My cheap and non-toxic alternative to shampoo

Having been freaked out enough by the prevalence of damaging chemicals in most commercial shampoos (I’m looking at you, sodium laureth sulphate or SLS), I made the decision some time ago to stop using them. To be honest, I’ve always known that shampoos contain a plethora of chemicals, but it never really bothered me because I had always thought that anything I put on my skin (and hair and scalp) would just wash off harmlessly. After all, our skin is waterproof.

Wrong! Well, yes our skin and scalps are waterproof, but the chemicals we put on it still get absorbed through our skin. Once absorbed, these chemicals don’t just stay in the skin. They travel through our inner membranes and blood, and end up lodged in faraway organs. For example, SLS has been found in the heart, liver, lungs, brain and eyes from just skin contact **.

In other words — you don’t need to get shampoo in your eyes for it to end up in your eyeballs.

It was really the last one that really got me. Eyes. Let’s just say I freaked out. (Part of me is still freaking out over that. I mean, seriously. ) After that, the decision was made—I needed to stop putting chemicals on my body (since they inevitably end up in my body). There was no going back.

So the first thing I did was to go to my friendly neighbourhood pharmacy. They had walls of shampoo and conditioner. With so much choice, I thought there must be a few that didn’t contain SLS. There wasn’t even ONE. They all had SLS! Okay, so I thought maybe its just this store. All I needed to do was check out a different store, right? I did just that. This time, I had better luck.

I managed to find a shampoo that didn’t contain SLS tucked away in the baby care section. It was a special baby shampoo for little ones with sensitive skin. Unfortunately, it wasn’t ideal. The bottle was tiny and it cost 3 times more than regular shampoos. It also listed a ton of other chemicals besides SLS. I gave it up for a bad job and slunk back defeated, incredulous and very, very disturbed. Was there no hope?

Luckily the Internet saved me. After searching online for a while, I found there were many other people as freaked out about the chemical toxins in shampoos as I was. And I found alternatives I never even knew existed such as natural shampoo bars or liquid castile soap.

But in the end, I opted for the simplest and most sustainable method I found. It’s cheap, non-toxic, cleans my hair and scalp really well and best of all, I can find it in any supermarket or grocery store anywhere in the world.

What I use: Baking soda & Apple cider vinegar

Remember to use baking soda and not baking powder. Baking powder contains other ingredients on top of baking soda which isn’t ideal to put on your head.

The apple cider vinegar is optional, but I like to use it because vinegar works well to draw out excess oil. It also removes build-up and leaves a healthy shine when used as a rinse at the end. (You can also use white vinegar as a substitute to apple cider vinegar. )

How I do it

First, I dilute a little bit of apple cider vinegar in a small bowl I keep in my bathroom. 1 part vinegar to about 10 parts of water (you can experiment to get the right ratio for your own hair; it’s better to find what works for you as too much vinegar will lead to temporary hair dryness).

This makes about a cupful of very diluted vinegar. If you have short hair, you can make do with even less.

After first running my hair and scalp under water, I soak my scalp and roots with the diluted vinegar. It’s better to do this on wet hair, otherwise the vinegar solution will just run off the top of your head and won’t penetrate down through your hair and scalp. When dousing the vinegar water on your scalp, remember that diluted vinegar is still vinegar and it will sting, so mind your eyes. I just close my eyes and wash my face after when doing this.

I leave this in for a while, about 1- 2 minutes. The wait is just to give the vinegar time to work through my scalp and pull out the oil and dirt—which the next step will take care of.

Using the same bowl (now empty) I pour a generous handful of baking soda in. I add in a little water, and mix it enough with my fingers so that it has the consistency of a thick paste.  You can also use more water to make a watery mixture. This will work just as well and can be easier to work with. Just shake the mixture before you use as the baking soda will settle to the bottom.

With this paste on my fingers, I work it through my scalp. The idea is to use the mixture as a scrub to remove dead skin, oil and dirt on the scalp. This is easier to do if you have done the apple cider soak first as apple cider vinegar is very good at pulling that stuff up. However, you can also do this without it.

Working the paste through the scalp takes a bit of practice, and the first few times, I was a little awkward. It also felt strange because I was so used to foam and bubbles. But I kept with it and I now have a very good technique of working through the baking soda paste thoroughly and all over my scalp. I do section by section (which is how hairdressers shampoo hair at the salon if you think about it).

When I’m done, I wash it all off.

