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.


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

  1. Jelena Avatar

    I do no-poo for more than a year and never used baking soda, only rye flour. I also use dry shampoo between washes

  2. Jasmine Avatar

    I found other solution to go no-poo – using Indian herbal powders. There are many to choose from, I usually mix three together – Amla Powder, Shikakai Powder and Brahmi Powder. I just mix them with water until it creates a paste thick enough to put on hair and keep it up to 15 mins, then rinse.
    It leaves my hair clean and quite voluminous.
    I am suprised nobody ever mentions this method while discussing no-poo.
    It works really well for me, I wonder if anybody here ever tried it.

    1. Teneki Avatar

      Hey Jasimine,
      I was looking into a similar solution, but just haven’t pulled the trigger since it involves buying the products online in bulk. Most of the ayurvedic shampoo recipes I found include reetha / reethi (soap nuts) instead of or in addition to the brahmi. You’ll see that this post does include mention of reetha as soap nuts, so hopefully that gets people looking at the Indian hair cleansers.
      May I ask, though, what is your hair texture like? Most people I see using this have very long and straight hair. My hair is naturally wavy / curly.


  3. Essa Avatar

    Yes — just water! Though I did begin my no poo journey with diluted soda OR a vinegar rinse — depending on what I needed. Soda dries the hair so I used that if it was oily, and vinegar softens so I used that if it’s stiff. I haven’t used soda for well over a year now. The key, I’ve found, is in moving the scalp’s natural oils to the hair shaft. You can do this with a good massage with fingertips, followed by moving the fingers down sections of hair — but that takes about half an hour to do a thorough job (television watching is perfect). The other way is to do what your grandmothers did — get a good boar’s head bristle brush and give your hair 100 strokes each night. Clean out the hair and debris, but don’t wash the oils out of the brush. Then you can brush your freshly rinsed (plain water) and dried hair if it’s too dry, or wait a few days before brushing. I thought it would affect my natural curls badly, but it does not. The natural separation happens anyway. And you can always spritz with plain water to get them back if needed. I only rinse my hair about once each week in winter, more in summer because I’m out in it and sweat a lot.

  4. Violetta Avatar

    I’m “no poo” for more than 3 years now. Never used baking soda. There is so much choice and is baking soda just one of so many methods. unfortunately the most of the articels talking only about this one…

  5. Star Avatar

    Thank you for pointing out the dangers of No Poo. I just discovered the BORAX no poo (I didn’t see Borax mentioned but maybe I missed it) and one of the Borax recipes had Baking Soda. So I’ve been using 2 T Borax with 2T Baking Soda in 2 cups of water (shaken). At first my hair responded in ways I’d never seen and I still have strength, length and no damage (split ends all gone) and my hair no longer falls out in comb-fulls. I’m going on 65 (hair is still light brown with some white which seems to fall out). I’d tried Ovation (total waste of money and I never got my money back after I returned the unused portions — and I truly gave it a try — at first my hair fell out in handfuls !!!) Then I went to Wen which was excellent but expensive. I will try some of your recommendations as I do need something simple and non-damaging. Could be I’m not having too much trouble because I find I don’t need to wash my hair as much (a week or week in a half or 2 and I’ve NEVER been able to do this ! Needed to wash hair daily or at worst every 2-3 days. I found this blog trying to discover HOW to reply to your Mayonnaise comments and found this Join the Conversation … LOVE your Mayo which is how I found this website. Excellent website.

  6. Leanne Avatar

    I love Neuma brand shampoo. All natural and organic. Sudsy like shampoo. A little goes a long way.

  7. Kate Avatar

    I’ve been “no poo” for going on 3 months now, and I only used the baking soda method once. I not only didn’t like it (and the balancing you’re supposed to do with apple cider vinegar), but I read what you posted here: that long-term it can damage your hair.

    So I switched to rye flour.

    Rye flour is supposed to be pH balanced, and full of vitamins that are supposed to do good things for your hair. As no shampoo company would want a study done on using flour in place of their billion dollar industry, I can’t say whether this is scientifically true, BUT I’m finding that it works incredibly well for me. To the point where I’m baffled that baking soda is suggested at all.

