Welcome to A Guide to No Poo for Newbies


It seems to me there are 2 kinds of people who write about the no ‘poo journey. 

1. The people who tried it briefly and it didn’t work for them.

2. The people who tried it and it worked quickly for them.

At least, by my searches, that was all I could come up with. Where were all the people in between who had all the struggles and trials and didn’t give up but felt like it 150 million times – every single day? Oh yes, they were in the comments on the articles and posts, but to weed through all of those was quite tedious, and I was already at my max for how much thinking about hair I could handle.

hair days after washing

I hope you’re here either because you read my post on The Dish Behind the Healthy Hair Movement and you’re curious about it, OR you read the post and you think you’re ready to jump in with no ‘poo / low ‘poo, OR Google was my friend and you found this post via a search :D (Yes? Right?!)

I’m hoping once you’ve read this Guide to No Poo, you’ll be a lot more informed than when you arrived here. The past few weeks I have researched and read probably over 100 articles and posts on no ‘poo, shampoo, low ‘poo, and everything in between. And what bothers me is that I had to read over 100 articles and posts to find out as much as I did.

What I’m seeking to do here is lay it all out for you, from one no ‘poo newbie (and I’m still learning heaps!) to another . We’ll talk about what your options are for switching, what some of the barriers or setbacks are that you may face, and give you some tips and tricks for troubleshooting to hopefully get you off to a good start on this no ‘poo journey.

Ready? To quote Peter Pan “Here we GOOOOO!”

A Guide to No 'Poo for Newbies

No ‘Poo Options

What makes no ‘poo NOT a shampoo?

The absence of chemicals  and detergents that exist to coat and/or strip the hair of its natural oils, mineral oil (a by-product of distilled gasoline), and other not so fun ingredients (like pthalates and parabens). Many people would argue that no ‘poo methods are just as damaging (see this post here against no ‘poo, and the counter post here), which may be the case – it all depends on the person and the method in which they are being used.

How to Use Baking Soda to Clean Your Hair

A baking soda (BS) and water mixture is one of the easiest ways to clean your hair without shampoo. How does it work? BS is an alkaline that has a high pH which opens up the cuticle when applied –  it works to easily clear off any oils or dirt that have formed on the hair and scalp.

ALWAYS start with 1 TABLESPOON of BS dissolved in 1 cup of water (preferably distilled, or at the very least, boiled).

If you find that your head is too itchy and your hair is very dry, you can decrease the BS  marginally until you find a ratio that suits you (or use a different rinse and conditioning oils – more on that in a minute). You may also increase the amount of water in the mixture. This concoction lasts me about 2 weeks (I have shoulder length hair).

Add a couple drops of Tea Tree oil to the BS mixture to help with flakes and make your hair smell better than a head (if that’s a problem for you).

  • To wash: Keep your BS wash in an old bottle with a squeeze lid of some type. When you wash your hair, squeeze some onto your scalp and massage into the roots. You need very little on the length of your hair, focus mainly on your scalp.
  • You want to keep doing this, massaging in, until your hair feels a sort of squeaky clean. You’ll know it when you feel it!
  • Rinse VERY WELL with water, and follow by an acidic rinse (see below).

The key with cleaning your hair with BS is to not wash too frequently. Many of the people who experienced dry, brittle hair from BS washes weren’t rinsing correctly, or were washing it too frequently, or were using too much BS. The general rule is a MINIMUM of 4 days between washes – I have friends who have gotten up to a week or more before they’ve had to wash, after several months of going no ‘poo. It’s ok if you have to wash more frequently at the beginning, just be careful how much BS you use.

Apple Cider Vinegar or Distilled White Vinegar Rinse

The 2 most common rinses after a BS wash are Apple Cider Vinegar (ACV – organic is better, but not totally necessary) and Distilled White Vinegar (DWV). Now you’re probably thinking, why on earth am I rinsing my hair with vinegar? Isn’t it going to stink to high heaven? Yes, it does, but only in the shower (the scent BARELY lingers on your hair).

When you wash with BS, you ARE stripping the hair of some of the oils/sebum (not as much as a commercial shampoo though, mind you), and changing the pH of your hair. Even our water on it’s own is generally a higher pH than your skin and hair, so it’s important to restore the balance.

