Shampoos & Soaps

If you are going to have dreadlocks you should be prepared to invest in (or make) a shampoo that is made specifically for dreadlocks. What is used to wash the dreadlocks is perhaps simultaneously one of the most important yet most neglected aspect of dreadlock care on other websites/dreadlock resources. So, we’ve put together a comprehensive database/reference library about the subject. We want to make sure all dreadlocks all around the world are as healthy as possible. Read and research in good dreadlocked health!

The Science of Dreadlocks & Soap   Hard Water, Dreadlocks, & Shampoo

The Science of Dreadlocks & Soap

Basically all of the shampoos you will find at the store — even if they say they are residue-free– are not actually residue free.

What is residue and why does it matter? Residue as it pertains to dreadlocks is anything that has a tendency to get trapped inside the dreadlock and build-up. Usually these are fats and oils in the form of fragrances, conditioners, or fixed oils used in natural soaps. Dreadlocks, when exposed to these residues, may accumulate them inside ultimately trapping moisture and not allowing the dreadlocks to dry completely. This can lead, as discussed in the previous question, to dread rot.

In commercial shampoos any fragrance, oils NOT specified as being “saponified”, and anything in the ingredients that starts with “PEG” or “PPG” are basically residue. Here’s a list (if your curious) of what each “PEG” actually is:

  • PEG-28 Glyceryl Tallowate
  • PEG-5 through -70 Hydrogenated Lanolin
  • PEG-13 Hydrogenated Tallow Amide
  • PEG-5 to -20 Lanolate PEG-5 through -100 Lanolin
  • PEG-75 Lanolin Oil and Wax
  • PEG-2 Milk Solids
  • PEG-6, -8, -20 Sorbitan Beeswax
  • PEG-8 Hydrogenated Fish Glycerides
  • PEG-40, -75, or -80 Sorbitan Lanolate
  • PEG-3, -10, or -15 Tallow Aminopropylamine
  • PEG-15 Tallow Polyamine
  • PEG-20 Tallowate

Saponification is the process in natural soap-making where sodium [or potassium] hydroxide are added to fats and oils. A chemical reaction takes place that turns the mixture into glycerin and water — soap. However, many companies add additional fats and oils AFTER the saponification process that are moisturizing/conditions, but in dreadlock soap leave residue behind.

(Soap residue left behind by Dove/Ivory bar soap)

Another ingredient that many are leary of is Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) and Sodium Laureth Sulphate (SLES) or any ingredient that ends with “Sulfate” or “Sulphate”. These ingredients are controversial as far as some un-related potential health effects, but apart from that both of these are stripping agents that remove ALL natural oil from the hair (or skin). While these do help to dry out the hair and can help the locking process, sometimes they can be TOO drying and cause some issues for those with sensitive scalps or skin.

Additionally, many shampoos out there advertise themselves as being “organic” or “all-natural”. It’s important to realize that more often than not these are used as buzzwords to sell product and really mean very little difference to the consumer. JUST BECAUSE A SHAMPOO IS “ORGANIC” or “ALL-NATURAL” does not mean is it safe for dreadlocks! Many still have just as many unpronounceable chemicals and synthetic ingredients. In our humble opinion, your best bet is to stick with a product that you can not only read, but understand, the ingredient label. Know what you are putting on your body!

Many shampoos that you can read the label on will include ingredients such as ‘peppermint oil’ or ‘rosemary oil’. Watch out for this; when oils are specificied as either saponified (see above) OR as essential oils. It is common practice for many manufacturers to cut their essential oils with carrier oils (which build up as residue whereas essential oils, especially in minute quantities, do not) to ‘stretch’ them and lower costs. So make sure the oils are ESSENTIAL or SAPONIFIED!

