How to Use Bicarbonate of Soda for a Home Hair Cleanse

An At-Home Clarifying Remedy for Product Build-Up

You may have heard the term hair build-up; it’s where those conditioning polymers, silicones and styling residues from your favourite products accumulate on the hair shaft, forming a barrier that can cause several issues, including:

  • Extra greasy hair
    With build-up on the surface, the hair cuticle is unable to raise and absorb oils – the hair shaft can then become plastic-like and slippery, causing sebum to freely run through the hair.
  • Unsuccessful hair colour and toning
    Build-up on the surface will also prevent the cuticle from opening and accepting or holding certain types of hair colour, such as semi-permanent shades and toners. General peroxide- and ammonia-based colourants can help to cleanse the barriers on the hair, but it is not uncommon for the build-up to completely block the chemical formulas from entering – meaning your new hair colour doesn’t take.
  • Damage
    Yes, believe it or not, heavy build-up on the hair shaft can lead to damage, especially if heat is applied to the hair. When the hair is encased with product residue, it is unable to absorb atmospheric moisture and can become dehydrated on the inside. This leads to a lack of elasticity and eventual snapping. Extreme damage can then be caused if heated appliances are used on the layers of build-up, causing the silicones and polymers to melt onto the hair shaft.

How Bicarbonate of Soda Can Benefit Your Hair

The benefits of bicarbonate of soda are well known; it is an excellent cleaning agent that cuts through grease and caked-in particles. But did you know that the kitchen cupboard staple also works as a high clarifier for the hair, as well as making a superb scalp exfoliant?

I have recommended this easy bicarbonate of soda hair rinse (below) for many years now – it is a very effective treatment for product build-up, excess grease, lank hair and as a general hair cleanser.

This rinse is also an ideal pre-treatment if you’re planning to apply a semi-permanent colour and want to cover your greys. Semi-permanent colourants such as Colour Restore are generally weaker at covering grey and white hair, and are therefore not promoted for this purpose; however, if you conduct a bicarbonate of soda rinse and immediately follow it with a semi-permanent colourant treatment, I have found it is much more successful in covering the grey.

This happens because the bicarbonate of soda sends the hair into an alkaline pH, making it more able to accept a higher amount of alteration – semi-permanent colourants will enter deeper inside the hair, and cause natural white hair to take on the colour pigments more fully. If you do take this approach with Colour Restore, just be sure to use a good conditioner afterwards. While Colour Restore is a conditioning product, you still need to condition the hair after use or apply an apple cider vinegar (ACV) rinse, to close the cuticles back down following the colouring session and bicarbonate of soda treatment.

Read on for a step-by-step guide of how to use it to rid the hair of product build-up, prep it for colour to cover up greys and even to soothe an itchy, bumpy scalp.

How to Do a Bicarbonate of Soda Hair Rinse

You will need:

  • 3tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • Kettle
  • Mug
  • Towel
  • Comb for detangling


  • Put two to three teaspoons of bicarbonate of soda into a mug
  • Boil kettle, pour in boiling water and keep stirring until the bicarbonate of soda dissolves and a cloudy liquid is formed.
  • Wait 10 – 20 minutes for the boiling water to cool so that it’s just warm.
  • Either stand in the shower or put your head over the bath, then carefully pour the bicarbonate of soda rinse over dry hair. It is important the hair is dry, because wet hair would dilute the bicarb solution.
  • Make sure all of the hair is covered by the bicarbonate of soda rinse. If you have long, thick hair you can make up two mugfuls.
  • Wrap wet hair lightly in a towel and wait 30 minutes. This waiting phase enables the bicarb to erode and break down the build-up.
    After 30 minutes, rinse the hair thoroughly in warm water.
  • Take extra time to carefully detangle (starting at the ends) and leave the hair to dry naturally.

Your hair will feel especially tangled after the rinse, but this is both normal and a sign of healthy, cleansed hair! The way the cuticles open and raise in healthy hair causes it to tangle when wet and unconditioned, yet often build-up encases the cuticle and prevents it from lifting. The alkaline pH of bicarbonate of soda allows our hair cuticle to raise slightly, so if you notice tangling after the rinse it means the treatment has worked, the build-up has been removed and the cuticle is free to open.

Follow up With an Apple Cider Vinegar Rinse

If you are not using a conditioner after your bicarbonate of soda rinse, try an apple cider vinegar rinse. Apple cider vinegar is the perfect aftercare for the bicarbonate of soda rinse, as it works in the opposite way, bringing the hair’s pH back into the normal acidic value and therefore closing the hair cuticle down. Don’t worry about the smell, either – the vinegar scent tends to linger for no more than a minute or so before it vanishes; as the hair absorbs the ACV and the pH balances, the odour dissipates. Closing the hair cuticles in this way makes it much easier to comb as well as encouraging shine, so you’re left with healthy, glossy hair! Check out my article on Braggs Apple Cider Vinegar to learn more.

Make Your Own At-Home Scalp Exfoliant

Another great use for bicarbonate of soda is as a gentle scrub. Rubbing it into an itchy, bumpy scalp exfoliates and cleanses the skin, and can be a fast and efficient remedy for general scalp problems. If the scalp is particularly greasy, the bicarbonate of soda will also help to dry up excess sebum.

To exfoliate, simply take a dessert spoon-sized amount of bicarbonate of soda into the shower, rinse the hair with comfortably hot water for several minutes, then rub and massage the bicarbonate of soda powder into the scalp and nape for several minutes before rinsing thoroughly.


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Scott Cornwall