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!

Troubleshooting

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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18 comments

  1. Alice

    Hi! This is my second question for you! I really like no-poo since my hair is thin and it looks much better than it ever did with shampoo. Just one thing I’ve always been confused on – do I brush it thoroughly with a wooden brush or bbb every day? Like with scritching, preening and sectioning it to brush? I think I may be doing it wrong :D

    1. I’m glad you are getting good results with no poo. You can scritch/preen/BBB as often as you need it! I did it a lot (every day or two) at first to move excess oils away from my roots, but now that my scalp doesn’t get as oily, I can do it less. Make sure you clean your brush if you have excessively oily hair.

  2. Amanda

    Curious what you recommend to rinse with after swimming in chlorine? I’ve been low-pooing for about a year and trying to go water only. I think my oil production is finally low enough. Now that it’s summer, I’m taking my toddler to the pool and always end up with the ends of my hair wet with pool water. Seems like I need a good wash with something to get it all out, but don’t want to strip my hair, ya know?. Still trying to find a good low-poo option for when I need it, although the entire reason for no-pooing is that I’m pretty sure I’m actually allergic to something in most shampoos. One day I’ll figure it all out. :p

  3. Lacey

    Hi, my brothers gf told me about the “no-poo method” and I’ve been intrigued ever since! How do you suggest I start? How long should I wait before washing with water only or doing the baking soda thing that other websites suggest ( I want to try both and see which one works better)… I’m really lost and confused but I want to try it!

  4. Jaz

    Love your posts on this, Ive started but its hard for the last month my hair is overly oily and these tips are so helpful!

  5. Cindy

    I have fine wavy hair. Can I wash my hair in lukewarm to cool water instead of warm water?

    1. Cindy, You can wash your hair with whatever temperature is comfortable for you! In my experience, I’ve noticed if I’m in an area with hard water, I have to use very warm water to wash my hair to get it as clean as lukewarm temperature with soft water. You can try out different temperatures and see what works for you.