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Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Going shampoo-free

Sounds disgusting doesn't it? Just the idea can give people visions of greasy, smelly, dank-looking hair sitting on top of an equally greasy, smelly, teenage boy...

Why go shampoo-free?
Well, aside from the cost of shampoo and conditioners ($$), most seem to contain sodium laurel sulphates (SLS) and/or Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES)* which are both detergent surfactants and effective foaming agents. You will find SLS or SLES in industrial products including engine degreasers, floor cleaners, and car wash soaps. In lower concentrations, you will find it in toothpastes, shampoos, shaving foams and as an additive in food as an emulsifier. As stated in our 'Ingredients List' blog, it can also be made from Palm Oil, which makes it especially avoidable for us. 

-- as a side note, we still have not heard back from Pantene or Huggies about whether their products contain Palm Oil. As a consequence, we will be looking into alternatives, though perhaps not for shampoos if this method works. 

We also are trying to get away from buying a lot of plastic packaging, even though most of it appears to be recyclable now days.

Washing your hair using detergent based cleaners is a bit of a vicious cycle- the cleaners remove the oil and so your sebaceous glands work harder to produce more oil and so on and so forth. When you use conditioners you are really just putting artificial oils back into your hair. It has really been only in the last century that people started washing their hair more frequently. This article** written in 1908 in the New York times suggests that one could wash their hair as frequently as once a fortnight but only once a month to six weeks if your hair was in good condition. The idea is that your body finds a balance of oils on it's own if you leave it alone.

How do you go shampoo-free? 
From our research done online (though we do know people who have done this sucessfully as well), it would appear that their are two methods for going shampoo- free (or as some call it, 'poo-free): the water-only method and the baking soda/cider vinegar method.

The water only method is just that- rinse your hair under water on a daily basis, but making sure that you massage your scalp to help distribute your natural hair oils (sebum oil).

The baking soda/vinegar method:
Baking soda is said to remove the grime without stripping your hair of its natural oils due to its basic pH. The vinegar (notably most recipes use apple cider vinegar) has a low pH and is said to balance the pH of the hair and some claim that it also helps detangle and clarify the hair.
This intructable does a great job of explaining this method:

Both methods seem to have an adjusting period of a month- 6 weeks. Currently E is on week 2 of the water only method and K has actually been doing this for well over a year.

Getting your head around the idea of not washing your hair is a hard one, but one we hope will become second nature in time.



  1. Do you guys know about Beth Terry (aka 'fake plastic fish')? She's been trying to go plastic-free for about four years now, and blogs at

    Her primary concern is plastic waste ending up in the ocean, so she refuses plastic packaging and tries not to buy/get given any plastic at all. My one criticism is that she doesn't seem interested in the whole production chain. She is concerned about what will happen to plastic after it leaves her custody, but isn't interested in the plastic she never sees - e.g. the packaging stuff is taken out of to get put in the bulk bins etc.. However, trying to be aware of this dimension would, admittedly, make a complicated challenge even more complicated!

    Anyway, why I thought of her is that she's been 'no 'poo' for quite some time.

    I haven't done that myself (although I do sometimes rinse my hair with a dilute acid such as a little lemon juice or vinegar in a lot of water and it gives a lovely shine!). However, I do brush my teeth with baking soda. There's palm oil in most toothpastes, so that might be of interest to you.

    I use 3:1 baking soda:salt, and store that in a small jar. To brush my teeth I wet the toothbrush then dip it lightly in the powder then brush as normal. It's different, as you don't get any foam, but it's very effective. It's also great for sensitive teeth - before I discovered this, I could only use Sensodyne which is around $10 a tube! My dentist says it's fine for my teeth, too. Six tablespoons baking soda mixed with two tablespoons salt seems to last maybe 4 months or so with just me using it.

    Some people add peppermint essence to the mix, but I don't bother. I got used to the taste fairly quickly, and it has the added benefit that you can drink orange juice straight after and it doesn't taste gross :-) However, if you eat anything really acidy (like pickled beetroot straight from the jar, just for example) then you froth slightly at the mouth if you haven't rinsed your mouth properly! Quite disconcerting the first time...

    I use baking soda for deodorant, too. As with the toothpaste, seems to be actually *more* effective than the commercial product (although it's not an antiperspirant, just deodorant, so wouldn't suit everyone).


    --Heather :-)

  2. Hey Heather, thanks for the link! I'm definitely going to check out her blog! That's quite the challenge that she's doing!

    Thanks also for the toothpaste recipe- I'll give that a go this week. Kel tends to buy the sensitive stuff (we haven't even looked at the packet at its ingredients yet) so it would be great to be able to stop buying it.
    Not sure about the deodorant- admittedly the stuff I use is pretty heavy duty and therefore a little scary, but maybe I should give it a go anyway :)

    We've started cloth wipes with the wee man after your suggestion and they seem to do a better job than the disposable ones! :)


  3. Oh yay! Thanks for letting me know :-)

    Martin won't change to baking soda deodorant, and I don't think it's worth fussing about much. I was just intrigued when I heard about it and gave it a go and it worked really well for me. I find it much more effective than regular deodorant at keeping the smells down, but it does nothing to stop you actually sweating - something M does copiously. Baking soda isn't for everyone, but for me it works great :-)