The Hidden Problem with “No Poo” (And What to Do Instead)

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The hidden problem with no poo- and what to do instead
Wellness Mama » Blog » Beauty » The Hidden Problem with “No Poo” (And What to Do Instead)

As women, we tend to be finicky about our hair: all the curly-haired girls want straight hair and all the straight-haired girls want curls. But we all have one thing in common: the desire to have beautiful, healthy hair, preferably in a natural way.

Lots of naturally-minded folks recommend no poo, but is it really best for your hair?

What Is No Poo?

In case you’ve been living under a rock or you’re new to the crunchy mama crowd, “no poo” refers to your hair, not the other thing it sounds like.

Those who practice “no poo” are simply forgoing shampoo in favor of using baking soda to wash their hair. Typically, proponents of the no poo method suggest using diluted baking soda to give your hair a scrub, followed by a rinse of diluted apple cider vinegar.

It sounds like the perfect solution: natural and cheap. However, if you’ve gone that route, odds are, you’ll come to some bumps in the road sooner or later.

The Problem with No Poo

Baking soda sounds like a perfect choice for keeping your coif clean because it’s such a great cleanser. After all, I use it in my homemade cleaning supplies all the time. Try to use it for long though, and you’ll see why it isn’t right for hair maintenance.

Lots of us start out loving the no poo method: it seems to create manageable, clean, even bouncy, voluminous hair. But before long, many will start to notice something: dry, unmanageable hair. Breakage. Buildup. You might even be tempted to go back to conventional hair care products just to restore our locks to health.

There are a few reasons for things going south:

Baking Soda= Wrong pH for Hair

Because the natural pH of hair and skin is between 4.5-5.5, it is slightly acidic. With a pH of 9, baking soda differs vastly on the pH scale from hair. It is much more alkaline.

When you repeatedly wash your slightly acidic hair with a highly alkalized solution, you force your hair to drastically change its natural makeup. Eventually, your hair will become dry, frizzy, and begin to suffer from breakage.

The purpose for the apple cider vinegar rinse following a baking soda wash is to restore acidity to your hair. However, most people are unable to perfectly dilute and balance each step in order to restore proper pH. Not to mention, it’s difficult to evenly wash every strand of hair with each solution, making sure none are missed.

Baking Soda is Abrasive

Baking soda is one of the best natural solutions for scrubbing everything from tile grout to bathtubs. It is not great, however, for scrubbing hair. It’s simply too abrasive.

Just rub a little bit of the fine, white powder between your fingers and you can see why it does such a great job of getting things clean. The microscopic crystalline structure of baking soda creates jagged edges which scrub away at dirty surfaces.

You can imagine why setting those jagged edges to cleaning delicate hair might cause problems. Baking soda will eventually tear away at delicate tresses and cause damage, resulting in dry, breaking hair and split ends. Some no poo users have even reported losing clumps of hair.

It May Strip Hair of Natural Oils

Because baking soda is abrasive and too alkaline, it will eventually strip away the natural oils coating your scalp and hair.

That natural oil is present to protect your scalp and hair, keeping it healthy and manageable. Because we all have differing body chemistry and use different products, the amount of oil can vary greatly from one person to the next. That’s why some of us can get away with only washing our hair once in a while, and others can’t seem to go longer than a day between washes.

I found that when I switched over to natural hair care, my hair became more balanced: not too oily, not too dry, and I’m able to go longer between washes because my scalp and hair are healthy and happy. It can be normal for your hair to go through a period of detox as it adjusts to natural hair care, as conventional shampoos can also strip away those natural oils.

As your hair adjusts, it may become more oily or drier than usual, but as you settle on a natural hair care routine that’s right for your particular hair, it should even out.

However, don’t mistake your hair rejecting the no poo method for detox.

Your Hair Isn’t “Detoxing”; it’s Being Damaged!

Don’t keep scrubbing away with baking soda, hoping your hair will adjust! In many cases, the baking soda is actually causing damage to the hair. I’m certainly not a fan of most conventional shampoos, but they are designed to be the correct pH for hair.

What to Do Instead of No Poo

If you don’t want to thwart your healthy, natural hair care efforts with no poo, there are still lots of great natural hair care options.

