All About ‘No-Poo’

October 20th, 2009 - filed under: The Fashion » Beauty and Cosmetics


This month’s Mission was to go ‘no-poo’. There was a lot of interest in the Mission, but that interest came coupled with all sorts of questions. Well of course it did! Inquisitive minds are intelligent minds, and my readers are the curious-est!

So I’ve written up a little faq on the no-poo hair care system, an expanded addendum to accompany this Mission. I hope it helps to clear up the confusion!

What is the point of no-poo?
No-poo is a method of natural hair maintenance, including cleaning and healing, to be continued indefinitely. No-poo replaces conventional shampoo and conditioner, allowing your hair to self-regulate.

How does it work?
Baking soda and vinegar, of course! (would you expect anything else from me?) The goal is to ‘mess with’ your hair as little as possible, applying the baking soda (BS) and apple cider vinegar (ACV) once a week or less. Some people eventually remove the BS and ACV all together, and stick solely to water. Others continue the BS and ACV forever, but decrease the frequency and increase the dilution ratio over time.

You should still ‘water-wash’ your hair whenever you shower (not more than once daily), by running your hair under water and massaging with your fingers. Brush your hair carefully and thoroughly to distribute the natural oils that are essential to healthy hair. Finally, don’t overdo it! A little BS goes a long way (ha!)

But why would you do that???
I’ve written in the past about harmful chemicals in cosmetics, and shampoo is no exception. Common offenders include sodium lauryl sulfate and sodium laureth sulfate, the detergents/surfactants that have been linked to all sorts of terrible troubles. There are tons of other worrisome additives lurking in your shampoo and conditioner too, variable by brand.

Then of course, there’s the oil industry connection. Yup, shampoo contains petroleum products, in the form of ‘mineral oils’. These byproducts are added to give your hair that extra shine, – by coating it in petroleum! Ick.

And finally, if all that isn’t enough to convince you, how about the cost? It’s just cheap ol’ baking soda and vinegar, and you use a lot less of it too. Can’t beat that!

So why baking soda? What does it do?
Believe it or not, water will remove the vast (vast!) majority of grit and residue found in ‘dirty’ hair. But for those tough times, BS does the rest. BS is oh-so-slightly alkaline, is a natural deodorizer, and gently scours away dirt and product build-up.

Apply the BS (try it in a squirt bottle) to the roots, gently massaging it thoroughly over the scalp. Allow it to sit and then rinse in warm water to cleanse and clarify.

So why vinegar? What does it do?
Conditioner was invented to replace the oils stripped by harsh detergents (that’s shampoo). Without the nasty, drying, stripping soap, there’s no need for extra oils. Vinegar can do it all!

ACV is mildly acidic, with about 3-5% acid content in most store brands. Most importantly, the tincture restores desirable pH. It seals the cuticle while detangling and clarifying hair. Additionally, it promotes circulation in the scalp and reduces flaking or peeling skin. No dandruff!

Apply ACV (try it in a spray bottle) to the shafts and scalp. Distribute evenly and allow to sit. Rinse with cool water to soften hair, reduce frizz, and restore curls.

What about the transition period?
If you use normal shampoo, your hair is accustomed to being stripped of it’s natural oil. When this stops, the hair freaks out for a bit! This can cause an ‘oily period’ where the scalp is overcompensating. Just give yourself a few weeks to re-adjust.

What are the benefits of all this?
A lot! People who no-poo claim:
• volume
• shininess
• bounciness
• softness
• cleaner/clearer scalp
• less breaks/shedding (more elasticity)
• less need for styling products

And that’s all there is to it . . . so what are you waiting for!?

  • Meghan

    AAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHH! So, I swear I checked Lush shampoo bars before I started using them, but I just rechecked and they all have SLS!!! And Lush classifies it as a “safe synthetic” WHAT??!!??!! NOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!! And my Lush face soap has it too!!! I am sad now. :-( I don’t know if I’ll be able to convince my husband to go no-poo (although CHEAP is good with him) but I’m convinced!

