Water-Only Hair Washing


With the increase of toxic chemicals entering into our personal care products it is not surprising why people adopt alternatives. Product-free or “no-poo” hair washing involves using a boar bristle brush, water and plenty of scalp scrubbing to clean hair without chemicals. A few hundred years ago, the idea of washing your hair sans chemicals would have been commonplace. Today it seems strange or even unhygienic; yet some people are turning back to traditional methods of haircare. Whether stemming from a desire to reduce consumption, avoid chemicals, relieve conditions such as eczema or dermatitis, or simply experiment, shampoo-free washing (known affectionately as ‘no-pooing’ or ‘water-only washing’) can be very effective in maintaining clean and healthy hair.

Why Washing Hair Without Shampoo or Conditioner Works

Hair becomes dirty because of two factors: trapped particles, such as dust, and sebum, a natural oil produced by the scalp which makes hair look greasy.

Washing the hair frequently with shampoo strips the hair of its natural oil, sebum. To compensate, the scalp will begin to overproduce sebum to make up for the lack, resulting in a cycle of over-cleansing and overproduction of oil. Once the cycle is stopped, the scalp will eventually regain its normal equilibrium, resulting in the need for less frequent washing. A transition period of about six weeks is required to accustom the scalp to lower sebum production.

Trapped particles of dust and dirt can be removed to some extent by washing with water. To further clean the hair, a boar bristle brush can be used to brush the dirt right out.

How to Wash Hair Without Products

True water-only washing uses no products at all. In this case, the hair and scalp are simply washed vigorously under lukewarm water, using fingertips – not fingernails to remove any particles from scalp. Some people find that alternating hot and cold water helps to break through the sebum. Finishing the wash with a blast of cold water will lock down the cuticle of the hair, keeping it shiny.

Some people, while refraining from commercial hair products such as conditioner, like to facilitate washing and conditioning with natural products. Baking soda, vinegar, herbal teas, natural oils and butters, egg yolks and even yoghurt can form the basis of commercial product-free hair washing.

Using a Boar Bristle Brush to Clean Hair

Washing the hair is only one component of product-less cleansing. A boar bristle brush is used to spread the sebum from the roots to the hair shaft, where it can do its job of moisturizing and protecting the hair. Boar bristle brushes also trap dust and dirt in their closely-packed bristles, helping to clean the hair.

To prevent hair breakage, the brushes should only be used on de-tangled hair. Long strokes from the scalp to the tips of the hair should be used, to move the sebum down the hair shaft. Depending on the length of the hair, it may take several days for the hair to become coated with sebum.

Easing the Transition to Water-Only Washing

The six-week greasy period, during which the scalp learns to produce less sebum, can be frustrating. Greasy hair can be hidden under a hat or bandana, or disguised in braids, which hold particularly well in greasy hair. A boar bristle brush will polish the surface of the hair, which can make sebum look like hair product rather than grease.

It is possible to wean the scalp off shampoo. Alternating diluted shampoo washes with water-only washes will make the transition period longer but less severe. Alternatively, conditioner-only washing can be used for a few weeks before attempting water-only washing.

Some water-only hair washers experience a renewed greasy period some months into their new routine; this eventually settles down.
Written by Sarah Tennant




  1. I luv hearing everyones stories about when they first started WO washing and how the transition period went for them. I was just mentioning to my hubby that i think ivr gotten thru or am slowly getting thru the transition period already but its only been 11 days! I honestly wasnt counting on it happening this quickly but if lunaboo had a similar experience, maybe its possible?
    For me, before doing WO, i was already only showering every other day, and had been for as long as i could remember, and since im a mom of three under five, i sometimes would only shower once every 3 days. So, after i read abiut doing WO, i figured not showering everday would be easy. Dealing with the greases however, kinda scared me, moreso that id develop some bad acne on my face and forehead but so far my skins been clear, ( i think acne is more a hormonal thing than actual buildup)
    Anyway, so i began my showers every ither day and id simly scalp scrub and either comb out my hair while under the water with my fingers or my comb. Then id do it again wet, and then dry again ince it fully dried, which btw, drying time takes much much longer now that im WO, which is kinda a pain but its worth imo.
    Then i wuld comb my hair out a few times per day, usually after i come in from a windy walk and def before bed.
    Around day 4-7, i had some pretty greay days and i tried to comb more often to distribute the oil and i think that worked nicely to speed up the trainsition period. I have been noticing some sebum buildup on my comb and ive begun cleaning that out every other day, and i may just store my comb in vinegar and water in a mug to prevent the buildup. Other than that nuisance and the longer air drying time, i am luving the WO! It doesnt smell at all, and it feels, now on day 11 as soft as it would be after shampooing but with no flyways or baby hair…which i term new hair growth from having kids that usually sticks straight up and ruins my updos 🙁 I havent tried styling it much but i know for sure it would curl very easily and it would prob hold that curl longer than my record for having curled hair of about 20 min…my hair is very straight, medium thickness and light brown.