Yes, hair is dead, but the cuticle does open up and has been damaged from other products and exposure. You need an acidic rinse of a lower pH to seal the deal (or at least, the cuticle). Acids cause the keratin on the surface of your hair strand to lay flat instead of bristle = hair that is shiny and smooth.

  • The basic mixture for an acidic rinse is also 1 TABLESPOON ACV or DWV to 1 cup of distilled water.
  • ACV is recommended for drier hair, DWV is a good option for those with oilier locks.
  • If you have hair that tends to be oily, start here. If your hair is getting too dry, try increasing the amount of vinegar gradually.
  • Keep a spray bottle or bottle with a pour spout in your shower. If you have hard water, you’re going to need to POUR it on your whole head. If not, you can pour it on mainly the length of your hair (your scalp may get too oily, play around with it) or spray on the ends.

Tea Rinses for Conditioning

brewed tea

I told you you’d be able to eat almost anything you put on your hair! Or at least, in this case, drink it.

Tea rinses are amazing for your hair – they can promote growth, hide greys, condition and cut grease, decrease dandruff, and so much more.

The tea rinses below are recommended for different types of hair. Make sure none of the bagged teas contain sugar, and the others are pure loose leaves or herbs.

  • All-purpose – Sage leaf, Nettle leaf, Peppermint leaf
  • Oily hair – Lemongrass, Licorice Root, Peppermint leaf
  • Dry hair – Nettle leaf, Sage leaf (these would be loose leaf or herbs)
  • Conditioning – Nettle leaf, Lemongrass
  • Revitalizing – Nettle leaf, Peppermint leaf, Rosemary leaf
  • Red hair – Red Clover, Rooibos
  • Dark hair – Black tea, Sage leaf, cloves
  • Light hair – Sage tea
  • Dandruff – Cloves, Sage leaf, Tea Tree

To make a tea rinse, simply choose your tea or leaves, brew 3-5 bags worth in 1-2 cups of boiled water, for an hour or up to overnight. Apply it to your hair dry, or after a wash, instead of your vinegar rinse. You can also replace tea for the water in your BS wash.

Please be careful with tea rinses if you’re pregnant or nursing. Your skin is the largest organ in your body and if there are teas you shouldn’t be drinking, then you shouldn’t be putting them on your hair either.

Other Hair Conditioning Options

For a couple sweeter options than tea to condition your hair, try aloe vera juice or gel, eggs, coconut milk or honey. My favourite sweet-smelling, deliciously soft-feeling conditioner is an aloe vera and honey mixture (click –> all the benefits of aloe and honey and more details). My skin is super dry in the winter so this helps a lot with the itchiness and flakes, plus aloe is fantastic to help restore pH and stimulate growth.

1/4 cup Aloe vera gel or juice

2 TABLESPOONS raw honey

Blend into a very smooth mixture. Leave on your hair for a few minutes in the shower and rinse out.

Almost Exactly has a great post on more options for no ‘poo alternatives and conditioners

Dry Shampoo

corn starch and cocoa dry shampoo

So you made it to day 4, but you’re hoping to stretch it just a LITTLE bit further before you wash? Why not try a dry shampoo?

All you need is corn starch or arrowroot powder and cocoa (more for darker hair). It works amazingly well, AND you’ll smell like a delicious cupcake all day. Check out my friend Beth’s post on how to make and use dry shampoo.

Boar Bristle Brush

This is a MUST for helping the sebum (naturally produced hair oils) to travel down the length of your hair. Brushing with a boar bristle brush helps to nourish and condition the ends of your hair, as well as send the message to your scalp that it can stop producing so much oil (thus shortening your “transition time”).

The best time to brush is before bed. Make sure you brush from the scalp all the way down the length of your hair, and in different directions.

Low ‘Poo Options for Cleaning Your Hair

Castile Soap

castile soap for shampoo

Castile soap is a soap made from plant-based oils . It is not considered no ‘poo, however, it IS considered a great low ‘poo option.

I started off using castile soap as my shampoo, but quickly learned it would NOT work for me. There were a couple different reasons, one major factor being that we have hard water (I’ll get a bit more into this in a second). Another was that my hair was still feeling slightly limp and pretty stringy after using it, so I realized it probably wasn’t the best option for me.

The best way to use castile soap is Dr. Bronner’s Unscented Baby-mild, straight up. Use a very little bit, as much as possible mainly on the roots of your hair (when the roots are clean, the rest gets cleaned).

