3 Ways To Clean Your Hair Without Sham-poo - hair buddha
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3 Ways To Clean Your Hair Without Sham-poo

3 ways to wash your hair without shampoo


It’s okay to not shampoo. As there are many other fabulous ways to clean your head.

Shampoos didn’t exists until 1930s. In India, and many other countries, shampoo became popular only a couple of decades ago. And before its advent people didn’t roam the streets with dirty heads. Rather, they had already identified how to clean their hair using natural things available around them.

Last week I asked some of my family and friends what they and people around them used to clean their heads before shampoo. The most common replies were reetha, shikhakai, mud, gram flour (besan), washing soda, soap, and ashes (from burnt wood). Some of these ingredients may seem very harsh on the hair, but mind you they all ‘had’ – oh yes, had – longer, shinier, silkier, and abundant hair, which is evident in the old pictures. I guess my mom’s generation was the end of good hair days in India. And now it’s mostly seen in the pictures, as memories.

So, where is the long-abundant-silky-shiny-hair gone.

I think it went down the drain with the lather.


What’s wrong with the shampoo? Honestly speaking, shampoos were made with an intent to make our lives easier, to bring more convenience into our busy lives. But there are some things that are better left to nature to care for us. Especially, things that involve our body, nature is better versed, I believe, to provide for them – be it food, drink, salve, cosmetics, or cleansers. Less processed and synthetic, the better. And it’s also cleaner and safer for the environment as well as the ecosystem.

Now, more people are opting for primal ways of living. And also seeing the benefits, which is great. No-poo (No shampoo) movement has gained a lot of popularity in recent years. And for a good reason. After quitting the shampoo no-pooers have reported that: their hair’s growing faster and healthier, fewer hair falling out, dandruff is gone, plus their hair’s more manageable, shiner and softer than ever before.

I am getting there…. Ok, I will admit it.. I do use shampoo, but very occasionally. But I am trying to reduce its usage and find better ways to wash my hair. It’s because I too have noticed that my hair’s much more healthier and vibrant when I wash it with natural ingredients. And, I am astound at the way nature provides us with everything we need – only if we care to look for it.

I am now experimenting with the recipes which have worked for the people of glorious hair era. Here’s the best three which was shared happily by family and friends.

3 Ways To Clean Your Hair Without Sham-poo

reetha hair cleanser

Reetha (Soapnut) Cleanser

Reetha has been used by Indians as well as native Americans for hundreds of years to clean their hair, their bodies and their clothes. It contain natural saponins or natural detergents which is what makes it such a wonderful cleanser. Reetha also has amazing skin benefits. It offers anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial properties, and is used in Ayurvedic medicine as a treatment for eczema, psoriasis, and dandruff.

As a hair cleanser, reetha helps remove residue, clear dead skin and dandruff, and strengthen the hair roots. Many women use it along with other hair beneficial herbs such as amla, hibiscus, shikakai, brahmi, and fenugreek. Amla is my top pick as it is an excellent conditioner, and makes hair shiny and fuller looking. Amla also nourishes and strengthens the hair follicles to promote healthy hair growth.

Plus, I like to add shikakai and fenugreek for their conditioning and hair softening benefits.

Reetha on its own will make a basic shampoo base. You can add one or more herbs (listed in add-ins), depending on your hair’s needs.

To prepare Reetha Cleanser you will need:

Add-ins to Reetha & Amla cleanser (use one or more)

  • 1 tablespoon amla whole (makes hair shiny and fuller looking; darken hair over time)
  • 5 to 6 shikakai pods (pH balancing, makes hair soft and bouncy; may darken hair )
  • 1 teaspoon fenugreek seeds (acts like store bought conditioner, makes hair soft, smooth; provide slip for easy detangling)
  • 1 tablespoon licorice root (also called mulethi or jestamadh, it is conditioning and hair softening; helps with hair regrowth)
  • 1 teaspoon almond or olive oil (optional, use for very dry hair)