No Poo Alternatives

  1. Clay-based Shampoos. Who knew that putting clay in your hair could make it cleaner and healthier? I was a skeptic at first, but now often turn to clay based shampoos for my hair. I make my own detox shampoo but I also use this pre-made all-natural one from Morrocco Method and I really like it. As a bonus, these products have a lot of added beneficial ingredients that nourish hair.
  2. Make a shampoo bar. If you’re feeling adventurous, try your hand at making old-fashioned soap with lye. Find a specially formulated bar soap recipe for hair here.
  3. Make a shampoo from soap nuts. Soap nuts aren’t just for laundry! Soap nuts shampoo is incredibly inexpensive to make and completely natural. Find the simple recipe here. (Note that this will not work on all hair types and seems to be the toughest to get right.
  4. Make a dry shampoo. No matter the kind of shampoo, the science says fewer washes means healthier hair. Want to freshen your hair between washes while you’re figuring out the perfect no poo alternative for your hair? Try a homemade dry shampoo, with versions for both dark and light hair. Try this recipe.
  5. WellnesseAfter years of experimenting with all of the above, I finally got to fulfill a dream and create my own shampoo and conditioner line that’s natural and actually works! Our Cleansing Shampoo and Conditioner (as well as our Smoothing Hair Care Kit for wavy/curly hair) meet every one of my (many) criteria for hair and scalp health.

Find What Works for Your Hair

Whether your hair is curly or straight, thick or thin, oily or dry, most of us will find that the no poo method isn’t ideal. However, we all have different hair care needs based on our own individual chemistry.

Experiment with the suggestions above until you find what works for your hair, then come back and let me know your results!

Have you ever tried “no poo?” Did you have any of the problems described above? Share below!

Find out why the "no poo" way of washing hair isn't best in the long run, and get the scoop on my favorite natural shampoo alternatives.

Katie Wells Avatar

About Katie Wells

Katie Wells, CTNC, MCHC, Founder of Wellness Mama and Co-founder of Wellnesse, has a background in research, journalism, and nutrition. As a mom of six, she turned to research and took health into her own hands to find answers to her health problems. is the culmination of her thousands of hours of research and all posts are medically reviewed and verified by the Wellness Mama research team. Katie is also the author of the bestselling books The Wellness Mama Cookbook and The Wellness Mama 5-Step Lifestyle Detox.


165 responses to “The Hidden Problem with “No Poo” (And What to Do Instead)”

  1. Chris Avatar

    I have been no poo for a little over 2 years but have never tried baking soda or ACV. I used to wash with just a sulfate/paraben free conditioner but now I use Renpure brand of shampoo and conditioner which is free of all the harmful things and is super affordable since my 3 daughters and I all use it. I buy it from Target or Walmart and we all love it. We all have long hair. Even my husband likes it and said after his runs out he is going to use ours. 🙂
    I am so glad to read the comments as I have never heard of the water alone method.

  2. Beth Ann Porter Avatar
    Beth Ann Porter

    Thank you for your dedication to true health and your willingness to share your discoveries with others! Your tips and information are a blessing to me and my family and I appreciate your efforts to educate the world about safe strategies for health!
    I am interested in learning more about the Morrocco Method products. I looked at their site, but I’m not certain if they are completely organic even though they use wildcrafted ingredients, so I wanted further clarification. I realize not everyone chooses to seek organic status due to the expense, but I’m leery when I can’t easily determine the quality of ingredients. Since I many not understand the full meaning of wildcrafted, I’m asking for more information about their organic or chemical free status.
    Have a sunny day regardless of the the weather!

  3. Teneko Avatar

    There are some great points in here and in the comments. I first heard of the idea of not washing your hair (AT ALL) from a historical costuming group. Some members were in the SCA or other groups, and took some of the historical reproductions to what some may consider extremes. I remember the lady who said she hadn’t washed her hair with anything but water for a while. She said that there was a transition period where her hair overproduced oil. It was a greasy disgusting mess for about 6 weeks. Then, at one point, people started asking her when she started washing her hair again. It had normalized, finally. She just used water and a good comb.
    Fast forward to a couple years ago and I started looking at alternatives myself because I was dyeing my hair red and looking for options that wouldn’t strip my colour as fast. I found some co-wash product from Herbal Essences and thought, wow! This is great! But I started having a hard time finding it in the stores…and on top of that, I was starting to detox my life and use more natural products. I heard about the “curly girl” method and how silicones were bad for your hair because they coat it and keep the moisture out. They are addictive in a way because they make your hair feel so smooth and slippery, but then you wash them out, strip your hair again of the cones and oils with a detergent, then apply that fake slippery coating again to fool you into thinking your hair was great. But no. It’s just a facade. Underneath, the hair is still dry and damaged.
    I tried baking soda and ACV. The baking soda was great at first, but was too drying. The ACV was nice, but my husband can’t STAND the smell, so I had to stop. I finally found Mop Top products which are curly girl friendly and use a cleansing conditioner with a light conditioner after. I also started using henna to dye my hair red instead of chemicals. I have also started using lotions that are cone free and as free of chemicals as I can find.
    So far, I am very happy with washing my hair only once a week. My curls and waves thank me. My scalp thanks me. My husband thanks me, too. 😉


