How To Wash Dreadlocks

How To Wash Dreadlocks

Learning how to wash dreadlocks are very important for properly maintaining your dreadlocks. If you don’t wash your dreadlocks or wash them incorrectly, you might be setting yourself up for failure in the long run. This can lead to bad smells, product build-up, and a look that makes people ask if dreadlocks are dirty. So, in this post, we’re going to give you the overall steps and process for washing your dreadlocks correctly.

The overall process for washing your dreadlocks goes like this:

  1. Gather your products
  2. Thoroughly wet your hair
  3. Apply shampoo and focus on your scalp
  4. Rinse & repeat if needed
  5. Condition & rinse (optional)
  6. Pat dry with a towel
  7. Apply oils (optional)
  8. Separate & Finish Drying Your Dreadlocks

If you follow those steps above you should be able to successfully wash your dreadlocks. So, if you were looking for a simple process to follow, the process above is all you need. However, if you’re the type of person looking for more detail into each step, continue reading as we cover each step in more detail below.

1. Gather your products

The type of dreadlock products you use will depend on many different variables. But, since we’re not showing you how to choose dreadlock products in this post – just make sure you have the following products nearby:

  • Dreadlock shampoo
  • A towel
  • Dreadlock conditioner (optional)
  • Oils for your scalp (optional)

2. Thoroughly Wet Your Hair

If you’re past the “starter loc” phase of your dreadlock journey, we’d recommend washing your dreadlocks in the shower. This makes things a lot easier than using a sink.

To thoroughly wet your hair you’ll need to let the water run through your locks and scalp. We’d also recommend that you squeeze your locks while running water over them. This will help with getting water inside your locs.

3. Apply Shampoo

After you’ve got your dreadlocks soaking wet, start applying shampoo. Our preferred method for applying shampoo is by first pouring it into your hand and then squeezing it into your locs. Depending on the thickness and length of your dreadlocks, you may have to apply shampoo several times before you get fully cover your head.

Tip: If you’re using a shampoo that comes with a pump dispenser, this will be a lot easier for you. If your shampoo doesn’t have a pump dispenser, buy a separate empty bottle that does and fill it with your shampoo. This eliminates the need to shake up your bottle and get water and soap everywhere (getting it in your eyes is the worst).

Once your head is completely saturated with shampoo, focus on massaging your scalp. This not only improves blood flow and circulation (helping your hair grow stronger) but helps to remove any products you used when you retwisted your hair last.

Tip: Don’t scrub your dreadlocks. Clean your locs by squeezing soap through them to help break down oils and any dirt.

4. Rinse & Repeat

Once you’ve shampooed your dreadlocks, it’s time to rinse off the soap and any dirt. Spend a few minutes rinsing your scalp and dreadlocks (squeeze them similar to when you were applying shampoo). If you don’t fully rinse the shampoo out of your dreadlocks, it’ll start building up in your hair (and no wants that).

After rinsing, you’ll have to decide if you want to repeat the shampoo process again. This will depend on how clean you feel your hair is and how sensitive your scalp is.

We usually recommend shampooing your dreadlocks twice but you’re free to do whatever you choose. And if you’re washing your hair before starting dreadlocks, you may want to shampoo more than twice to ensure you’re starting locs on a clean slate.

5. Condition & Rinse (optional)

Some people like to condition their dreadlocks after shampooing. Typically the reasoning involves wanting to add moisture back into their hair.

Here at StrongLocs, we recommend against conditioner. Conditioner can be beneficial for people who don’t have dreadlocks because it coats each individual strand and can help prevent breakage. But, for those of us with dreadlocks, things work a little different.

Because our hair is tangled and woven together, the only hair that’s directly at risk for breakage is what’s on the outside of our dreadlocks. The individual strands inside of our dreadlock are fairly safe. And while it’s possible for the individual hair strands inside of our locs to dry out, it’s quick and easy to occasionally mist our hair with water throughout the week.

Now to get to the downside of conditioner. Conditioner is another product that you have to add to your hair (Usually the fewer products the better). Because conditioner is a thicker product that’s meant to coat your hair after rinsing it out, it can build up if you’re not able to remove it next time you shampoo your hair.

And build up is one of the main things you want to avoid when growing good-looking and healthy dreadlocks.

6. Pat Dry w/ Towel

Removing excess water from your dreadlocks by patting it with a towel is recommended. This will allow you to walk around without water dripping everywhere.

The reason why you want to pat dry your dreadlocks instead of rubbing is so that you don’t cause any unnecessary breakage and frizziness. At this stage of our dreadlock wash, we’re not trying to completely dry our hair. Just absorb excess water to make it more manageable.

7. Apply Oils (optional)

After washing your dreadlocks, you may want to apply oils such as coconut oil or tea tree oil to your scalp. This is believed to help “moisturize” the scalp.

The truth is that oils don’t moisturize. The only thing that can moisturize your hair is moisture (water). However, what oils can do is help seal in moisture (which is why we recommend that if you’re going to use oil, use it before you completely dry your hair).

The downside to using oil is that depending on how sensitive your scalp is, you could have bad reactions to the oil (especially lower quality oils).

8. Separate & Finish Drying Your Dreadlocks

The last step of washing your dreadlocks is to separate them and dry them using heat or letting them air dry.

Separating your dreadlocks is simple. You pull them apart and make sure that you don’t have hair strands from one dreadlock connected to another. If you do, pull the hair strands from out of the dreadlock they don’t belong in. This doesn’t have to be perfect, you just want to separate as much as you can.

After separating them, you will have the choice of letting your dreadlocks air dry or use a blow dryer. Here at StrongLocs we typically let our dreadlocks air dry but it’s completely fine to use a blow dryer if you need your hair dry ASAP.

Tip: Don’t sleep with your hair wet. While you may be able to get by a couple times without completely drying your hair before bed, it can cause your hair to stink encourage mildew to grow in your locs.

Frequently Asked Questions:


How to clean dreads without washing?

If you’d like to clean your dreads without washing them, there are really only two things you can do.

  1. Use diluted apple cider vinegar just like we mentioned above and instead of washing afterward, just rinse. However, this isn’t a long-term solution. Because of the acidic nature of vinegar, you’re not going to want to perform a loc detox often. The longer and more frequently you expose your hair to vinegar – the more likely you are to damage your hair.
  2. Avoid shampoo completely (aka no-poo) and rinse your hair frequently. If you live in a city, the water is likely treated with chemicals in order to make it relatively safe. These same chemicals will lightly clean your hair without removing your scalp’s natural oils.

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