  • EroSan

    I’m in the same position as you meghan… It’ll be a marketing hell to sell the idea to my gf so I can try this >_<

  • Julie

    How does this affect colored hair? I use EcoColors which is supposed to be less toxic (than what ?!) I don’t want to strip all that glorious artificial color.

  • Sarah

    I’ve been off/on no-poo 3 or 4 times now, and I have a suggestion+question about distributing the oil in your hair. I have waist length, fine, straight hair, and the oily period can be pretty rough.
    I was always told that a *natural* bristle brush was required to distribute the oils. The whole brush for 1000 strokes thing is just a Bad Idea with a typical detangling, plastic brush. It’s great with the natural bristles, though. My husband says he can just see the shine spreading around :P
    I just have a boars bristle brush that works really well, but what type of brush do you use, being vegan?

    The brush is actually a deal breaker for me. If I don’t use the brush, the oils never properly distribute, no matter how many weeks I wait. I’ve waited over half a year before! But that might be because of my hair type+climate. I’ve never washed my hair every day, and for at least 5 years, I’d wash it at most twice a week (during the summers in the south). Clumpy oiliness is yick, and I like my long hair!

  • Staar

    I am also concerned about how this would affect colour treated hair. I also am so scared about the oily period. How long does it go on for?

  • Vrimj

    I don’t know about regular colors, but baking soda can strip henna off of hair, but the amount is small enough in standard use that I don’t really notice.

  • Jackie

    ummm, what about the smell? maybe some people like the smell of vinegar but i personally find it revolting. do you walk around smelling like vinegar?????? ewwwwwwww…..

  • Courtney

    I have found that I can’t do water-only rinses in between. And I know I’m not the only one. I simply put my hair up in a shower cap on the off days or else it looks a lot worse and clumps and gets nasty if water hits it.
    I may have to go and get some squirt bottles for my bs and acv. Right now I’m using old Tazo tea bottles, but I have to pour it over the scalp instead of targeting it.

  • Vrimj

    The ACV smells more like apples esp after it washes out. I like to add some rosemary leaves or cloves of mint to the bottle which makes it smell very yummy once rinsed

  • Vrimj

    Err that should be sprigs of mint or whole cloves. Although cloves of mint does sound yummy to me at the moment.

  • Meghan

    So far I’ve only done the vinegar rinse once, and I was sure to rinse off my hair with plenty of water. I didn’t smell at all like vinegar when I got out of the shower.

  • Chris

    I haven’t used shampoo in about two years, and have been using only water for the past 9 months. The transition was tough, as I actually hated the way the BS/ACV made my hair feel, so it was quite liberating to discard those, as well.

    I began by using BS/ACV every couple of weeks, then once a month, then bimonthly, and now…never. :)

    My hair is so manageable and reliable these days. I know what to expect every day from it. No more “shower day” hair.

    I’m pretty confident that I’ll never use shampoo again.

  • sarah

    I think I would actually recommend a transition period for those of you coming off traditional products before going no-poo. I took the challenge and haven’t used shampoo/conditioner since the beginning of this month and it’s been fine… but I detoxed my hair the beginning of the year and have used natural (as possible) products since then, and have only ever shampooed my hair once a week, maybe twice at most. I just think a jump from suave to no-poo would be absolutely miserable.

    Scent: the first wash my hair noticeably smelled like ACV until the next wash (actually a rinse). Immediately after the rinse it was stronger, then faded out and I haven’t noticed it since, despite using the full BS/ACV since. I plan on purchasing rosemary essential oil, or preferably brewing a strong “tea” from fresh/dried rosemary for future rinses if that becomes an issue. Or regardless, actually, because rosemary smells freaking amazing, and it’s fantastic for dark hair.

    Color: I have (Redken) blue-black hair with bleach. I haven’t noticed the BS/ACV fading it any… but I am overdue for color. I am supposed to get it redone in the next week or two so I will update then.