  2. Oh this is good. I am in second week of my water only…. the only problem – I have 70% grey hair ( only in roots) and I am only 30. I cant do without coloring my hair. Since I have a wedding to attend next week…. is there anything available to combat that!!!!!

  3. Hi,

    I was interested in trying this, but my hair gets really, really greasy after one day of WO washing.I work in a Dr’s office & I’d get fired if I came to work with really greasy hair (like what would happen after a few day to a week). Does anyone know if I start using baking soda washes w/o a vinegar rinse every day, then taper to every other day, then maybe every 3 days etc. if I can go really gradually? If I gradually increase the WO washing days will the oil production slowly normalize? I definitely can’t take more than 2 weeks off of work and I won’t get that again until next year. I’d be willing to slowly wean my way to WO washing over the course of several months if possible.

    If anyone has successfully tried that or has any ideas, please let me know! Thanks!

  4. I just saw in the comments that we use the boar bristle brush during the wash, which means the brush will get wet. What is the best way you have found for drying the brush that will prolong it’s life?

    And I’m so glad I read the comments from others because I am just finishing week two and it does feel like product buildup even though the only thing that has been on my head has been water!

  5. I used to wash my hair every day, which is completely against my nature really, but high school leaves it’s hangups I suppose. I weaned that down to every 3 days or so, and then began thinking about removing the detergent altogether. Our hair doesn’t need soap, right? It never evolved to need it.

    I last used soap on my hair last Sunday (it is now Friday) and have been washing with water only most evenings. I have been brushing it through with a plastic bristly brush (I need to get my hands on a boar bristle) and giving it a good massage with my fingers in the shower. It hasn’t been greasy, but it has a waxy texture. I have also been perking up the roots with a bit of dry shampoo, which I find helps, especially for my fringe. It has been quite… stringy looking this morning, though.

    I’m really glad I ready this though, as I was considering what I could do to refresh my hair, and even thinking about using a little diluted cheapy shampoo to lessen the sebum as I couldn’t believe the sebum would get less, only spread down the hair. I will definitely persevere – a trip to the ladies armed with a can of dry shampoo and a hair bobble and my faith is restored. 🙂

    1. Is everyone using the boar bristle brush in the shower? Or both wet and dry? Does brushing in the shower not cause breakage?

    2. What is everyone doing to freshen their hair in this transitional period? Dry shampoo brushes out really easily, but I’m interested in other ideas.

    3. I have seen both stiff and soft boar bristled brushes – is there a better option.

    4. Is there a forum or some such where people share their tips and experiences? This is a not oft broached subject, as most people think it’s nuts!

  6. Hi there!

    The bad news is, even the apple cider vinegar and soda stuff can fail at some hair/skin types. It did in my case (in the first few weeks however it did the job well)so I figured out that the quality of water can be an critical factor for some of us. Especially in urban areas, industrially cleansed water can spoil everything. I even tried still mineral water, it failed after a while. I live in a city and work in a factory in a fairly rural area. Since I operate machines which make my workplace sorrounded with dirt and metal dust, I have to wash my hair daily in the summer. I do it at my workplace (there’s some softer water with less Cl2) and I could reduce the “twice with shampoo method” to 1/week. It works, my dry and scaly skin doesn’t itches anymore, my originally curly hair looks lifted and rich again, instead of straightened and plain. On the other hand, it doesn’t look shiny, I don’t feel if it’s greasy, more like it’s sebaceous, which makes it a bit sticky. It doesn’t stink a bit, i.e. girls didn’t seem annoyed when touching it. I am going without shampoo this week, it is still a bit scaly but it isn’t itching anymore. If it keeps on working, I post again about the results, maybe this method will fit some of You too.

  7. Hi!

    It’s been about three weeks ago since I washed my hair with water only. But my hair is still pretty oily. I didn’t use the boar bristle brush, because I don’t have one.
    Do I have to use boar bristle brush to clean my hair?