  4. Kathryn Avatar

    Hi, please don’t put any clay products down your drains! They WILL harden and clog and become like cement. My friend found at the most horrible way!
    I like to use rhassoul clay and rinse it in the backyard – so be creative to find a rinse for your clay or clay products that doesn’t risk your plumbing.

  5. Rachael M Coleman-Dean Avatar
    Rachael M Coleman-Dean

    Water only. I’ve switched from baking soda and vinegar (my hair looked great using these two, just wanted to go as natural as I could) and I’ve never used anything but water on my toddler son and daughter and get compliments on their hair constantly! My husband will use burts baby bee soap every month or so, but me and the kids are water only and it’s amazing. I water wash once a week or as needed. My hair is thicker than it’s ever been. Shinier, and I don’t put anything else in it ever. Free unless to count laying the water bill!

  6. Ande Avatar

    I have been using baking soda and ACV for three years and I plan to continue using it. I use 1 tablespoon baking soda to 1 cup of bottled spring water and for the conditioner: 1/3 cup vinegar to 2/3 cup spring water. I only wash my hair every 5 days and it does not get oily like it used to, I am not losing tons of hair everyday in my brush and all around me, I do not have a dry or dandruff scalp, and my hair looks and feels very healthy. I just did a simple, little at-home pH test and the baking soda mix is an 8-9, and the vinegar rinse is a 3. Combining the two on the pH strip brings the pH down to 7 (neutral). I am going to continue using my no-poo.

  7. Michele Avatar

    When i started no poo, it meant no washing, use water only. I’ve been doing that about 3 years, at the time i worked at a pool, as the chlorine was awful. I had to cut my hair because there is nothing that counter-effects chlorine (they’re now salt water, much better). But I’ve had to keep my hair short because no-poo is to drying, and I use nothing in it.

  8. Brooke Avatar

    I am a no poo gal and have been for three years now. I do a 50/50 of acv and water. I massage it into my scalp and then apply more to the hair and brush it through. I let it sit for five to ten minutes and then rinse it out. I am constantly getting compliments on it. It’s long, grows fast, and is healthy. I do not dye my hair and use no products. I straighten or use a curling iron at most once every two to three months. So almost no heat either.

  9. Michelle Avatar

    I’ve been no-poo for about 8 years. I started out with the baking soda/vinegar combo, and it worked well. However, I had a short bob, and later a pixie cut, that made it very manageable. About three years in, however, I noticed that baking soda started making my scalp super dry and itchy (perhaps exacerbated by the fact that we’d moved somewhere with really hard water). I did some more poking around at no-poo ideas, and decided to try the water-only method. My hair was still cut as a pixie at this point – I think it would otherwise have been really hard to transition into. Three weeks into water only my hair felt totally waxy. Interesting. However, since it was pixie, the waxiness kind of worked in my favor as far as styling goes. A few weeks after that it regulated and my hair felt normal again. I still do water-only for the most part and my hair is now at the bottom of my shoulder blades. I do seem to get a fair amount of split ends, but my hair and scalp seem to err on the dry side. I will occasionally set my hair with oil and rinse in out, giving my scalp a really good scrub with my nails. I try to brush my hair twice a day. My hair grows faster and a little thicker than it ever has (in part due to hair regimen and also taking Juice Plus). This past summer, however, I tried a new hair product called MotherDirt that I think fits right in with no-poo. I’ve started to buy it every so often to get my hair really clean (like after my oil “wash” – water alone ain’t going to rinse that out). Anyway, I love the MotherDirt shampoo. My hair feels AMAZING with it, and I can still do my normal once every two weeks washing. But it is expensive and is only good for four weeks, so I will only buy it once or twice a year. I would like to find a good way to add Moisture to my scalp/hair though. I was using coconut oil, but I wonder if a different oil would be better?

