How to Clean Dreadlocks

Dreadlocks is a hairstyle that has been around as long as people have existed, popularized in African and Caribbean countries. They form when sections of hair become matted together into long, rope-like strands. Dreadlocks are often unfairly criticized for being dirty and unkempt, but in reality they are quite easy to keep clean as long as the wearer is willing to wash and treat them regularly. Dreadlocks can be cleaned with conditioning products formulate specially for locked hair, gentle homemade cleansing mixtures or even ordinary shampoos.

Wet your dreadlocks.


Wet your dreadlocks.

Start by running some water lightly over your dreadlocks in the shower. There’s no need to completely saturate them, as the more water your locks absorb, the harder it will be for the shampoo to infiltrate them. For best results, use warm (not too hot) water.

Portion out a small amount of shampoo.

Portion out a small amount of shampoo.

Squeeze a modest amount of shampoo into your palm. It’s better to use a little shampoo at a time so you can control how much soap actually goes into your locks—you can always use more later if it’s not enough. If you’re using a solid bar shampoo, rub it between your hands until it forms a rich lather.



Always use a shampoo that doesn’t leave a residue of any kind. Dreadlocks should not be maintained using gels, waxes and other additives, and a residue-forming shampoo will likewise only add to buildup rather than washing it away.
Look for natural, organic types of shampoo that are free of chemicals which help soften and style.

Work the lather into your scalp.

Work the lather into your scalp.

Press both hands into your scalp and distribute the shampoo into the spaces between the roots of the dreadlocks. Use the tips of your fingers to give your scalp a good scrub to free dead skin and remove excess sebum.
Don’t neglect to clean and care for the roots. Since this is where your dreadlocks attach, they need to be strong and healthy.

Rinse the shampoo through the locks.

Rinse the shampoo through the locks.

Let the shampoo sit for 1-2 minutes. Then, tilt your head downward so that the lather runs through your locks as you rinse. Gently squeeze the shampoo lather into the dreadlocks. Make sure that there’s no shampoo residue remaining in your hair when you’re finished washing.
If you want, you can use a little extra shampoo to touch up each lock individually. Just don’t overdo it, or it will be more time-consuming to rinse and cause loose hairs to frizz.



Dry thoroughly.

Dry thoroughly.

After you get out of the shower, you’ll want to make sure that you let your dreadlocks dry completely. Squeeze each lock with a towel to press out the water absorbed into them. Allow your locks to air dry, or use a hair dryer on a low heat setting to speed the process along and ensure that they’re not left damp. If too much moisture remains in the locks, they can start to come unlocked and smell, or even grow mold.

”Dread rot” is when moisture becomes trapped in the matted hair for so long that it begins to mildew.
As your dreadlocks continue to set up and tighten, you may have to start using a hair dryer more often after washing to ensure that the hair inside the locks is getting dry.

DO NOT mix together the baking soda and vinegar.

DO NOT mix together the baking soda and vinegar.

Baking soda is a base and vinegar is an acid, mixing the two causes a chemical reaction which neutralizes any cleansing power the two substances have on their own (which is a lot).


In a sink or wash basin, dissolve ¾ cup of baking soda in a few inches of warm water.

In a sink or wash basin, dissolve ¾ cup of baking soda in a few inches of warm water.

It is completely safe to use on your hair and scalp.

If you like using essential oils, you can add them to the cleansing solution during this step. A tablespoon of lemon juice will help kill any odors and prevent mildew.
It is recommended that you only use this method to clean your locks once every couple of weeks, as the baking soda can make your hair dry and brittle over time. For more regular washings, use a residue-free shampoo.

Soak your dreadlocks for 5-10 minutes.

Soak your dreadlocks for 5-10 minutes.

Submerge your dreadlocks into the baking soda solution up to the roots. Soak your locks for up to 10 minutes, or longer if you’re in need of a deep clean. As your dreadlocks soak, the baking soda will strip away dirt, oil, debris and other unwanted buildup.
If you don’t have the time or space needed to soak your dreadlocks, you can mix up the solution and pour it directly over your head for a quick cleanse.


