The questions we are most frequently asked usually have to do with washing dreadlocks. The first of which, especially from someone who doesn’t themselves have dreadlocks, is usually “Do you wash them?” or “How do you wash them?” (the latter of which is usually someone’s tactful attempt to ask the former!). Well on this page we are going to answer that and much more!
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Q: Should you wash dreadlocks? (Back to top)
A: YES — a resounding YES!!! We know there is a small contingent of dreadheads out there that actually do not wash their dreadlocks and like everything else, its yours or their prerogative to care for your locks in whatever way you’d like, BUT we can assure you that your dreadlocks and scalp will be much happier and lock more quickly if you do. Of course as you already know, the scalp secretes oil which helps to condition the hair, but in excess creates a ‘greasy’ appearance. Your scalp and hair’s natural oil can act like a lubricant causing knots to slip and dreadlocks to essentially fall out. Although we are hesitant to use exclusive terms because we don’t want to alienate anyone, but we don’t think we can stress enough how important it is that you DO wash your dreadlocks.
The locking process of dreadlocks is very similar to how felt is created from wool. Human hair and animal hair fibers are both have scales along their surface. These scales react the same way when exposed to heat, moisture, and cold. When you wash your dreadlocks you (should) use HOT water. Heat and moisture cause the scales on the surface of the hair cuticle to raise on a microscopic level. This makes the hair rougher and the agitation of scrubbing the dreadlocks causes the hair to tangle and ‘felt’ together. Then you (should) rinse with COOL/COLD water which causes the scales to lay back down and locks the hair in the position it was placed into by the agitation.
This process along with friction received day to day and from sleeping is what ultimately causes a lock of backcombed, twisted, interlocked, rip and twisted, etc. hair to become a dreadlock. So certainly unwashed hair will lock eventually, but washing does quite a bit to accelerate and aide in the process.
It’s important to note that while washing does help accelerate things, in the early stages of your dreadlocks (or dreadlocks-to-be), washing often appears more often than not to be UN-doing all the hard work that was put into getting them there in the first place. Frustrating though it may be, hang in there! Washing your dreadlock is a crucial step to helping you achieve some AWESOME locks.
Q: How often should you wash dreadlocks? (Back to top)
A: Since, as stated in the above question, washing is an important part of the process you should wash your locks relatively frequently and well! Some websites suggest that you should wash anywhere from every 3-4 days and others say once a month. Everyone finds what works for them, but we recommend that you wash once or twice a week. We recommend that all clients wash once to twice a week for the first 12 weeks – 3 months of having their dreadlocks. I feel this give the locks a chance to establish themselves without pulling out excessive amounts of loose hair. During this period in particular we recommend focusing only on washing the scalp as this is where all the excess oils will be and will help avoid unecessary trauma to the bodies of your locks. It’s worth noting, however, that dreadlocks that are being started by neglect can and often do benefit from more frequent washing than 1 – 2x per week. However, once the locks become properly established, stretching out the frequency you wash with is ideal.
Once they have settled in some and after this point, you may choose to either continue washing once a week or increase the frequency to twice a week and you can start to focus more on washing the bodies of your dreadlocks as well. We don’t suggest washing any less often than once or twice a week because washing continues to aid in the locking process until they are mature. (The generally accepted age of dreadlock maturity is 2 years.) I don’t suggest washing any more frequently because it’s extremely important that your dreadlocks get the opportunity to dry THOROUGHLY between washings. Dreadlocks that are not allowed to dry properly (you wash too much, put them up in a ponytail or scarf, etc, while still wet, or go to bed with wet locks) have a risk of developing dread rot; i.e. mildew. Mold in dreadlocks can be killed if you are persistent, but the only way to REMOVE mold (which is dead if you’ve taken steps to kill it) is to comb out your dreadlocks. Obviously you want to avoid this at all costs, so just make sure you don’t wash too often, and let them dry thoroughly before putting them up or sleeping on them.
Q: How should I dry my dreadlocks after I wash? (Back to top)
A: This is one thing that there is really no wrong answer to as long as you ARE getting them completely dry. That means that after washing your dreadlocks you should leave them down and loose until they are totally dry and you should never wash your dreadlocks and go to bed wet. Not only will you wake up to a very damp pillow, but this impedes the ability of your dreadlocks to dry properly. An important note here is that the older and more mature your dreadlocks are, the longer they generally take to dry. This is because as they mature they become more compact and retain moisture longer.
One option for drying your locks is simply a towel and some fresh air. This is what I like to do. After washing (regardless of what method you choose to dry with) you should squeeze all the excess water out of your locks. (If the water isn’t running clear keep rinsing! NOTE: if you have hard water it will react to bar soap and cause the water to run slightly opaque. If you have concerns about residue, follow with an ACV rinse.) Some people like to whip their dreadlocks back and forth a few times to encourage the water to move to the ends so you can squeeze it out easier. This can be difficult if your locks are particularly long, though, and I’ve actually heard of people injuring themselves, so only do this if your locks are relatively short! Once you’ve done that, put a towel around your locks and squeeze to absorb any residual excess moisture. At this point you can leave the towel on for a few more minutes (I do) or take it off and let them air dry. Like with normal hair, expect your shirt to get wet because no matter how hard you try you’ll never get ALL of the water out!
Some people like to blow dry their locks, especially as they get older to make sure they don’t have any problems. Additionally, if you are a very active person who gets sweaty and likes to shower daily it’s CRUCIAL to get your locks GOOD and DRY between periods of moisture and wetness. A constant (or near-constant) environment of dampness will almost certainly lead to the growth of mold, A.K.A. dread rot. There is no secret to how to do this… you would just use a blow dryer instead of air drying. (You may want to use the ‘cool’ air setting on your blow dryer if you have one, to further capitalize on how washing felts dreadlocks.) Some people even go so far as to purchase a bonnet dryer, which is a plastic cap you fit over your head that keeps the dry air right around your head to help facilitate and accelerate the drying process. The main reason why many (myself included) sometimes choose not to use a blow dryer is that they tend to pull out loose hair and can make your locks excessively frizzy.
Additionally, some people actually use Sham-Wow‘s to dry their dreadlocks in place of towel. These supposedly absorb water MUCH better than towels. Also, I’ve been informed that there are many knock-off of this product that are also just as effective and much less expensive. Look for Ultra Microfiber Towels on google to get one for yourself. Please keep in mind that these products actually work better slightly damp than they do totally dry!
Q: What should I wash my dreadlocks with? (Back to top)
A: Check out the page about Shampoos & Soaps to learn more about the science of shampoos and dreadlocks and our Shampoos: The Good, The Bad, and The Undecided page to find a list of recommended shampoos!