  8. I’m very very curious,after reading WO methods like this one,has anybody experienced extremely dry,flat,lifeless hair,during the transition period ? I only read about extremely greasy transition period. I’ve tried to rationalize this response by the fact that, the shampoo being the grease trigger,once removed,it takes a while for the natural oils to kick in,with me that is. Tried to stimulate oil production with boar bristle brush,to distribute oils down the shaft but this didnt work.(But have greasy hair 2 days after washing with shampoo) Had to break down and do a CO wash after a week, as got tired of waking up with stiff cowlicks in the morning. The water in my area is supposed to be soft (the Great Lakes)but ironically WO washing leaves me with a strange dusty texture(even with power shower head as Samantha mentioned). Bizarre dont understand it. Have tried BakingSoda,ACV,never works for me no matter the concentrations.Hair looses all its elasticity with Baking soda,and ACV is drying for me.Am also experimenting with aloe vera gel,works great for the scalp, but drying once again for my hair. Has anybody else had this problem or am I a different species.? The very dry,dull hair with WO washing.(tried one month) Thanks.

  9. Hi! I’m from Canada and I’m french, so I’ll try to explain myself as clearly as possible….

    I was curious about trying the water-only method. Last time I shampooded was aug.7…still a bit greasy at the back, but not that much. I rince my hair everyday in hot water and finish with very cold. I usually do it before going to bed. When I wake up, my hair is very very curly so I just do a high poney tail and the look isn’t bad. It’s getting less greasy every day! Two days ago, I bought a broar brush, but I think it is to soft…it doesn’t feel like cleaning but after brushing for five minutes, the brush look awfull, with little white particles, wich I think is sebum or dust. So to clean it up, I shampoo it. I don’t know if it’s the right thing to do.
    In may, “GV” ask about the colouring. I have the same “problem”…I’m not ready to turn grey and I love colouring my hair. Do I have to forget about it? Is there any product that can be use without wasting the work I’ve been doing for the last four weeks?

    Thanks to everyone. It’s fun to read your experiences!

  10. I was shampoo free for almost three years before this summer, when my mother-in-law and I got into a fight over it (She said I was setting a bad example for her ten year old, who doesn’t like to shower, and she didn’t seem to understand that I do still shower…) And since we were living them for two months while transitioning between cities, I had to use to the (really harsh) shampoos she bought at least once a week because she would “check” by running her fingers along my scalp, and if it didn’t feel horribly dry and stripped of oils she would re-open the argument. Now I am trying to transition back into no shampoo. Because I was careful about not using it every day it’s going better than it did last time, but I’m still tempted to at least use the baking soda to relieve myself from the build up – it’s been 2 weeks no ‘poo, having slowly weaned myself down to once a week, once every 2…

    To the woman who complained of the boar bristle brush doing nothing more than glide over her hair, and to those of you with questions, here’s a link to a post on the Long Hair Community Forums about the proper way to use a BBB – the writer is NOT no ‘poo, and I recommend adjusting how often you clean your BBB and NOT oiling the brush or your hair as she does – We have our own oils, no need to add to them. But what she says about sectioning off hair is really useful to those of us with normal to thick hair.


    To clean your BBB quickly (She disinfects it and goes way overboard – which is fine for 3 times a year like she advises, but can get frustrating more frequently), you can put some hand soap in your palm and rub the brush in it. Get your fingers in there between the bristles, rinse, and pat dry with a towel.

    We have such hard water that soap won’t suds.

  11. Hi, I have been WO for about 7 weeks. My hair is ok but I can’t wear it down as it looks like it just about needs a wash. It feels a bit coated and looks really dull. The ends were a bit dry (I have waist length hair) so I tried a bit of coconut oil and this is a bit better now. I am not sure if this is as good as it gets or if I should hang on a bit longer? Any ideas?

  12. This is my fifth month of water only hair care. No soap or body gels either. My skin is in really wonderful condition. (I am 77 yrs old) My hair was doing really well until yesterday when it began to be a bit funky. I rubbed a small amount of coconut oil onto my palms and applied that to the very ends of my hair. I showered as usual with water only, massaging my scalp, scrubbing my face and body with a washcloth, and then a cool rinse for my body and a colder rinse for my hair. My hair is feeling oily today and has taken on a golden, waxy like hue, not quite yellow, almost. Don’t know what that can be. As this is the fifth month I am going to stick with this. How much simpler can life be?


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