There is, of course, a whole slew of other, common commercial shampoo/product ingredients to keep an eye out for. Honestly, the best thing you can do if you’re not sure is do what I do: Research! Look up each ingredient in the list on the product. You may be surprised and appalled at where some of them are derived from even apart from their purpose. Anything that is a ‘moisturizer, lubricant, emollient, humectant, or conditioner’ will build up as residue! For the sake of convenience, here is a list of additional ingredients that are RED FLAGS that they are NOT SAFE for use on dreadlocks! Please note, this is hardly a comprehensive list and these ingredients mean is it not safe for ANY KIND OF PRODUCT you would use on dreadlocks, not just shampoos!!! Please do your own research, too

  • Acetylated Lanolin Alcohol
  • Beeswax
  • Ceteareth
  • Cetyl Alcohol
  • Collagen
  • Cyclomethicone
  • Cyclotetrasiloxane
  • Cyclopentasiloxane
  • Cyclohexasiloxane
  • Diazolidinyl Urea
  • Dimethicone
  • Elastin
  • Ethylhexyl Methoxycinnamate


  • Fragrance
  • Glycerin
  • Glycogen
  • Glycol Stearate
  • Isopropyl Isostearate
  • Isopropyl Palmitate
  • Isostearic Acid
  • Keratin
  • Lanolin
  • Lecithin
  • Methylparaben
  • Mineral Oil
  • Parfum
  • Petrolatum
  • Phenyl Trimethicone
  • Polyquaternium
  • Propylparaben
  • Silcone
  • Stearic Acid
  • Urea

We know doing your own research can take a lot of time and work. Want to know if the shampoo you are using or are interested in using is genuinely safe for dreadlocks? Check out Shampoos: The Good, The Bad, and The Undecided for a lists of what we recommend, what we DON’T recommend, and a few that we’re still deliberating about.

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Hard Water, Dreadlocks, & Shampoo

Hands_right_600x400_webAnother note about natural soaps: Natural soaps can be significantly affected both in efficacy and the ease of rinsing if you have hard water. However, this issue is one that is easily resolved with periodic apple cider vinegar (ACV) rinses. Although all the soaps and shampoos we use and recommend are formulated to ensure that they leave behind no residue, hard water can cause build-up to accumulate anyway.

According to the U.S. Geological Survey, up to 85% of water consumed in the United States is consider “hard water”. The hardness of water refers to the amount of trace minerals in it; the most common of which are magnesium and calcium. The practice of referring to water with a high mineral content as “hard” refers to how difficult the water is to work along with soapshampoo, or detergent. Hard water can significantly affect the efficacy and lathering ability of soaps.

Oftentimes, this can lead to consumers using greater quantities of soap to acquire the amount of later desired. In addition to making you run out of soap sooner than you would otherwise, another repercussion of having and using hard water to wash your locks is that hard water causes the microscopic anatomy of your hair to become roughened and trap soap build-up that is created when the soap reacts with the minerals in the water.

On the other hand, rinsing with ACV causes the hair to become smooth again, allowing all the soap and/or mineral build up to be rinsed and washed out easily. Hard water can cause the hair to become dry, cause dandruff and/or eczema of the scalp, cause the hair to thin, and/or cause it to discolor. So there are many reasons to take steps to counteract hard water if it is present in your home!

If you find that when you rinse your locks the water will not rinse out clean, hard water is usually to blame (assuming no wax has been used in the dreadlocks previously), and you should consider following your wash(es) with an ACV rinse.

Different parts of the country have varying degrees of hard water. Below is a map that shows that hardness level of water across the country. (Please note, this is just a guideline and is not necessarily completely accurate!)

hard water map

Map copied from

GREEN — Extremely hard water (>10.5 grains/gallon)
ORANGE — Hard water (7 – 10 grains/gallon)
RED — Moderately hard water (3.5 – 7 grains/gallon)
BLUE — Slightly hard water (0.5 – 3.5 grains/gallon)
YELLOW — Soft water (0 – 0.5 grains/gallon)

Below is a chart we’ve put together with a suggest frequency for ACV rinses based on the hardness of your water:


And, finally, here is an ACV rinse recipe for you:

Apple Cider Vinegar (ACV) Rinse

  • 2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • 10 drops tea tree oil
  • 20 – 30 drops of rosemary essential oil
  • 20 – 30 drops of lavender essential oil

Pour ACV into a large pitcher. Add essential oils and water until full. Pour over head and let soak 3 – 5 minutes. Rinse well.

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