Then I’ll do another rinse with diluted apple cider vinegar again (very quickly this time and not leaving it in to soak) and then wash my hair in cold water. I do this as it makes my hair smooth and shiny. A commenter Lydia also mentioned that this would normalise the pH of our scalps, and I like the sound of that.

Trust me, you don’t need foam or bubbles to get something clean. That’s just something we’ve been programmed to believe. And who benefits from that belief? Commercial shampoo makers and corporations. What do we get in return? Sodium laureth sulfate in our eyeballs. (Good grief.)

My totally awesome results

With just baking soda and some apple cider vinegar, I now have cleaner, healthier hair that looks better and is more manageable. I also notice that without all the gunk and chemicals from shampoo, my hair doesn’t get dirty as quickly as it used to. It looks and feels so much better.

Dandruff is also practically non-existent for me now, whereas before I’d always have to be on the lookout for it. I thought it was normal for people to have dandruff based on all the anti-dandruff commercials I saw! And now I think the companies peddling the dandruff solution were selling the cause of it as well… Sigh.

And while my previous hair cleaning regime had always included conditioner just to make my hair feel smooth, I’ve discovered that I just don’t need any now. It’s remarkable how soft and silky my hair feels and I know that it’s actually the natural, healthy state.

What’s also great about this natural hair-cleaning method is that when I travel, I don’t need to pack shampoo into those tiny little bottles anymore. Yay!

** Our bodies are amazing. It will do its best to clean SLS from our systems, but it takes about 5 days. And since most people shampoo a couple of times a week, that means SLS is always in their systems and organs.

71 Replies to “My cheap and non-toxic alternative to shampoo”

  1. thank you for sharing this tip…I never heard of anything like this before…I might try this after my modeling stint 🙂

  2. thank you! thank you! thank you! I’ve been looking for the perfect shampoo alternative and this really looks like it 🙂 I think I will try it out tomorrow.

  3. Thanks. I live in another country, far fom you. But you helped me/ And I want to say that my hair doesn’t smell like vinegar, as Matt asks.

  4. sounds interesting, thanks for sharing the tip. I heard about using vinegar to prevent dandruf, but I never tried it, I guess it was because of the smell. I have a question, though: Is that ok to use on any type of hair (dry or oily)?

    1. Hi minakshi, you can use white vinegar as well. I’ve tried both and I find ACV to be better… but then again everyone’s hair is different so don’t take my word for it. 🙂

  5. Scary to hear that SLS story, I had no clue! I like your tip about baking soda, but it got me thinking that there should be great organic shampoos out there too. I’m just a sucker for fruity smelling shampoo, so I hope I can find one without the SLS. Thx

  6. I really want to try that. I used to have problems with dandruff. Now I use special shampoo available in pharmacy only and I’m fine. I am wondering if using baking soda can make it appear again?

  7. Wow, this looks like it could be a really great alternative to shampoo!! looking forward to trying it out!
    Thanks for sharing.

  8. Thank you for sharing I will try this tomorrow! I have one ingredient Baking Powder, I need to get the Apple Cider Vinegar…. Once i try this I will make sure my 16yr old daughter also tries it out! I will inform her on these harmful chemicals found in shampoos. My grandmother died of breast cancer and told me not to use deodorant that contained aluminum… I know of the red 40 in foods and many other things that is sold to us. Thank you so much on the tips 🙂

    1. Hi Angie, you’re very welcome. I’m sorry to hear about your grandmother.

      Yes, all these chemicals are quite horrifying. Maybe 50 years from now, people will look back and wonder what these manufacturers were trying to do… I wasn’t aware of Red 40 so thanks for the heads up 🙂 My main bane in coloring has been Yellow No 5. I keep finding it in hard soaps, even the ones that aren’t yellow.

      p.s: I don’t think baking powder will do harm, but baking soda might work a little better, esp if the powder feels too ‘chalky’ or leaves a residue. Still, if you find that baking powder works just fine for you, let me know. I might add that to the article. 😉

  9. Hey Samantha, Great post I had no idea you could do this instead of shampoo. Talk about a money saver. One question I have is do you still use a conditioner?

    1. Hi Ed, I’ve stopped using conditioner because I feel like I just don’t need it anymore. If I feel like it, a final rinse with ACV acts as a ‘conditioner’ for me.

  10. Samantha, I love your site, I bookmarked it. Thank you for all the awesome tips in here. I have a question. I will use castor/coconut oil for my hair but I am wondering if the apple cider and the baing soda will take that away from my hair or do I have to use the SLS shampoo? Thanks!