Rinse with cool water.

Rinse with cool water.

Remove your dreadlocks from the baking soda bath and wring out the excess solution. Turn on the faucet or hop in the shower and give your locks a quick rinse to clear away any lingering traces of the baking soda solution or foreign matter. Rinse until the water runs clear. Be sure that your scalp gets some direct exposure to the water as well.
The dirt, oil, dead skin and other detritus that’s been removed from your hair will be visible in the discoloration of the water. You might be surprised how much cleaner your locks will feel afterwards!

Have ready a large bottle of water and vinegar, mixed at a 3:1 ratio, enough to rinse over your scalp and lightly through your dreads.

Have ready a large bottle of water and vinegar, mixed at a 3:1 ratio, enough to rinse over your scalp and lightly through your dreads.

Pour this through your locks after rinsing out the baking soda solution. This will neutralize any remaining baking soda, balance the pH of your scalp, and smooth loose hair frizz. You can leave this in (any vinegar smell will dissipate as it dries) or rinse it out.

Towel or air dry.

Towel or air dry.

Give your dreadlocks ample time to dry. If you’re in a hurry, use a hair dryer on the ends and shafts of your locks and allow your roots to finish air drying. Your dreadlocks should be dry before you cover them with a hat, tam or scarf. Otherwise, these items will trap remaining moisture in the locks and make it harder for it to escape.

Squeeze as much water out of your locks as you can before letting them air dry or trying other drying methods.
Wrapping your dreadlocks in a dry towel can help draw water out of them at a faster rate.

Wash your dreadlocks regularly.

Wash your dreadlocks regularly.

Contrary to popular misconceptions, dreadlocks require washing just as much as other hairstyles. You should aim to shampoo and roll your dreadlocks every three or four days when they’re new. Once they’ve fully locked up, you can get by washing them once a week, or more often depending on your hair type and the amount of oil your scalp tends to produce.

Most people who wear dreadlocks wash them at least once a week. If you have particularly oily hair, or if you exercise, work outside, get dirty or sweat a lot, you may benefit from more frequent washings.

You can still bathe regularly between washings without having to shampoo your locks.

Take care of your scalp.

Take care of your scalp.

Dreadlocks put a lot of weight on the scalp as they get heavier and pull. It’s essential that you keep your scalp clean and moisturized in addition to your locks themselves. Whenever you’re cleaning your locks, take a few moments to massage your scalp vigorously with your fingertips. This promotes proper blood flow and will strengthen the follicles, meaning you won’t have to worry about your locks becoming brittle or falling out.

Itching and discomfort can be a sign that your scalp or roots are in poor condition.
As your hair grows, keep your dreadlocks waxed and twisted to tighten up the new growth close to the scalp.

Freshen your locks with essential oils.

Freshen your locks with essential oils.

Use a couple drops of tea tree, peppermint or rosemary oil along with your shampoo, or treat your locks with them separately. Essential oils moisturize, cut down on itchiness and irritation around the scalp and leave your hair smelling pleasant. They are far preferable to perfumes, spray-in fragrances and scented cleansers, as they won’t damage your locks or leave behind any residue.
Just a hint of essential oils can combat the “dirty hair” smell that naturally accumulates on thick dreadlocks.

Avoid conditioners and similar products.

Avoid conditioners and similar products.

Conditioners are designed to soften and detangle hair, which is the last thing you want if you have a head full of dreads. In general, there should be no reason to condition your dreadlocks. You should also be cautious about any other products that contain oils, waxes or knot-fighting agents. Regular use of these products can damage the structure of your dreadlocks and make them much harder to maintain.
A good residue-free shampoo, and optionally pure aloe gel and salt-water tightening spray should be all you need to keep your dreadlocks clean and looking great. For dry scalp or dreads, very light applications of coconut oil will help moisturize without conditioning.


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