How To Keep Hair Clean Between Washes

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Hair Care, No Shampoo, Water Only Hair Washing
Pair of shoes after daily workout

FAQ: “How do I keep my hair clean between washes and after workouts?”

In previous posts, I’ve discussed ways to help slow down the scalp’s natural oil production, including stretching the time between hair washes. One of the most frequently asked questions I receive is, “How can I keep my hair clean between washes if I workout or get sweaty daily?” It’s a good question, and the answer applies to anyone who wants to keep their hair clean between hair washes. This post is all about how to keep the hair and scalp fresh, even after sweating, without doing anything that will interfere with the scalp’s natural oil production.

The best way I can explain this topic is to discuss the benefits from washing hair, and then explain a combination of techniques that simulate washing hair without requiring a full on hair wash. These techniques are intended to provide the benefits of a hair wash (sweat-free/odor-free/clean/hydrated scalp), without actually washing hair or interfering with the scalp’s natural oil production.

Benefits of No-Poo Washing vs Rinsing

***In this post, washing does NOT mean washing with shampoo. Washing refers to using a shampoo-free cleanser (“No Poo”) or the water-only method to wash hair.

The main distinction I’ll make in this post between washing and rinsing is that “washing” dissolves natural hair oils and washes them away. However, “rinsing” does not disturb the natural oils, but simply rinses cool water through the hair (without product, warm water, or much scrubbing) to remove dirt and sweat (which is water-based). Washing the hair gives important benefits the hair and scalp need to stay happy. A person could just rinse hair after a workout, but ONLY rinsing hair can mean missing out on the added benefits of washing hair gives (like promoting blood flow to the scalp, lifting off dead skin cells, washing away excess hair oils, etc.). So what should we do?

Below is a handy graphic I made to show how to combine rinsing with scritching / preening / boar-bristle brushing (SPB) between washes to get a lot of the same benefits as when washing hair.

Note: These are just techniques to follow between hair typical no-shampoo hair washes.

Chart showing differences between no poo hair wash versus hair rinse
Chart showing benefits of no poo hair wash versus hair rinse

Water-Only? I consider water-only hair washing as a hair wash, not a hair rinse. Yes, it uses only water, but the whole point of WO is to wash away excess oils (which is why it includes scrubbing to loosen up excess scalp oils & very warm water which breaks up and washes away excess hair oils better than cold water). I consider it a hair wash, not a hair rinse.

How Scritching, Preening, & Brushing “Washes” Hair

Per the graphic, combining rinsing with scritching, preening, and boar-bristle brushing (SPB) gives similar benefits to a hair wash, and they can be used between hair washes to keep the hair/scalp happy. I’ve discussed the benefits of scritching, preening, and natural bristle brushing many times throughout my posts, because they are essential when following the Water-Only hair washing method, or in this instance, for anyone skipping several days between hair washes.

Scritching is similar to scrubbing the scalp in the shower, except it’s done when the hair is dry. It promotes blood flow to the scalp, lifts dead skin cells off the scalp, and loosens excess oils off the scalp. Boom, boom, and boom… Scritching alone checks off the first three points on the list of hair washing benefits. Preening pulls the excess scalp oils away from the scalp and down to nourish the rest of the hair. Brushing also helps pull the oils through hair (but only if it has natural bristles like boar’s hair or wooden bristles), and the dense bristles of a boar’s hair brush can brush dirt and dead skin cells out of hair. For pictures and more info on how to Scritch/Preen/Brush, check out Step 2 of this post.

These techniques are so useful that some people have gone so far as only practicing dry brushing, and they use water on their hair very minimally. You don’t have to take it that far if you don’t want to, but the point is scritching, preening, and brushing can be super effective!