  11. I have used apple cider vinegar for a while as an occasional hair treatment. I never thought about using it exclusively but I am going to start now.

  12. Thanks for the article, Samantha!

    I have been using baking soda as shampoo for quite a while now, and i ALWAYS follow it by the apple cider vinegar rinse. The reason? It is vital to restore the acid/alkaline (PH) balance in order to protect scalp from infection. The natural state of the scalp and hair is slightly acidic – about 5.5 PH for normal skin and hair – and baking soda, while a being great cleanser, produces an alkalizing effect. (If you use baking soda as a facial scrub, rinsing your face with vinegar or lemon juice solution afterwards is highly recommended.) As a bonus, the vinegar will also make your hair shinier. I find that when vinegar is used after the baking soda shampoo – which, BTW, makes hair softer and easier to comb – no conditioner is necessary, as the proper PH has been restored and nature will take over from there. (Our bodies are very wise and know what they are doing, if we only give them a chance.)

  13. Samantha this may sound silly talking about chemicals and what not -_- but is this safe to use on dyed hair? Will is wash the dye out faster?

  14. i have tried everything possible to stop hair fall. nothing worked. is this kind of a remedy to that also or does it have any negative impact.

  15. Aaaaaaaaaaaa! I accidently used Baking Powder instead of Baking Soda!Just shows how absent minded I can get.How bad can this get?

    I am trying out various alternatives to shampoo.I try to wash my hair with soapnut whenever possible.But I need alternatives which are less tedious.

    The problem is,I have dandruff and get boils on my head.I used to have really long hair,but it doesnt grow as fast as it used it.

    Now my hair is dry,has split ends.

    Any suggestions? (To both the blunder I committed and the rest of my problems?)

    1. I don’t think you need to panic over using baking powder just once.

      About the recurring boils on your scalp, I’d suggest reading up on the benefits of a diet that has more fruits and veggies. You might also want to start taking probiotics/good bacteria. These simple changes would help to detox you slowly + rebuild your immune system. A short-term solution can also be found by ingesting turmeric.

  16. I’ve been doing this for the past 4 days. I love it except for one thing–I smell like pickles all the time, especially when my hair is wet. Most of the time it’s no biggie, but when I went to church yesterday, I have to admit that I was a little self conscious. My hair was still damp and I could smell the vinegar.

    Is there maybe some kind of essential oil that I could add by the drop to the final ACV rinse to cover the smell? I feel sooo much cleaner now that I don’t want to go back to shampoo/conditioner at all if I can avoid it.


    1. Hi Terri, are you doing a final rinse with ACV or with water? I always rinse out the ACV with cold water at the end, and there is no smell after my hair dries (as far as I can tell!).

      If you’re already rinsing with water at the end and the vinegar smell still lingers, try diluting the ACV soltuion that you use a bit more.

      1. I just realised that my post lacked that lil’ titbit about washing it off with cold water! Have updated it now. Thanks Terri

        1. Thanks. I’ve been trying to dilute the solution more and rinse more thoroughly. I’m leaving the cold water rinse until I have no other options…It sounds kind of unpleasant. Better than smelling like pickles, though, I guess. :0)

          1. Yeah, it can be. I guess I’m used to it after all these years 🙂 I read a long time ago that cold water should always be used as final rinse because it flattens the cuticles on the hair shaft, which is what makes hair shiny.

  17. I have been using baking soda for 2 years now. It took some time to get used to it but my hair feels like as if I use shampoo. I have also found that when I used sls I would have terrible dandruff, nothing would work. Now my dandruff is all but gone. I found that if I have to use sls, the dandruff comes right back, and this I can’t trully prove but I think I am loosing my hair at a slower rate also. I use the baking soda mixed in a 1tbsp to 1/2 cup of water. .

    1. Hi darren, thanks for sharing.

      I’ve had the same results as you — very little dandruff and much less hair fall now. Most of all, I love how soft my hair is sometimes. It’s pretty amazing.

  18. My hair doesn’t feel clean if I use shampoo. It didn’t take long for me to get spoiled. I’ll try the weakened baking soda solution too. I’ve been using baking soda at a ferocious rate. :0)

    1. Me too, I buy them in boxes at a time. If it came in a bucket, I’d buy that too. 🙂 Luckily, the stuff is pretty cheap.

