Sometimes, it can feel like there are too many hair products we are expected to use, and they are not always cheap or safe for our hair.
What if you ditched all those shampoos and decided to wash your hair with just water? What would happen?
In this article, I explain what happens if you use only water to wash hair, both the good and the bad. I also explain how to switch to water-only hair washing while keeping your hair clean and healthy.
Water-only Hair Washing: Does It Work?
Not surprisingly, there’s a big movement behind what’s called water-only hair washing or WO. You may also hear it being referred to as the no-poo method, meaning no shampoo.
People who practice the WO method say they want to avoid the chemicals in most shampoos and conditioners, claiming these products strip out the good protective oils in their hair and scalp.
Using just water cleans the dirt and sweat from your hair, while preserving all the good stuff. So your hair stays moisturized and healthy.
But is this true? Yes, but only to an extent.
It is true that shampoo strips oils from your hair and scalp. After all, that’s what it’s meant to do. It removes excess oils and product build-up in the hair. In the process, it also removes protective oil or sebum.
However, the problem with shampoos is that people often use them wrongly. They’ll wash their hair too often with shampoo, buy the wrong kind of shampoo for their hair or fail to condition and moisturize their hair after a shampoo wash.
That said, water-only hair washing can and does work for a lot of people, especially those with dry hair and sensitive scalps. You just need to take a look at Reddit posts to see all the success stories.
However, the success of this method depends on what kind of hair you have. Some people have extra oily hair that only a shampoo can handle.
You’ll also need to adjust your hair care routine to ensure it doesn’t get too dirty and greasy.
What Happens If You Just Wash Your Hair With Water?
If you are thinking about switching to water-only hair washing, here are the benefits and downsides to expect.
Benefits of Washing Hair With Just Water
- Your hair stays moisturized. Shampoos can dry out your hair, making it frizzy and weak. It can even cause dandruff when it dries out your scalp, making it itchy and sensitive. Water doesn’t strip out your natural oils, so your hair stays effortlessly soft and supple.
- Water-only hair washing is great if you have a sensitive scalp. It doesn’t contain any chemicals that your scalp might react against. Many people with a sensitive scalp find that just using water often eliminates their sensitivity problems such as itchiness and dandruff.
- The water-only method is also great for those with naturally dry or delicate hair such as curly hair or fine hair. Again, it’s all about avoiding the harsh chemicals in many shampoos. Water keeps your hair clean without damaging it or drying it out even more than it already is.
- Most people switching to the WO method find that their hair becomes healthier overall. This means less breakage, fewer split ends, and better hair growth.
Downsides of The Water-only Hair Washing Method
Before you switch to using just water, there are some potential downsides you should be aware of.
- Your hair might get a bit too greasy especially if you have naturally oily hair. Water is not as effective as shampoo at removing these excess oils. But there are ways of dealing with the problem (I’ve included some WO hair care tips further below).
- You may need to wash or rinse your hair daily to keep it from getting too dirty. This is especially important if you spend a lot of time outdoors or you sweat a lot.
- If you don’t know how to properly take care of your hair with the water-only method, you could end up doing more harm to it. Oil, product and dirt build-up can lead to dandruff, in-grown hair, odors, and poor hair growth.
How To Wash Your Hair With Just Water
The water-only method is legit. It can work, but only if you do it right. Here are some tips that can help.
Ease Into It
Don’t switch from using shampoo to WO overnight. Your hair and scalp need time to adjust. Your scalp was probably producing a lot of oil to deal with the dryness caused by the shampoo.
If you switch to WO instantly, you might find your hair gets too oily and greasy.
The first step is to stop shampooing your hair too often. If you shampoo daily, switch to shampooing every 2-3 days.
If you shampoo twice a week, try once a week. On days that you don’t shampoo, wash your hair with warm water only.
Keep cutting down on shampooing until you completely eliminate shampoo and just use water.
Use Warm Water
Cold water on its own is not enough to clean your hair and remove excess oils and products. Hot water, on the other hand, is bad for your hair and scalp.
It’s best to wash your hair with warm water. It is gentle on your hair but also effective at stripping out dirt, pollution and excess oils.
Massage and Rinse With Cold Water
Don’t just stand under the shower and let the warm water flow through your hair. That’s not enough to get it clean.
Since there are no chemicals like those in shampoo to help remove dirt and greasiness, you’ll have to rely on mechanical cleaning.
That’s where you use your fingers to lift stubborn dirt and oils off your scalp. Just be gentle. Depending on how dirty your hair gets, you may need to spend 10 minutes or more gently rubbing your scalp.
But you can alternate the long water-only washes with quicker rinses.
Once you’ve massaged/rubbed your head, rinse with cold water to help seal the cuticles and keep your hair soft.
Don’t Overuse Hair Products
Water doesn’t do as good a job as shampoo at removing excess oils and products from hair. So don’t make its job harder than it needs to be.
Cut back on how much product you add to your hair, whether it’s conditioner, moisturizing oils, or mousse. This prevents too much buildup.
Remember that your hair is keeping most of the oils it produces, so you don’t need as much conditioner and moisturizer as before.
Also, look for lightweight hair products that don’t leave your hair all greasy and heavy. This is especially important if you have fine hair that’s weighed down easily by products.
Wash Your Hair As Often As You Need To
When it comes to water-only hair washing, there are no hard rules on how often to wash hair. It depends on your hair type and how dirty it gets.
If you have oily hair, wash it daily to keep it from getting too greasy. The same goes if you spend your day in a place with lots of dust or if your hair gets sweaty.
If you spend most of your day in the office, you might find a WO wash once or twice a week to be enough to keep your hair clean.
Alternatives to Water-only Hair Washing
If you are not comfortably using just water to wash your hair, there are some alternatives that are also good for your hair.
Instead of using water only, you can add homemade cleansers to your hair care routine. Products like apple cider vinegar, certain essential oils, and aloe vera can do a better job cleaning your hair than just water.
If you have extra-oily hair, try something a bit more aggressive like baking soda. But be sure to condition/moisturize your hair afterwards to prevent dryness and frizz.
The other alternative to the WO method is co-washing. This is where you wash your hair with conditioner only.
These days, beauty manufacturers are making conditioners specifically for this purpose. They are called cowash or cleansing conditioners.
Tip: Avoid any cowash conditioner with silicone. It can make your hair soft and shiny, but only temporarily. Silicone builds up in your hair, weighing it down and making it greasy.
To learn more about shampoos vs. washing your hair with just water, here’s a great explainer video from a professional stylist.
If you prefer to use shampoo on your hair, that’s fine. Get a high quality shampoo that has plenty of good extracts such as natural oils. It’s also a good idea to go a few more days in between your shampoo sessions. Mix them up with days when you use just water.
If you want to use only water on your hair, that’s also fine. Ease into it over time, use warm water, and avoid overusing products on your hair.
If neither option appeals to you, try homemade cleansers and shampoos or use non-silicone cowash conditioners to cleanse and condition your hair.