    Water Rinse In Between: I only attempted once, and it didn’t work well. I will attempt again though (serious brushing might help… maybe). I don’t think it’s been mentioned but if oily hair is an issue a lot of no-poo’ers will use dry shampoo or even oatmeal (flour) or cornstarch. I haven’t tried this myself but I’ve used makeup finishing powder in a pinch for areas around the face.

    @ the other Sarah – the vegan alternative (that I know of) is a wooden brush, which seems to be the popular choice. I haven’t decided if I want to buy/try one yet – I haven’t owned a brush for years. Sayward do you use wood and do you like it? I”m really curious about this because it sounds awkward.

    Other: I noticed more volume as soon as I stopped using shampoo/conditioner and the reported lack of dandruff issues on no-poo are correct. I also gradually turn the water down cooler as I rinse to seal the hair shaft. It’s wise with traditional shampooing, but even better with ACV. Leaves your hair soft feeling actually – not what you’d expect, but it depends on the amount of ACV.

    Oh, now to convince the husband…

  • Nina

    @ the the first Sarah: You might want to check out these two articles, which tell you how to distribute the hair oils using rags (how cool is that!)

  • Meghan

    I just ordered two wooden brushes from ebay, they were pretty cheap! Right now I have a nasty plastic faux-boar bristle brush and I can’t imagine it being very good on my hair. I’m hesitant to brush at all though, because brushes take my waves right out. :-P

    So far this is my dandruff situation (I’ve had a problem with it for forever): The days that I use BS/ACV it is GREAT. No flakes at all, which is really amazing to be. Maybe my issue is one of exfolialtion, and the BS does a good job with that? Subsequent days though that I don’t use the BS it comes back. Maybe after I’ve done no-poo for longer it will be gone for good.

    Saturday I used BS/ACV, then I didn’t do anything Sunday or Monday, and yesterday I washed my hair with water only. Today I used BS/ACV. Every 4 days seems reasonable for now, when I was shampooing I varied from every day to every other day to occasionally ever three days.

    I joined the no_poo livejournal community that someone posted in the last no-poo post here, it has a lot of useful tags.

  • Sarah

    Thanks for the replies, everyone. I’ll have to keep my eyes open for a wooden bristle brush, and I am definitely trying the washcloth method!! The Phoenix article was great, Nina!

    My husband tried no-poo for a while too to try and get rid of the dandruff. It worked well for him for about 4 or 5 weeks, and then it came back like 6xs worse… I couldn’t convince him to do BS/ACV, though because he can’t handle the smell. He said the ACV stung too. I’ll have to mix him some that smells pretty :)

  • Christa

    This is so excellent! I started my no poo adventure just around the time you posted about it.
    I had been waiting to run out of shampoo. Even though I used handmade all natural shampoos and conditioners, they are mighty expensive and not necessary.
    So as opposed to the normally too oily hair, I found that I had too dry hair. This happened for a number of reasons.
    First. I had a terrible fruit fly problem, and was concerned that my head would attract them and I’d be dealing with dead bugs in my hair. So I tried just white vinegar.
    The result was too dry hair.
    It wasn’t the most pleasant, but I didn’t need to wash my hair for about 5 days, LOL.
    So since then, I’ve tried adding a bit of lavendar oil to my BS solution, so that it wouldn’t be quite so intense and using ACV, since the bug problem has reduced.
    I still went through an odd period of not so great hair. But the last couple days have been fantastic. I got my bounce and curl back!
    PS going into this my hair has been chemically dyed for the last 7 years and I’d just recently dyed it as close to my natural colour as possible, so I’m excited to see my real hair and how much more curl it will have!

  • Sayward

    Hello everyone!! Thank you all for all the wonderful comments, there’s so much great experience and information here! I’m just going to respond to the questions, but please know I’m reading and loving all the contributions.

