DO THIS DON'T: Washing And Conditioning Your Hair With Vinegar And Baking Soda

When my beautiful, all-natural-without-being-granola aunt (who is only seven years my senior) suggested that my hair could be cleansed with baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) and conditioned with vinegar (acetic acid), I was super skeptical.
Publish date:
March 14, 2013
conditioner, shampoo, DIY, diy beauty

I am one of the greasiest humans on this planet. This is not self-deprecation. This is not an exaggeration. I can fully saturate two oil blotting sheets a couple of hours after washing my face. I have to wash my hair daily, unless I wish to sport a throw-back-90’s “wet look” that day.

People tell me being so oily translates into having no wrinkles later, but I have the worst body acne and I already see my father’s trademark forehead lines working their way across my face. Womp womp.

Before you all skip directly to the comments section and start yelling at me, let me assure you I KNOW washing your hair daily “strips it of its precious oils” and cruelly forces my scalp to produce more oil to compensate, but you know what? I simply cannot deal with the itchy scalp and ropey hair that results from one shampoo-less day.

I have tried every brand of dry shampoo known to beauty bloggers, and I have found that they are best utilized in freshening up my hair in between work and going out to drink beer. They simply cannot handle a full day’s worth of grease. It might work if I took an aerosol can to work with me and applied it hourly, but I work in a lab and I’m pretty sure I would end up setting myself on fire.

So when my beautiful, all-natural-without-being-granola aunt (who is only seven years my senior) suggested that my hair could be cleansed with baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) and conditioned with vinegar (acetic acid), I was super skeptical. But the pictures she was texting me seem to suggest that her hair was full of body and decidedly not greasy.

In addition to being close to my age, she also has a similarly oily head. This filled me with some (not a lot of) optimism. I also figured that baking soda would be a lot less harsh on my dyed red hair, so why not try this “no-poo” (ugh) method?

I tried it once that weekend, and the results seemed favorable. But then I went out of town and didn’t want to bring a box of baking soda with me so I couldn’t be sure how long it lasted. I decided a real experiment was in order and set out to see if I could go five days without using actual shampoo.

This is the tale of that experiment.

Tuesday night, I washed my hair with shampoo for what would be the last time until the following Monday. Then I made my “shampoo” and “conditioner.” It was basically about a cup of baking soda in one Smart Water bottle and three tablespoons of apple cider vinegar diluted with water in another Smart Water bottle.


This is what my hair looked like on Wednesday morning.

I didn’t think my hair was that greasy, since I had shampooed it less than 12 hours ago, so I decided to “wash” only my bangs and the sections of hair by my ears. My ears are basically really oily wax factories. My body is revolting, guys.

The procedure was this:

1. Add enough water to the baking soda to produce a gritty paste.

2. Pour paste on sections of head you wish to de-grease.

3. Get some in your eyes and mouth, notice how salty it tastes and how it kind of burns your ocular orbs.

4. Let it sit for a bit.

5. Rinse.

6. Pour vinegar mixture on your head and get hit with a sudden craving for salad.

7. Let that sit and slowly dribble into your eyelash extensions, where it sits, annoying the bejesus out of your eyeballs.

8. Rinse.

The first day results were honestly disappointing. I noticed that my hair took longer to dry (I always let my hair air-dry, not because it’s good for it, but because I am lazy), and that while the front looked sleek and shiny…

The back looked like it was about to start roping.

I was quite uncertain I would make it four more days using this regimen.


I woke up ill and called my boss to let him know I wouldn’t be coming in even though I only had half of an available sick day but aren’t I nice for not contaminating everyone? He didn’t seem that super impressed with my sacrifice.

After hanging up with my unappreciative boss, I slept until noon thirty. When I did drag my bacteria-laden self to the shower, I decided to add MOAR sodium bicarbonate and let it sit longer. I coated my head pretty thoroughly and let it marinate for a full 4 minutes. I also combed it through. I didn’t change the vinegar portion of the procedure.

The results were better (I think), but it is hard to be sure as I never really brushed my hair and never really left the couch.


I was still sick, but had no available sick days, so sorry co-workers, I was basically forced to come in and sneeze on you all day. The good news is that every time I sneezed my hair flipped around in a most attractive manner, as it was full of body and not at all greasy. It would seem that letting the sodium bicarb sit really helped.


I was starting to gain confidence in this cleansing system. Saturday’s results were similar to Fridays: pleasing.


I was at the beach most of the day, so my hair was up. But it was pretty much the same as the two previous days. Not greasy, manageable, and fairly shiny. You can’t really tell that from this picture, but I’m including it anyways, because I think I look cute in it.


I am pretty surprised that this method kept the oil-slick that is my head under control. Though I don’t think my hair looked that much better than it does when I use sulfate-filled cleansers, I think it removed less of my hair color. I will probably use this method most days, using an actual shampoo once a week.

I do need to avoid using baking soda on the ends of my hair as they were starting to feel a little straw-like by the end. Maybe I’ll incorporate a coconut oil mask once a week as well to help with that.

Scientifically, I can kind of see how this would all work. Sodium bicarbonate is a base (it has a pH of about 9 when dissolve in water) and lifts the hair follicle. The powder that doesn’t completely go in to solution seems to absorb oil. It’s also a very mild abrasive, so you can physically scrub your hair with it.

The acetic acid found in vinegar, in addition to neutralizing any left behind baking soda, is also a chelating agent, meaning it can grab hold of minerals and prevent them from building up in your hair, making it look dull. Another plus point is that these are super cheap products.

Have any of you tried this method? Do you know of another “no-poo” method that works better? Are you guys mad about all the selfies I just made you look at?