process of properly drying your hair. Squeeze it with your hands, wrap it in a microfiber towel, and blow dry it on a cool setting. Don’t leave any moisture on your locs, or your dreads could trap mold.

If a normal wash that mirrors this isn’t doing enough for your hair, you might need to soak your hair in baking soda 3-4 times a year to eliminate odor. (Skip down to our baking soda section.)

How To Wash Dreadlocks Without Shampoo

It’s a misconception that you can wash your dreadlocks with nothing but water – and that’s what most guys mean when they say they don’t use shampoo on their dreads. Water doesn’t help with the oil or dead skin that builds up on your scalp. That’s what shampoo does.

We briefly mentioned an apple cider vinegar rinse above – that’s the key to skipping out on shampoo when you’re washing your dreadlocks.

AVC is nourishing for your hair, and it also has a lot of cleaning power. When you use ACV in your wash routine, it stands in for conditioner. But you can use ACV alone, and it’ll do a good job of breaking down oil and dead skin build up.

I still recommend using shampoo that’s designed for dreads, but AVC is your second best bet.

How To Wash Dreadlocks With Baking Soda

Baking soda soaks are designed for those special occasions when your dreadlocks need more oomph to feel really clean. You shouldn’t use baking soda on your hair often.

  1. Fill a basin with water and about ½ a cup of baking soda. 
  2. Find a comfy spot, and soak your hair in the mixture for 10 minutes. 
  3. Rinse your hair thoroughly.
  4. Wash your hair like normal. Don’t skip out on ACV – it will protect your hair from drying out.

Again, don’t soak your hair in baking soda often – no more than 3-4 times a year. It’s healthy, but it does suck the moisture from your hair and scalp. That’s why you need to wash your hair like normal afterwards.

How To Wash Dreadlocks With Apple Cider Vinegar

For most guys with dreadlocks, apple cider vinegar is a normal part of their washing routine. It’s essentially a substitute for conditioner – it moisturizes your hair without leaving residue, and it protects your locs from breakage.

You should use an ACV rinse every time you wash your hair. In fact, you can get away with skipping shampoo, as long as you use ACV.

  1. Mix 1 cup of water with 1 cup of ACV and keep it in a container.
  2. After you’ve shampooed (and completed your baking soda rinse, if that was on your to-do list), pour the ACV mixture over your scalp.
  3. Massage your scalp with your hands.
  4. Let your hair sit for at least 5 minutes.
  5. Rinse out the ACV.

Should You Use Conditioner On Your Dreadlocks?

You should NOT use conditioner on dreadlocks. Conditioner will unwind your locs.

Think about it. Conditioner’s #1 job is to detangle your hair and add moisture to your strands. It leaves behind residue to help keep your hair soft. That’s the opposite of what you want for your dreadlocks.

Locs form through a laborious tangling process. Residue and moisture that get trapped in your locs can help mold grow. 

On the other hand, shampoo does none of the above. It’s meant to clean your scalp and dissolve oil. That’s perfect for locs. The best shampoos will help keep your dreadlocks tightly wound and clean.

Why Do Dreadlocks Smell?

Sometimes, the cure to that bad dreadlock smell is washing more often or adding essential oils to your shampoo. Other times, it’s a problem with drying your locs.

There’s only one thing more important than regularly washing your locs: making sure that your locs dry completely. 

Locs that aren’t completely dry will develop that bad dreadlock smell. 

Whenever you wash your dreads, squeeze the water out of each loc, use a microfiber towel to absorb more water, and try a warm or cold setting on your blow dryer to finish the job. If you go to bed with damp locks, spread them out over your pillow so that they don’t touch. Sleep with airflow, and check them carefully in the morning.

If the center of your locs traps too much water, your locs might start to grow mold, known as “dread rot.” The cure is losing your locs or shaving your head.

The drying process is part of the reason that washing your locs can be so intense. You need to plan for a day every week where you can monitor how wet your locs are and make sure that they get 100% dry before you go to sleep.

How Often Should You Wash Dreadlocks?

Don’t necessarily follow the advice from our other hair washing guide – how often Black men should wash their hair. The best washing practices for dreadlocks are different.

Once your dreadlocks are mature and tightly wound, you should expect to wash your hair about once a week. Most guys with dreadlocks agree that weekly washes keep their scalp smelling good without unwinding their locs.

If you’re new to dreadlocks, you should wait between 2 weeks and a month to wash your dreads for the first time. It depends on your hair type. 

Coarse, thick hair tends to form dreads easily, so you can start regularly washing your hair after 2 weeks. Thin or fine hair has a harder time forming locs, so you’ll have to wait longer to wash your hair for the first time, and you’ll probably want to go longer between washes.

When you’re starting to set your wash schedule, ask a trusted friend for sniff checks. If your dreads smell funky, it could be a problem with your shampoo, or you might not be drying your locs properly. 

Can I Wash My Dreads With Regular Shampoo?

Not all shampoos are made equal, especially when it comes to washing your dreadlocks. 

You don’t have to buy a special shampoo for dreads, but here’s what you should look for in any good dreadlock shampoo:

• A thin consistency that washes out easily

• Essential oil ingredients (or get ready to add essential oils yourself)

• No sulfates, detergents, or parabens

• Avoid moisturizing ingredients, like oils or butters

As long as your “regular” shampoo fits those criteria, it should do relatively well cleaning your dreads.

Always watch carefully for signs that your shampoo is leaving residue. If you notice that your dreads aren’t drying completely after 8-24 hours, or your hair smells bad even though you’re washing it, stop using that shampoo immediately. It’s likely causing moisture build-up inside your dreads, leading to dread rot.

Don’t let anxiety stop you from washing your dreads. It can be an intimidating process at first, but using shampoo regularly keeps your scalp, hair, and dreadlocks healthy. You’ll be a pro in no time.

Frank Edwards is a men's grooming & style expert who is "internet famous" for being able to simplify complicated grooming routines into easy, yet effective rituals any man can do. As a professional analyst, he has spent years researching the biggest brands, products, experts, best practices, and breaking news in the space. He takes this analysis, tests it out on himself, and then documents everything in his writing. As a result, his experience-based articles are considered by some to be the gold standard in men's grooming and men's style.