    @ Julie – No-poo is supposed to be totally safe for color treated hair (I sure hope so!). Some people say they notice a bit of lightening, which could be of concern to some people. To me, it’s totally worth the toxin trade-off, but I understand that mileage may vary. =)

    @ Sarah – I have really short hair and so I have not encountered the brush issue – I use a comb if I have to but even that is rare!

    I’ve heard good things about both the synthetic that mimic boar bristle brushes, and the wooden ones. I know of vegan stylists who use the synthetics and swear they do just as well at distributing the sebum through the hair. I’ve also read many reviews from individuals who love their wooden bristle brushes.

    I say snoop around, and don’t give up on cruelty-free just yet!

    @ Staar – Well, everybody will have a different experience, and I’d say this goes for both the color and the transition period. I know a lot of hair-colorers who no-poo, so I’d say at least give it a try. It’s working so-far-so-great on my color fried mop!

    As for the transition, it can range from a week to a few months, depending on how often you were washing your hair before and how much oil you naturally produce, as well as other factors. But it can be manages, with phasing in BS/ACV overlapping with traditional shampoo, or by using the BS/ACV more often, etc. But bottom line, everyone will be different. Wish I had something more solid!

    @ Jackie – I notice the smell when I apply it, but it rinses out. I don’t notice it at all once I leave the shower. As other posters have suggested, you can add all sorts of essential oils or herbal distillations to make it smell better, if that suits you.

    @ Vrimj – ‘cloves of mint’ sound delightful. =)

    @ sarah – Thanks for the awesome comment (as always) and all the great information. To answer your question, I haven’t tried any of the vegan alternative brushes. I’m using the same crappy drugstore comb I bought like literally 5 years ago! Even when my hair was long I used a comb.

    But my curiosity is definitely piqued. I’m going to investigate and ask around regarding these wooden and synthetic ‘boar bristle’ brushes . . .

    @ Nina – Great articles, thanks!

    And thanks again everybody! I’m so thrilled that so many people are interested in this challenge. You guys inspire me!!!

  • Polprav

    Hello from Russia!
    Can I quote a post in your blog with the link to you?

  • Sayward

    @ Polprav – Of course! I would be honored. =)

  • Jason

    Stunning!!! nuff said!

  • Sayward

    @ Jason – Thanks!

  • Megabeast

    Hi all! I started my no-poo journey almost 2 months ago. It’s going pretty well! I do miss the smells and fragrances of my old shampoo and conditioner though, but I’m making due.

    Just a tip: I think it’s great to experiment with the conditioning rinses. I started with ACV, but the smell just really annoyed me. I still smelled it in my hair (very faintly though) even after it dried, and I became self-conscious of my hair’s scent. I have tried rinsing with lemon juice (diluted), coffee, and black tea. I think so far, black tea has been my favorite– I like the smell, and I think the results are good.

    I do the BS/tea wash every 3 days… on the third day my hair is pretty oily. I am hoping that as my hair transitions over time, I can move it to once a week.

  • Sayward

    @ Megabeast – Congrats on the no-poo journey! Have you tried adding essential oils to your solutions? May give some of that sweet ‘shampoo/conditioner’ smell that you miss.

    I’m super interested in all the conditioning rinses, so thank you! for sharing them. =) I’m excited to try out some different concoctions.

  • Kaye

    I started doing this maybe three weeks ago, after I ran out of shampoo. I never bothered with BS/ACV, and went just water from the get go. Surprisingly, my ‘oily’ period was very short, lasting maybe a week before my hair started to feel clean (and I have thick, long hair, so I really was expecting it last a while). However, I have noticed that my hair is very dry now, that I’m having more of a problem with split ends, and it lacks shine. I’d hate to go no-poo, only to start using other hair products to fix these problems, any idea what natural solutions I can use?

  • Megabeast

    Kaye– have you considered using oils on your hair tips? Coconut oil and jojoba oil are known to be good for hair! Maybe you could do a ‘hot oil treatment’ of some kind as well. But I’d be careful though, since oil is not water soluble and you’re doing water-only… if you get too much oil in your hair it might be hard to get back out again. However if you just add some to the ends of your hair, I can’t imagine it not helping a bit.