Follow up with an acidic rinse, ESPECIALLY if you have hard water (or you will have waxy hair).

If you’re using regular or scented castile soap, use a 1:5 – 1:8 ratio soap to distilled water. It will totally depend on your hair and body, so you’ll likely have to play around with it. Feel free to add an essential oil to the mix.

Bentonite Clay

I don’t know very much about this, but bentonite clay is a great alternative for cleaning your hair, and seems to work well for those who have hard water or a hard time getting BS or castile soap to work for them. Here is Almost Exactly’s recipe for clay shampoo.

Why No ‘Poo Might Not Work For You

So here we are, the part where I tell you that as much as you may want it to, no ‘poo might not work for you. And here’s why.

Hard Water

If you have hard water, you might just be out of luck. We’ve been living in this house for over 7  years and figured our town didn’t have very hard water. What a wakeup call when I started using castile soap and noticed the incredibly waxy feeling to my hair without the rinse! We have VERY hard water :0(

There are a couple things you can do if you do have hard water.

      1. Get a water softener. Obviously this can be a very expensive option, BUT softened water IS better for your body in general (and in the shower, you are exposed to WAY more chemicals and minerals as your body absorbs and inhales them).
      2. Get a shower head filter. Though be forewarned, these will NOT soften your water. They will, however, filter out the junk I mentioned above, but it’s practically impossible to get a shower head that will actually soften your water. Sprite universal shower filter Aquasana Deluxe Shower Water Filter
      3. Try using bentonite clay or a soap nuts shampoo
      4. Wash your hair in rain water or distilled water. This is not a great option, but hey, at least I brought it up!

Whether you use castile soap or baking soda or even just water to wash your hair, hard water is a BEAST to slay – and not an easy one. You may find it too big of a struggle if none of the above are options for you, and the hard water might just win.

Transition and Hormones

You’ve heard people talk about the transition time you go through when you switch from lab-produced shampoos to no ‘poo. How your hair starts to increase its oil production because it thinks you’ll come back and douse it in those awful products again. How for some people it never seems to decrease and they end up giving up and walking away.

When I started I was told the transition period should last about a month. But in truth, it’s probably more like 6-8 weeks for most people, as a starting point. For some it’s too much to bear – after all, how professional is it to show up to work with your hair slicked to your head, and there’s only so many scarves, hats and wide hair bands you can wear.

Hat on head

However, I think that sometimes we think people notice our hair more than they actually do. So if you can get past the self-conscious pride vs. nastiness thing for a little bit, find some cute hats and scarves (who knows, maybe you’ll start a new office trend?), and grit your teeth in determination, you’ll make a fine no ‘poo convert.

Just don’t be surprised if you get past your transition phase, and are sailing along with beautiful hair, only to be completely sidelined by a few days or so of weird hair again. With our hormone changes our hair changes too. But don’t be discouraged, hang in there and it should balance itself out again.

Our bodies and hair are all so different

Everyone produces sebum (natural oils) in their hair at a different rate (and some have a lot of build up!). Our metabolisms and hormones are all different.  No matter how hard you try or play around with ingredients, no ‘poo just might not suit you. And that’s ok! Find a product that you’re comfortable with using and enjoy doing so. Shea Moisture Shampoo and DevaCurl No-Poo Cleanser come highly recommended, and Dr. Bronner’s has a Citrus Hair Conditioning Rinse that has great results.

There’s no right or wrong here, just what’s best for you.

To shampoo or not to shampoo

Well, congratulations, you made it through A Guide to No ‘Poo for Newbies! Thanks for sticking it out and I hope you’ve been encouraged or at least intrigued. At the very least, you’re hungry, right?

Below is a list of resources I have found very helpful in researching. The Facebook group is chock full of people who are experienced at no ‘poo as well as brand new to it, and they have a plethora of ideas and helpful tips to offer. I would HIGHLY recommend getting on board.

Almost Exactly blog – CHOCK full of no ‘poo/low ‘poo recipes, info and tips

Facebook No Poo and Low Poo Hair Care

Wellness Mama blog

Do you have any questions about no ‘poo? Is there anything you’d like to know I didn’t touch on? I’m certainly not an expert, but I love to help, so I’ll do my best to answer any questions for you.


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