    Not only is my hair smoother using rye flour, but I can go for longer periods between washings, which I couldn’t do with my expensive organic shampoo. Doing the “scritch and preen” thing (scratching and massaging your scalp, and then brushing with a boar bristle brush) also helps.

    So yeah, there are other “no poo” methods out there. For anyone thinking of going “no poo”, or if you’re finding the baking soda isn’t working, don’t freak out! There are other options! Baking soda isn’t the be all-end all.

    (Note: when using rye flour, mix it with FILTERED water. I use what’s leftover from boiling my teakettle the night before. There’s something about it that cleans better. Also, you want Light or White rye flour, that’s been finely sifted. Stone Ground, which is the easiest to come by, contains the hull, which is really hard to wash out. If Stone Ground is the only stuff you can find (Light/White is available online), you can sift it using a tea strainer, which tends to be really fine.)

    One other great thing about using rye flour is that you can find it in paper bags. There are brands that use plastic (like Bob’s Redmill), but Dove’s Farm and others come in the traditional paper sack. This reduces your plastic consumption, and thus the plastic that winds up in our landfills.

    That’s a big reason why I looked at “no poo” in the first place: PLASTIC. Personal care products are rife with it; I assume because it’s probably too expensive to use glass. Considering how often we use personal care products, it’s good to look at not only the contents, but its packaging. Do you want to keep tossing out plastic bottles and tubs and jars every few months. Do you want to keep putting your money in to the plastics industry by supporting companies that use it.

    It’s really hard to cut plastic out completely (because it’s so ubiquitous), but looking at not just “no poo”, but “no poo” methods that are plastic-free is a really great start. In my bid to become zero waste, it’s one of the first things I did.

    1. Mary Avatar

      I have been using fine ground rye flour for about a year and only need to wash my hair every 5 to 7 days. I used to be every day or two with shampoo. I don’t think you can tell that I don’t use shampoo. I had also read that it is pH balanced and has good nutrients. Not sure if that is true, but I figured it can’t hurt me if I could ingest it. I do occasionally use Katie’s dry shampoo recipe if I need to postpone washing.

  8. Sara Avatar

    Hi Katie,
    I use shampoo and then I put baking soda. Is that also not good?

    Should I skip the baking soda totally?

    It makes my hair feel good, but I don’t want to do what’s not good!


  9. Shelley Avatar

    Over the past 4 years I have tried it all. My hair is baby fine and thin. It breaks quit often and won’t grow past my shoulders.
    I tried the baking soda route with ACV rinse with rosemary in it and it was too harsh for my hair.
    I tried the honey shampoo – bad greasy stage for 2 weeks and then noticed my hair was weighed down to much.
    I tried store bought natural shampoos- not very good results- I still had a ton of breakage.
    Went to the Moroccan Method – hair went thru a detox stage. I bought the 5 different trial bottles and one lotus conditioner. I’ve used them all up now and I noticed a bit better results but hair was so knotty when I went to brush it and noticed breakage in my brush but not as bad. I added ACV rinse and that helped.
    THEN someone told me about Monat and asked me to trial it. OMG people, this line is amazing. I dug into the ingredients and even contacted the company to see what was in their proprietary blend (which is all natural oils). I then tried it and the first wash my hair was incredible. No tangles, no breakage in my comb, just really soft lushes locks. This is a first ever for me. Everyone I seen that day commented on how nice my hair looked. I couldnt stop touching it all day, it was silky soft.
    The transition was a lot like every other no poo solution. Greasy the next day so I used my Diy dry shampoo for another 3 days (I only wash my hair every 3-4 days. Then after 2 weeks what a transformation. My hair is growing and very healthy. Best part it’s all natural ingredients

    1. Jennifer Tijunin Avatar
      Jennifer Tijunin

      I’ve had awesome Monat results, too. That’s why I became a Market Partner! Keep spreading the word!

  10. Shannon Avatar

    I ordered a trial set of the Morroco method after getting your email. Thank you for the coupon code! I’m excited to try it. I tried the no poo thing and we have hard water it didn’t work for me at all. I had to wash (not wash?) my hair more often than I did with shampoo. What I’ve been doing since trying that is using a “natural” shampoo and once every few months I would mix a bit of baking soda in it. I won’t be doing that anymore. I had no idea baking soda could hurt my hair.