  • Megabeast

    Sayward– I have tried using essential oils, and I usually put a few drops of tea tree oil in my BS rinse, and a few drops of rosemary in my conditioning rinse. It does smell very herbally, but it eventually goes away after a lil bit, and I really miss smelling like..well.. artificial fragrances like lovely coconut, caramel, etc. I am adjusting though!

    If you have not already, you should check out the no_poo community on livejournal. With the amount of people on there, there is tons of experience to share and read-up on, and ideas on various rinses or methods. It’s wonderful!

  • Sayward

    @ Kaye – My first thought is that your oil production has dropped, and so oil is not distributing all the way through your hair. Basically, it’s staying near the scalp (you said your hair is thick and long, so this makes sense) and isn’t reaching the tips. I’d try getting into the habit of brushing your hair thoroughly each night, using a mimic boar bristle brush. This should distribute your natural oil evenly and help you from drying out.

    If that doesn’t work well enough, I’d try adding a bit of oil to your tips (just a bit), like Megabeast suggested. Coconut oil, jojoba, cocoa butter, or vitamin E (that’s what I would try first) would all work. They’re natural and easy on the hair, so they won’t ‘counteract’ the whole no-poo ideology.

    You may also want to try the ACV rinse once or twice a week, until the problem clears up. We’re transitioning seasons which is always drying on hair, so this may clear itself up eventually.

    @ Megabeast – I miss the pretty smells too! I need to do some experimenting with that. I bet some fruity oils like grapefruit or vanilla would be lovely.

    I need to join that community! Thanks for the reminder. =)

  • anna

    I go swimming a couple of times a week. Do you think this would still work?

  • Sayward

    @ anna – Yes! You may want to wash and condition after each swim (at least at first), but the BS/ACV will definitely work. Your hair will probably be better than ever!

  • Annie

    little question regarding the contents of the stuff…Is baking soda the same as sodium bicarbonate?? Cos thats all i have and its what I was using. I dont wash it with vinegar though, instead I was using a jug of cammomile tea. do you think that that matters at all?
    thanks a bunch :) oh, and that deodorant recipe is FANTASTIC if i ahevnt mentioned it before. x

  • Sayward

    @ Annie – Yep, baking soda and sodium bicarbonate are one-and-the-same. =) And I have heard that chamomile makes a great conditioner, though I haven’t tried it myself. What do you think of it so far?

    Glad you like the deodorant!

  • http://none Jenni Halsted


    I love curly hair but have the most straight hair possible. I have been looking every where to see what affect the no poo method has on permed hair but there has been no response. Does any one know?

  • Sayward

    @ Jenni Halsted – From what I’ve seen and heard from people who use it, no-poo works great on ALL hair, any texture, dyed, natural, permed, whatever! Most people have wonderful success with it. =)

  • saundra

    i went no-poo like a month and a half ago. i haven’t used the ACV though just regular white vinegar bc that’s what i have but, everyone has been saying my hair is looking so much better now. i do it like 1 a week and water the rest of the time. I LOVE IT!!!! my frizzies are almost gone but my hair has gone back to thecurl i had as a little one. it’s crazy. one of the best ideas ever :)

  • Lisa

    I just found your website and have been reading nonstop! Excellent information, thanks! :) I have so much to learn when it comes to the all “natural” thing but am so excited.

    I do have a question on the no-poo BS. Do you mix it with water and apply it or just put it on in the powder form? I couldn’t tell from your post for sure. I’m excited to try this although I’ll have to give up the hairspray :(

    Thanks again for the info, I’ll be back.

  • Sayward

    @ Lisa – I’ve heard of it done both ways! Personally I premix it and keep it in a squirt bottle, otherwise I wouldn’t remember until I was already in the shower and I’d have to get out and tromp water all around the house and get cold and whew – just a mess. =D

    But I’ve heard of people applying it dry with great success. Whatever works for *you*!