  19. The irony is that I keep my mixture in an used shampoo bottle. I just have to give it a shake because the baking soda settles at the bottom between uses.

    1. Haha, that’s pretty funny. 😀

      And a useful tip too, so thanks. I might try that out to save a bit of time. It never occured to me to pre-mix my baking soda with water. I’ve always had this idea that it has to be “fresh”. Possibly a throwback from my baking days in home econs (???).

  20. Just wondering. I saw another post saying to do the baking soda first, and then rinse it out, and then add the apple cider vinegar. Is this just a preference thing, does anyone have any experience with both ways of doing this?

  21. I have super dry hair and I’m thinking about not using shampoo anymore. Should I skip using vinagar to keep some of the natural oils in my hair? Do you put the baking soda mix all over the hair or just on the scalp area?

    1. Hi Lisa

      Vinegar also dries my hair if I use too much, so I’ve learnt to use much, much less + to concentrate the vinegar rinse on my scalp and not my hair. If it’s only your hair that’s dry and not your scalp, maybe you can try the same? I suspect once your scalp normalises, your new hair that will grow out will be less dry also.

      I put the baking soda mix on my scalp and just concentrate on getting my scalp clean. The “run-off” from my rinses and any incidental scrubbing while I work on my scalp are enough to clean my hair of build-up. Without the chemical goop from shampoos, my hair has become so much easier to work with that it’s really like a different world. I’d actually forgotten what it was like before, but you reminded me.

      1. Thanks so much! It’s kind of funny because I have dry hair and an oily scalp. I just used baking soda for the first time today, and my hair actually feels better. I have curly hair and when i use shampoo it feels like wire afterward, it actually can make a squeaky sound when I run my fingers through it lol. I can’t believe that stuff(sls) is in our toothpaste too!

        p.s. vinegar is amazing! I use it to clean my house instead of nasty chemical cleansers.

        1. You’re very welcome, and I’m glad to hear it. I love curly hair, it always looks so exotic to me since my own hair is straight.

          Yes, vinegar is awesome and super versatile isn’t it? I recently had a very tea-stained spoon that won’t give from my scrubbing. I gave vinegar a try just for fun and the stain was gone just like that.

          I’ve also discovered that baking soda is great for removing grout in bathroom tiles if I leave it in to soak for a few hours. So actually, both my hair and my bathroom have benefited! 😉

  22. I tried no shampoo/water only last year and it worked quite well and stopped being greasy but suddenly became really static no matter what I did. Has this happened to anyone else? I had to go back to conditioner because it was uncontrollable. I’ve not tried baking soda and vinegar though so that’s what i’m doing next!

    1. Hi Tam, I assume you mean you’ve got flyaway hair now. Not sure why only water would cause that…maybe someone else will chime in.

      Take care not to use too much vinegar as it’s drying and probably won’t help flyaway hair. Let me know if baking soda + vinegar works for you. I’d be interested to hear.

  23. hi, recently I have been having allergic reactions and I don’t know whether this is food or chemical related yet, either way I have had to cut out any cosmetic/chemical products until I know. Do you if SLS can cause allergic reactions? I read that if the concentration in shampoo’s is less than 2% its OK but many have been reported to be upto 20% and I can’t find any info on the exact amounts in my shampoo so I’m all for this method as I have sensitive skin anyway. Thanks for the info and advice.

  24. Hi Samantha!
    I love this new way of washing my hair – it makes me feel so good! Thank you for sharing it! I have followed your instructions for two weeks, but today something very odd happened. I proceeded as I had done with the previous washes, but when I dried my hair, the roots were so greasy i couldn’t even look at them. after a few hours, I squeezed a lemon on my scalp and then used bicarbonate and vinegar as you say. Now the oil has moved from the scalp (which is very nice and clean) down to the rest of my hair, just in some patches. I have tried lemon here again but it doesn’t seem to work. Has this ever happened to you in the first few weeks of shampoo-free washes?

    1. Hi Kiwi, this might not apply to your case, but for me, the vinegar *really* pulls up the oil from my scalp to my roots, so I’ve learnt to be very, very thorough with the baking soda scrub afterward (which gets rid of all the grease). In the beginning, I’ve had instances where I rushed through this 2nd step and I came out of it with a greasy scalp, which was quite unpleasant.