  10. Julie Gagnon Avatar
    Julie Gagnon

    I’ve been “poo” free for 3 years. I have been using Dr. Bonners Castile soap mixed with even amounts of water. Right now using peppermint. Hubby loves the tea tree. I’ve also used the lavender and my next batch will be almond. I only make 1 cup batches at a atime. Yes it is watery, but it is wonderful. I just shake a few drops around my head and lather away. I also use a coconut shampoo bar from Tropical traditions when traveling. I also from time to time use my soap nuts to make shampoo. Depends on how I feel. I used to use the cleansing conditioners, but after awhile they would make my hair flat from build up. I found you have to sick with it in the beginning, but it is totally with it to find what works for your hair and water supply.

  11. Janae Avatar

    I’ll admit I’ve given up on safe shampoo for now. For a while I tried Wen, then just rinsing and toweling, then baking soda and vinegar. Maybe I didn’t stick it out long enough? I lost ambition to try anything new. Maybe I will give this a try!

  12. Janine Avatar

    Hi Katie,

    Thanks for this post. I use rye flour mixed with water as a thick paste, then a VERY diluted ACV rinse afterwards (1 teaspoon to a glass of water). I’ve been doing this for about 6 months now and it works well. I still feel my hair is not as shiny and manageable as it used to be, but I have read that it takes a while to get used to this new regimen. So I’m sticking to it for now. Have you heard about this approach and considered it (or not)? I used bicarb for a while about a year ago and had disastrous results.

  13. Kanika Avatar

    Thank you for this post. You have mentioned some great alternatives. But You didn’t mention your coconut milk shampoo in this post.

  14. Ann Avatar

    I found the Curly Girl Book in Barnes and Noble 12 years ago and found my protocol! If you have any curls at all this book is for you!!!!!
    I use a bottle of distilled water and lavender essential oil to spray down my hair for many days between washings…
    I scrunch and clip up my damp hair to form curls while it dries. My hair curls right up again and is totally manageable and beautiful and smells wonderful. I get asked all the time what I use on my hair. You can spray the scalp too and it cleans and deodorizes. Lavender is amazing for this job!
    Then when I really do need a wash I lightly wash with Aubrey Chamomile Luxurious Volumizing Shampoo.
    The conditioner is great too and I usually do not rinse that completely out. Very clean ingredients but not certified organic; every ingredient is organic and non gmo.
    I haven’t found a natural gel yet, so use a Paul Mitchell’s Extra Body sculpting foam on that day. I hope I’m allowed to say that on this blog! Sorry!

  15. Mary Avatar

    thank you for this post! Since we got married 8 years ago, my husband and I have been slowly detoxifying our lifestyle by moving towards more natural/healthier/simpler foods, cleaning products and body products. One of my last goals was to get away from my bad hair products, but really struggled with how to do it! Baking soda/ACV was a DISASTER and a shampoo bar from a local artisan left my hair dull, even drier, and not very clean. I was super frustrated and returned to less natural products. I have found that Dessert Essence works really well for me. Not quite as crunchy as I typically like my body products to be, but I can read the ingredient list and feel much better about it! I also recently out of frustration w my very wavy/almost curly hair tried aloe Vera gel as a post-shower curl-defining solution. Great results!! I highly recommend trying this!!

  16. Jennifer Tijunin Avatar
    Jennifer Tijunin

    The key is finding something that is non-toxic AND effective. Any time I’ve gone “no poo” or even done a vinegar rinse, my hair gets too tangly and dry. Some people do go through a period of detox after using harsh chemicals on their hair and exposure to environmental pollutants as well. I’ve found great success with products from MONAT. I love that they are safe for all hair types, including dyed hair. I also use the Junior kids line for my 3 small children.

  17. Vee Avatar

    This is an email I sent this morning in response to your Morrocco Method article, Since there was no where to post it, I am posting here as I felt it was important to point a few things out, since I got a response basically saying the EM wouldn’t be answered or read.

