When I mentioned to my friend that I’m experimenting with my own homemade hair cleanser and conditioner, she sucked in her cheeks and rolled her eyes before regaining her composure and saying, a hint of resignation in her voice, “So tell me about it.”

I got the idea from Sarah who wrote about going commercial-hair-product free. While I’m not opposed to commercial hair products, if my hair does better on a simple homemade formula, well then, what was I doing spending money and filling up the landfills?

So. Across town to the health food store I went to fetch me a little apothecary jar of essential oil of lavender (eight bucks—yikes). And then I promptly set about concocting my potions.

The cleanser is just baking soda in water, and the conditioner is water, vinegar, and essential oil. It couldn’t be simpler, really. My hair gets clean, and, despite the blog post title, the vinegar rinse makes my hair smell only mildly vinegary, and that’s only while my hair is still wet. Once it dries, there is no scent whatsoever.

I’m still not convinced that this method is better then regular shampoo. My hair feels different, heavier and a little less sleek. And contrary to what Sarah found, my hair doesn’t seem to hold a style as well, or at least it loses it faster. I normally go two days without a shampoo, but now my hair feels like it gets dirtier sooner so I only go about a day and a half between washings.

Despite the hitches, I’m not ready to give up. Considering all the different types of hair, it wouldn’t be fair to expect the formula to be a one-size-fits-all. I’m still tweaking, using more conditioner, or less, rubbing a little coconut oil into my still-damp hair before styling, making a new cleanser with fewer drops of essential oil. My goal is to make it till my next hair appointment when I’ll ask my hair dresser if he notices any changes with my hair. If he says yes, that it’s much healthier, lush, and simply gorgeous, then I just may continue.

And I may continue anyway. While I miss the feel of a good lather, the smell and ease of shampoo, it’s rather thrilling to be doing something so totally different. Not to mention it’s so dang cheap.

So, what are you waiting for? Hop on the bandwagon! Become a fellow picklehead!

Hair Cleanser

½ cup baking soda
1 ½ cups water

Mix together and bottle. The baking soda will settle to the bottom, so it must be well-shaken before using. (I experimented by using boiling water instead of cold in hopes that it would dissolve better. It didn’t.)

To use: Right before hopping into the shower, while your hair is still dry, squirt the mixture on your hairline and part, massaging it into your scalp. The goal is to clean your scalp, not your hair, so squirt it here and there all over your head (about 2 or 3 tablespoons, total), rubbing vigorously with your fingertips. (I look like a wild woman when I’m done.) Wait a minute before rinsing thoroughly.

Hair Conditioner

½ cup white or apple cider vinegar
2 cups water
5-10 drops essential oil (lavender, vanilla, peppermint, etc)

Mix together and bottle.

To use: Shake well and then squirt a couple tablespoons over your hair, from the nape of the neck down to the ends of your hair. Unless you have extra-dry hair, do not apply to the scalp. Leave the conditioner in your hair for about a minute before rinsing thoroughly.

About one year ago: Braised Cabbage
About two years ago: Salvation’s Chocolate Chip Cookies (and my falling out with Molly Wizenberg)


  • Anonymous

    I've been using straight vinegar as the final rinse on my hair for three months now.(I put it in a dish detergent bottle and squirt it on after washing- I have yet to try the b. soda) I'd had a lot of build-up but that's gone. If my hair gets a bit damp I have an aura of vinegar…. I love the way it acts as a conditioner though.

  • Anonymous

    Dr Perfection, people are the most fascinating creatures to walk the earth (or swim or fly or blog). If you write one, I'd read it!


  • Jennifer Jo

    Look at all the pickleheads coming out of the closet! What fun!

    Zoe, No, I don't smell like vinegar. This morning after a run in humid weather and a shower (no hair wash), my hair was quite damp. I had Mr. H sniff it and he said he couldn't smell anything.

    Alison, I like your suggestion about lowering the shampoo concentration and applying it to wet hair. I'm not sure why the hair is supposed to be dry—I just posed the question to Sarah.

    Kbs, That's one heck of a good story. Read it, ya'll.

  • Kare

    "Picklehead." Love it.

    So… is your friend going to try it? I'm hesitant, but you have got my wheels turning about actually making my own mozzarella cheese. So who knows… maybe I'll try making my own shampoo and conditioner at some point, too. I bet the conditioner smells *heavenly*. Would be fun to try to infuse some oil with your own herbs… hmm… (see! sneaky! 🙂

  • Unknown

    Huh – I've never had trouble getting the baking soda to dissolve in the water! I only use 1 Tbsp of baking soda per cup of water and apply it (with a squirt bottle) when my hair is wet. I also use the vinegar rinse on my scalp as well as my hair, because it made sense to me chemically – neutralizing the alkalinity of the baking soda and restoring the natural acidic pH of my skin/hair. I've been doing this for about two months now, and my hair doesn't seem to get greasier any more quickly than it used to. It definitely doesn't smell vinegar-y – my husband would certainly have complained if it did!

  • Zoë

    So I mentioned this idea to Brad. His response? "No! I don't want to go to bed with a vinegar head!" How does Mr. Handsome feel about this stuff? Also, if you sweat and make your hair a little wet, do you smell the vinegar again? Brad's very worried about me smelling like a pickle.

  • It's me ...Mavis

    I believe the BEST shampoo is FREE shampoo…

    But I have tried the apple cider vinegar & baking soda shampoo thingy… and I liked it.

    @ Dr. Perfection… Who did JJ leave out? Who is missing? Do YOU have a blog? Is it a blog about shoes? Fancy Dinner Parties? Brown Leather couches?

  • Rosanna

    I've used the baking soda/vinegar method! It made my hair frizzy and slightly tacky until I got the conditioner adjusted. I found I could go a lot longer between washes before it started to get greasy, and rubbing that gritty baking soda into my scalp felt *really* good. But I also still had some shampoo left in my bottle, and I didn't have a good reason not to at least use it up. Which is where I am now: using up the shampoo bottle.

  • Kate

    We once watched a PBS "reality" show about a family who lived as people may have lived during the Victorian era. They used this very shampoo and after awhile couldn't bear the not quite clean feeling so they snuck off to the pharmacy to purchase a forbidden bottle of shampoo and gloried in its wonders. This post just called that bit of trivia to mind.

  • dr perfection

    off topic, but I noticed that in your blog cliff notes, you left out several members of your immediate family.

  • dr perfection

    I have been using a product called WEN. It does not have any soap/no lather so is better for the hair and my hair feels great and is shinier. It isn't cheap, though.

  • Unknown

    ha! I just got myself two squirt bottles this afternoon. As soon as I'm finished with my sample bar of Burt's Bees shampoo, I'll become a pickle head, too.

Leave a Comment