How To Manage Sweat Between Hair Washes

Okay, so you may notice I didn’t mention sweat in the section above. Sweat doesn’t get clearly addressed in the scritching, preening, and brushing (SPB) process, so this is where rinsing comes in. Hair with a normalized oil production (or hair that is not oily while trying this), will most likely have the best results with SPBing and rinsing. Some people get satisfactory results after just SPBing, no extra steps required, but some people will need (or just want) a hair rinse after a workout. Both of those options are explained below, with a third option for those with excessively oily hair, those who don’t ‘t feel like wetting their hair, or for anyone unhappy with the results they got from rinsing. (Also see: how to make your hair smell good!)

Option 1: SPB without a hair rinse

After a workout, put hair up and out of the way (in a shower cap, old t-shirt, microfiber hair towel, etc.), and wash the body in the shower or bath. Once out of the shower and dry, take hair out of any up-dos or bands, and shake it out so it can breathe and any leftover sweat can dry. Definitely wait for the sweat in hair to dry before attempting to SPB. Regularly keep up with SPBing so natural oils don’t build at the roots throughout the week. SPB daily, or every few days if there isn’t natural oil building up at the roots.

Option 2: Go straight for a hair rinse

Shower head rinsing hair after workout

For a rinse, use COOL water (or lukewarm if needed). Cool water can wash away dirt, lifted dead skin cells, odors, and sweat off hair, but it won’t dissolve oils like warm water will. Wash the body with any preferred temperature, just keep hair out of the water stream until the water is cool. When ready, rinse hair under cool water, and gently run fingers through hair and across the scalp to get the water to all areas of the head. Let the water rinse over the hair thoroughly, but don’t scrub. Sweat is water-based, so rinsing hair and scalp with water can wash away sweat. If the water is cool and scrubbing is to a minimum, hair oils won’t wash away natural hair oils or mess up the scalp’s oil production. Just SPB in between washes regularly to keep oil from building at the roots, or hair may look oily after a hair rinse.

Option 3: Excessively Oily Hair? Aren’t happy with the results of a rinse?

Dry shampoo works really well as a fail-safe. Dry Shampoo is a powder that is rubbed into the hair to soak up excess oils and refresh the scent of hair. Dry shampoo is used without having to get hair wet, the oil-free effects last all day, and it can allow another day before having to wash hair. HOWEVER, use the least amount of dry shampoo as possible since the powder does soak up the oils on the head, which could make the scalp think it’s dry and need to produce more oils (like after a hair wash). So I recommend using it just along the hairline for up-dos, or just along the part line and on fringe for hair that’s styled down. This way, only the areas seen by everyone else look clean, but the underneath sections of hair can stay oily but hidden. (Also see: using dry shampoo for cleaner no poo hair washes)

Dry shampoo doesn’t actually remove excess oils or wash them away, it just adds a powder to hair that soaks the oils up, so keep in mind the dry shampoo product will stay on the head until the next time it is washed or rinsed it out. Go for a gentle, non-irritating and non-drying formula that won’t make the scalp itchy during the week. I prefer using a natural DIY dry shampoo (recipe below), but there are store-bought dry shampoos as well Just watch out for and avoid silicones and drying alcohols in the ingredients.

Bowls of cocoa powder and arrowroot powder for DIY dry shampoo recipe

For a simple, cheap, and natural dry shampoo, consider using arrowroot powder (found in health food stores) to soak up excess oils on the scalp. These powders are white like most dry shampoos, and blend well into light hair. For dark hair, mix together a ratio of 1/2 arrowroot powder and 1/2 unsweetened cocoa powder. This is the mixture I use. The cocoa powder helps the mixture blend into dark hair much easier and smells great. These are natural (edible) ingredients that shouldn’t irritate the scalp, and don’t include preservatives, drying agents, or silicones that can’t be washed out of hair. I really love this DIY alternative for dry shampoo. I’ve used it for the last two years, it refreshes the scent of my hair, and it makes it look and feel so soft and as clean as if I just washed it.

For more DIY recipes, check out the No Poo eBook!

What about Dirty Hair Smell?