      But like I said, this might not apply to you. If you find lemon juice works better, go for it! 🙂

  25. I am almost a week into switching to baking soda and acv for my hair. My hair is doing great and it doesn’t look oily like it used to. My concern is that it always feels a “weird.” I don’t know how else to put it. It’s always a bit tacky feeling (not a bad tacky – just as if the natural oils are still there) after I “wash” it and when I blow dry (on low heat/low speed), it’s difficult to get the brush through my hair once it starts drying. I was wondering if this is normal transistion and it will become more like how it used to be when I used shampoo or if this is how my hair is supposed to feel and will continue to feel using baking soda and acv?

    1. Hi Jenna, it might just be a transition, I don’t know. The scalp would have to adjust after a lifetime of chemical-laden shampoos and whatnot. I don’t blame you for not liking the oily feeling, it sucks.

      It might be different for you, but just to share, I’ve only ever got that tacky/oily feeling when I didn’t scrub my scalp well enough with baking soda (and I could already feel that discomfort when my hair was still sopping wet). Now I always run my fingers through my roots to make sure there’s no greasy feeling when I’m done. If there is, I’ll just re-do the baking soda scrub.

      Also believe it or not, the 2nd rinse with ACV will pull out *more* oil if you leave it on your scalp for too long (or use too much), so it might help to try to keep that part very short or dilute the ACV with a lot of water to weaken it. You might also try skipping it altogether to test if that’s what’s causing the tackiness.

      Hope that helps!

    2. Hi guys – I tried this regimen for a couple of weeks. At first my hair was clean and happy, but then I got the tacky build up that Jenna is describing. It’s most likely due to hard water and a reaction with the baking soda that causes build up rather than a complete rinsing out. You can either use distilled water to wash your hair, or get a water softener. Some people recommend boiling tap water to wash with, but that didn’t work for me (I’m pretty sure you can’t boil out the minerals that make water hard) and also takes quite a bit of effort.

      I really wanted the natural route to work (pros: healthier, more cost effective, lessening my personal footprint, better looking hair, and kinda fun) and was pretty bummed, but hope I can try it again in the future when my water supply isn’t as uncooperative. In the meantime, I’ve just switched to conditioner only washing with an all natural, sulfate and silicone free conditioner. It will still require a little transitioning if your hair is used to being stripped with harsh shampoos and suds, but should eventually get you where you want to be. 🙂 Give it a whirl!

      I hope this helps! Good luck and don’t give up on your hair washing mission!

      1. I had exactly the same problem! After I used baking soda and ACV my hair started to feel like cement! I tried boiling my water, like Kim over at Life In A S hoe suggested, but it didn’t make much of a difference 🙁

        I then moved on to washing with 2 egg yolks, and rinsing with a bit of lemon juice. That did the trick beautifully, but then we went on a trip and shampoo was much easier than carting eggs and lemon juice around the country!

        At some point I’d like to try conditioner only…we shall see!

  26. Hi 🙂 Great idea, Samantha! I just wondered if anyone had any experience with using this cleaning process on color-treated/dyed hair? Thanks for all the great information, everyone!

  27. i actually use shielo’s hydrate line of shampoos (which are sulfate free) to wash my hair. It doesnt have any of those harmful ingredients. I used to have the worst hair, and now I ALWAYS get complements when using the shielo shampoo. Worth the price. . .

  28. I am going to start using the baking soda shampoo. My question about gel. Do you use a gel before you dry your hair? If so, is it store bought or homemade?


  29. I started doing this last year, and had continued it for about 8 months, but circumstances let it fall by the wayside. I’m a guy with longer hair, and it really did work well for me and I only did the BS was followed by the Apple Cider Vinegar. One of the things I wonder for saving time – does it work to premix say a few months worth of both the BS/water and ACV/water mixture or to things go bad?

  30. I searched for you after reading this writing. and sulfate-free shampoo brand in turkey using the doa shampoo, quite pleased.

  31. This ‘tacky’ feeling is a normal part of the process and the downfall of many happy acv/bs’ers. Keep with it and you will be thrilled…how long it takes depends on so many factors about each individual. I have found that I like to pre-mix the acv and bs in a container then scoop out a hand full of it to scrub my hair with. It may settle a bit, but a lil stir with my fingers fixes that. It also has a pleasant smell…to me a bit like almond/honey’ish. That being said, I should also tell you that I have come to use ‘Honegar’ to mix with the bs….the proportions are aprox. half acv/half honey, then I slowly (it will fizz a bit) add the bs to make my paste. Hang in there you will be very happy. My hair is naturally auburn and over 50% grey and it loves this!

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