  • janet

    I couldn’t go no-poo, so I tried urban hillbilly organics; no chemicals whatsoever. Smells fantastic too! But, great article! I absolutely LOVE your website!!!

  • Alexa

    Hi! I have a doubt about this method you see, my hair is curly and thin, so I’d like to know how many times a week would you recommend using it? is it safe for everyday use? Thank you so much in advace!

  • Sayward

    @ Alexa – You’re in luck lady, No-Poo is *ideal* for both thin and curly hair! (especially the curls)

    How often you do it depends on your own preference and where you’re coming from. I do it once a week, but if you’re coming from washing your hair every day, you could start off doing it every other day or so. Slowly increase the amount of time between washes. Of course if you prefer, it IS perfectly safe for every day use.


  • Ella

    I started washing my hair with olive oil soap and rinsing with apple cider vinegar in January and noticed no oily period. I have super thick curly hair that goes just below my chest. I switched to baking soda after my hair dresser said that I need a clarifying shampoo. I love it so much more, though it takes more time to wash my hair now.
    As for smell I originally used a bit of Burt’s Bees conditioner to cover it up but I stopped a few months ago to no complaints, I am surprised when I smell it.

  • wendi

    thank you for sharing this! i finally did and will NEVER go back i love the way my hair feels awww! :)

  • Morgan

    Love this, I tried it for myself and was unsure it would work as my hair is very dry and frizzy all the time and is almost to my waist. I washed it with the BS and v and loved the results. Then I moved on to my kids hair they liked it because it was truly tear free and they did not have all the tangles that they usually get after washing. no more shampoo for us thanks.

  • Christopher williams

    Baking soda made my scalp very dry, soo just water for me^_^ rather happy with the results.. and plus the fact i just do nothing to my hair.

  • CK

    I just went to the grocery store and picked up my BS and ACV! I’m really excited to try this.

  • Carolita

    LOVE this post & the AWESOME comments! You’ve inspired me to continue experimenting! Anybody else like Ella, tried all natural conditioners rather than ACV with baking soda? I’m trying to go no-poo but a) ACV has so far made my hennaed hair very limp and b) I have a ton of all natural shampoo & conditioners. My partner will use up the shampoo, no prob but he doesn’t use conditioner and I don’t want to waste it. (No, can’t give it to anyone cuz we recently moved overseas & I have no girlfriends as yet!)

  • Sayward

    @ Carolita – I just keep the shampoo and conditioner around for overnight guests! =)

  • Carolita

    Today’s my 8th day and it’s going pretty well! Just want to say that I’m doing as Megabeast does, rinsing with tea rather than ACV. Only twist is that I brewed the tea with a couple of tablespoons of dry rosemary so it’s a lovely-smelling one that’ll also hopefully darken the orange of my henna. Another note is for newbies who are having the greasies adjustment period: try dry shampooing in between baking soda washes. You can use either cornstarch, rice or oat flour and just rub it gently onto your scalp/greasy hair areas (do this over the sink obviously!) and then comb or brush it through a bit; let it sit for 10-20 min. (while you eat breakfast!) then brush & shake it out. The day I did this, my hair seemed to get cleaner as the day wore on. Was really soft too.

  • Nicole

    Great blog, but I have a question for you!

    I dye my hair chemically (not a veg dye, but a permanent dye with developer) and I’m trying to go no ‘poo. Have you combined these ever? I’m wondering if you might have a suggestion about what sort of thing one could use to wash out the dye after processing (to stop the developing) which wouldn’t strip the color unnecessarily or counteract the good of the no ‘poo method. I was thinking that perhaps a dilute castile soap might work, but that can be sort of harsh on hair. Thanks in advance for any thoughts on the matter (you know, other than “ditch the dye,” and yes I’ve tried henna and veg, but this is the dye I’m doing for now).

  • Morgan Wadsworth

    Nicole, I know I once had a hair dresser who washed out the dye with apple cider vinegar and cold water. To help lock in the color. you might want to try that.