A buildup of natural oils sitting on the scalp for too long is usually what causes the dirty hair smell. Prevent odors from building up by SPBing moving the oils away from the scalp. If unwanted odors arise, either 1) apply dry shampoo to deodorize the hair (which also soaks up excess oils), 2) dilute essential oils in a spray bottle of water and spray that on damp hair, 3) apply a silicone-free / water-soluble delicious smelling hair product, or 4) simply try rinsing hair which should may refresh the scent of the hair.

Check out my other post about how to make hair smell good!


Best results will likely be for hair that isn’t excessively oily for this process, so having a normalized scalp oil production will be easier to maintain. If regularly Scritching/Preening/Brushing isn’t enough, and/or the rinse didn’t leave hair refreshed, it is likely because the hair was oily to start with. Use a small amount of dry shampoo (explained above). Or it may just be time for an actual “no poo” hair wash.

Check out my other post about how to get through the oily transition phase quickly, and clean the boar-bristle brush before use. There is also a dedicated post for troubleshooting water-only hair washing. And a downloadable No Poo eBook!

Questions? Leave a comment, and let us know how this method works for you.

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  1. Jaime

    Hi, I’m currently on week 4 on WO washing. I’m loving it :).
    I’m overseas at the moment and noticed that Japan has Chlorine in their water. Is this going to ruin my anything if I wash my hair with this chlorine water?
    Thanks :).

  2. Kim

    Hello ^^
    I’m so impressed with your experience and tips. And I decided to give a try. It’s my second week and I don’t know if what i did is true? Don’t you use any dry shampoo between your washes? Since I use it a lot :(

    1. Hi Kim, I actually do use dry shampoo (sparingly) between washes every once in a while. I’ve been no-poo for a long time now, so my hair rarely needs a dry shampoo pick-me-up between washes. But you can definitely use it (sparingly) if you need it. I added a section to this post about dry shampoo that you should read with tips about how to use Dry Shampoo properly during the oily transition. (Thanks for the reminder, I had forgotten to add it!)

  3. Ahhhh thanks for this post! I have been wondering what the difference was between rinsing and washing. I seriously need to remove excess sebum. I have cotton textured hair, do you think co-washing would do the trick without stripping my hair? It’s silicone free, so that should work,right?

    1. Yes! Conditioner-Only washing (co-washing) is a popular choice to remove excess sebum, and I highly recommend it! Silicone-free is a must. Let me know how it goes.

  4. Theresa

    Thank you for all your informative posts! I have been doing WO since January now but still struggle with a few issues. I WO wash once a week and scritch, preen & brush from day 3-7. I have blonde hair, so dry shampoo is essential from days 5-7 and I use it sparingly and just around the parting and hairline, as you suggest. The problem is that I still seem to produce a reasonable amount of sebum (even after 4 months), and this seems to mix with the dry shampoo, so when I do my next WO wash, afterwards it looks as though I have a powdery residue in my hair on the top of my head, where the dry shampoo goes. This happens despite the SPBing during the week as well as SPBing under the hot water during the WO wash. It also makes my hair go stiff and it makes it look quite dull.

    I have tried to wash away the powdery residue with honey and it works, but then the sebum builds up again, I use dry shampoo, and the cycle repeats itself.

    Any suggestions?

    1. Hi Theresa, I haven’t had this problem with arrowroot powder, but it sounds to me like the arrowroot powder is mixing with water (during WO) and not getting completely washed out. (Honey is a bit better of a cleanser than water only.) It could be due to your water hardness, but I am not sure. You could try using cornstarch (I recommend organic) instead of arrowroot powder as your dry shampoo to see if it behaves differently with WO (or use any other silicone-free dry shampoo), or you might need to honey wash out the dry shampoo.

  5. Theresa

    I should have mentioned that I use arrowroot powder as a dry shampoo.

    1. Laura

      You coud try using rye flour type 1150 (i think). it doesn#t get sticky.