    Hi there,

    I’m not sure if this EM address will accept a note or not, but I hope so, since there was no where I could post this. I’ve used the Morrocco shampoo and conditioners for about a year and a half now, and I didn’t have much trouble getting used to the no sudsing qualities since I had already NOT been using shampoo for at least 10 years. However, what I was using was drying out my hair (baking soda & then vinegar rinses), and all my homemade oil treatments were really no longer helping keep my hair looking it’s best. My main point is that my hair had already been through the detox period and I have to say that it took me a good 6 weeks before my hair stopped looking like a greasy mess when I first started all those years ago! The Morrocco Method is absolutely terrific BUT you have to be prepared to go through some really bad hair days and they CAN last for weeks and weeks! You were already using your natural products, so your hair had less of an adjustment period, but people who are using the store bought, regular hair products can (and will) have a totally different experience. I had friends that asked what I was *doing* to my hair because they noticed the improvement, so I filled up some of my travel sized bottles and let a couple of them *try* them. They hated them! Their hair came out greasy, they both complained that their head *itched*, and they couldn’t get used to the non-sudsing. Yes, I had explained to them that their hair would detox and they’d have to be patient. They used it for 2 weeks and gave up and went back to their chemical junk.

    When I read your article today, all I could think of was that you might end up with a lot of disappointed readers, especially if they aren’t already using more natural type products on their hair. I love the MM shampoos and conditioners myself and wouldn’t use anything else, but people need to know what they may experience, but that it IS worth the effort. I only have to wash my hair once a week. I could go longer as it stays clean and looks and smells good, but there’s still the *yuck* factor – that I feel I NEED to wash it just to DO it, lol! There are times (like super hot summer days) where I wash it more frequently, but even that is rare. I have also found, that rather than diluting the shampoo, after I get my hair really wet and saturated with water, I put the shampoo at the top of head where it mixes with the water and I am able to get it throughout my hair. (my hair comes down to shoulder blade level) This has been much easier for me rather than diluting it prior to use.

    The Morrocco Method products are simply terrific, and I hope he always keeps them so natural and pure!


    1. Mandie Wright Avatar
      Mandie Wright

      Thanks for posting. I tried the Morocco Method products after I had been using baking soda and vinegar for a couple years and my hair felt really plastic-y. The website said this was a detox from all the chemicals, but I hadn’t used any chemicals for years. I think I tried for a month or two and gave up (though on a side note, after using the MM products that long and then using baking soda to get all the stuff out, my hair felt AMAZING after that).

      Couple questions for you:

      1. When you don’t wash your hair for a week, do you still rinse it, or does it stay dry the whole time? (Even with using BS, my hair can go 4 or 5 days which was definitely not possible with conventional shampoo.)

      2. How much are you using to get through your hair? I also didn’t like trying to dilute it before using it. And I was never sure if I was using enough.

      1. Vee Avatar

        Hi Mandie,

        To answer your first question, no I don’t do any rinses between shampoos, as it hasn’t been necessary. My hair stays clean, shiny, and soft. As for how much shampoo I use, I put apx 1 to 1-1/2 tsp in my hand, make sure I get my hair really wet, then quick put the shampoo on the top of the my head and then work it down through my hair, rinse, and repeat. My hair always looks clean and healthy. At first, I worried if I wasn’t using enough, but I think that’s just getting used to it NOT sudsing up. I’ve gotten used to that now though, and don’t worry about it. It’s always enough.


  18. Kathleen Gaffey Avatar
    Kathleen Gaffey

    Which of the 5 shampoos help with fixing hair loss problem?

  19. Nicole Contreras Avatar
    Nicole Contreras

    My process was several years long. Baking soda did not work for me. Finally I settled on useing a mix of African black soap and Castile soap (both peppermint). I wash just the hair and not the scalp finishing it off with diluted apple cider vinegar (if I skip this step the results are aweful). This worked well. It really was a process to find out what worked for me but I was determined. The crazy thing was that after my hair detoxed, I found it was actually curly. I’d always had annoying light waves but for the most part my hair was straight. Now it has beautiful curly waves, nothing crazy tight, but it gives my hair body. I love it.

    1. Cate Avatar

      Interesting – my hair did the opposite. I had curly, frizzy hair before going chemical-free 3 years ago. Now it is fairly straight with no curl. No frizz either, which is nice. The only time I get curl now is when it is humid.

    2. Ju Avatar

      This is great info! I’ve got great hair most of the time , but I’ve been trying different alternatives with no poo, de brooners , coco mil Castile soap etc. But the thing is my scalp after a while hates it ! I have seborrheic dermatitis and my scalp when I go through stress and my period hates it! It’s been a few years now and I’m really really frustrated. So do you think by not washing the scalp it might help?

      Thank you ?

      1. Laura Avatar

        I have had this issue too, but only when I’ve tried to cut down from shampooing daily. I finally found the avalon organics for dandruff and it works like a charm. My hair actually makes it 24 hours without itching using this stuff and no gross Greasy clumps of skin on my scalp

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