  11. Rachael Avatar

    I did baking soda and vinegar for about a year. At first my hair was super oily, I figured it was just adjusting from all the crap I’d done to it over the years, then I started to get buildup, only washing once or twice a week. It seemed like no matter how much I rinsed, I couldn’t get everything out (well water). I wore my hair in a pony tail every day because it was so awful.
    I stopped bs and acv and went to rinsing just water (with a bi-weekly wash of store bought shampoo).
    I now use a homemade Castile shampoo with honey, coconut oil and essential oils. I couldn’t be happier. No chemicals and clean hair!

  12. Suzanne Bennett Avatar
    Suzanne Bennett

    The “problem” lies in this phrase: “…give your hair a scrub…” Don’t scrub. Just put a heaping tablespoon of baking soda into a quart of very warm water and pour it through your hair. Let it sit for about 5 minutes and rinse it out thoroughly. Follow up with a couple of ounces of white vinegar (or lemon juice or ACV) in a quart of cool water. This will balance your scalp’s pH and close the cuticle of the hair shaft.

  13. Melissa Auxier Avatar
    Melissa Auxier

    I make natural shampoo bars, they are conditioning and will help to nourish the hair and scalp. I stopped using commercial shampoos almost 10 years ago. I used to buy high quality shampoos and conditioners and could never skip the conditioner as I wouldn’t even be able to comb through my hair.. After creating my own shampoo bars, my hair is softer than it has ever been. This might not be the solution for everyone, but it works for me.

  14. Rachel Avatar

    So would the same go for a shampoo recipe with baking soda in it? I’ve started making one with baking soda, aloe vera and olive oil along with essential oils. Think that’s a bad idea?

  15. Cat Avatar

    Question: How can I get my hair to cooperate? I have to wash daily. With short hair, and (ICK) hairspray, it flattens out and sticks out funny in back, with a hole in the hairdo where my head rests on my pillow. It won’t comb out, so I have to wash it. Any solutions?

  16. Judith Brighton Avatar
    Judith Brighton

    Tried it all, but landed on 3 parts water/1 part Dr Bronner’s Castile Soap. Maybe once every two weeks – hair never “squeaks” because it’s never stripped of all its oil. Rinse with a very dilute ACV. Hair is great, scalp also. If my hair feels like it needs something mid-cycle, I do a water wash and ACV rinse and I’m back! I have coarse, thick and wavy graying-auburn red hair It’s possible that I can’t go too wrong with this hair in the first place. But I don’t miss the expense of or the addiction to perfume-smelling, too-soft shampooed hair.

  17. Cat Avatar

    I’m a no pooer… I add olive/grapeseed/vitE/or other to my batch of no poo. I also add castile soap to the finished recipe, too. I haven’t noticed any hair loss, beyond the norm. My hair color hasn’t changed (except to get more grey). It’s not oily, and can get dry feeling, but I think that is caused from the (sorry to have to confess this) hairspray. Okay, I’m 68, have short hair, and do not color it. I’d love to find a style that nixes the hairspray, but alas, it just doesn’t work for me. So, I’m nearly there, but not (the fully natural cat). I am wondering…can I just use the same recipe for no poo, but instead of the baking soda, swap it out with the clay? I already brush my teeth with Bentonite clay/coconut oil/EOs.

  18. Betty Avatar

    I did the baking soda ACV for about 2 years and was happy with it. Then read about water only and have gone that route for the past year. I use a tiny bit of argan oil on my face, then rub my fingers through my hair. It stays soft and shiny. I am 71 and the gray in my hair is now mostly brown!

  19. Kristin Avatar

    I have been no poo for over two years. I was using clay after baking soda was destroying my hair. Clay is not the right ph either. Now I use chick pea flour. 1/3 of a cup in a 16 oz bottle of water. It’s the same pH as your hair. I don’t even rinse with acv anymore because it makes my hair over produce oil at any concentration. And guess what!! It makes an amazing dry shampoo too!

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