  1. Combine reetha (and amla, shikakai, fenugreek, or oat straw) with water. (If you wish d let them soak overnight. This helps release more of their properties into the water, and make a stronger cleanser.)
  2. Place the herbs with water in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil.
  3. Reduce the heat and let it boil for 5 to 15 minutes. The longer you let it simmer the more concentrated it will become (you can add more water if you like).
  4. Remove from heat, cover the pan and let it cool.
  5. Crush the reetha berries and other herbs to squeeze out every bit of goodness – I do it with my hands, you can use a spoon or fork.
  6. Strain the liquid and it’s ready use.
  7. If using, add the oils to the strained liquid. Shake well before use.
  8. If you are not using the reetha cleanser immediately then store it in the fridge (use an airtight glass bottle), it will stay good for a week or two. Use can also make a big batch and freeze the mixture into ice cubes. That way it will stay good for months.

How to use:
Wet your hair. Pour it over your hair little by little – you can use a peri bottle or applicator bottle for easy dispensing. Massage it into your scalp and work it down the lengths of the hair. Don’t expect it to lather up very much. Let it sit for 5 minutes and rinse well. You can use all the cleanser if you need to but many people find that they only use part of the mixture per wash. You’ll need to experiment and see how much is right for you.

Reetha amla cleanser is naturally pH balancing and conditioning, so there is no need to use a conditioner.

Amla darkens hair: If you have fair hair or do not want to change your hair colour, skip amla. Instead you can try any of the above mentioned herbs: oat straw, licorice root and marshmallow root.

Hard water: Reetha amla cleanser works pretty well in hard water.

Note: If you have applied oil to your hair or live in hard water area, try applying this cleanser to dry hair (as wetting your hair will reduce its effect). This way it will clean your hair beautifully.

But to begin with try both ways – on wet hair and dry hair and see what works best for your.

How often can you use it: Reetha and amla cleanser is gentle and pH balancing, so you can use it every time you wash your hair.

Other uses of reetha: You can use it to wash your clothes, clean your ornaments, or as a household cleaner.

Soda Hair Cleanser

wash your hair with soda

I have recently started washing my hair with baking soda and my hair seems to love it.

Soda, also known as baking soda or soda bicarbonate, or bicarbonate of soda, is another eco-friendly, in-expensive option to clean your hair. Its mild alkalinity works to turn up fatty acids contained in dirt and grease into a form of soap that can be dissolved in water and rinsed easily.

My mom’s and grandmothers generation used soda soap bar with great success, it was their short cut to effectively clean their hair when they didn’t want to bother with reetha and shikakai. Just few years back (in India), soda soap bar was very popular amongst people who couldn’t afford a shampoo, and when shampoo sachet were not available. And I remember most of the house maids had such beautiful hair and I would wonder how without shampoo could they have such beautiful hair. I now know the secret – no sham-poo.

Soda cleanser is extremely easy to make and needs no preparation.

To make this cleanser you will need:

  • 1 tablespoon soda bicarbonate (baking soda)
  • 2 cups (500ml) of hot water

1. Mix soda bicarbonate with hot water.
2. Stir until fully dissolved.
3. Let cool and it’s ready to use.

How to use:
After wetting your hair, pour the soda mixture over your hair little by little – you can use a peri bottle or applicator bottle for easy dispensing. Massage it into your scalp, working it down the lengths of the hair. Leave it for 3 to 4 minutes, then rinse well.

Like many natural cleaners, this recipe isn’t one-size-fits-all — it can be adjusted to suit your needs. Those with oily or thicker hair might need a bit more baking soda, and those with thin or fine hair might need less. Try-out and see what works for you.

How often can you use it: You must leave a minimum of 4 days between baking soda washes

Soda cleanser works best for those with fine, oily, straight or wavy hair types (type 1 & 2). It may be a little harsh for dry, brittle hair. 

pH balance: Soda is alkaline, while the ph of the hair and scalp is acidic. Therefore, it’s often suggested that after using alkaline soda, you use an acid (rinse) to bring the ph back to the normal range. Vinegar and lemon rinse are the most commonly used ones – I find both too harsh for my hair.

I know many people who use just soda and nothing else and they have good hair. I prefer to use herbal rinse to re-balance my scalp pH, plus it also adds lots of shine and volume to my hair (see below for herbal rinse/infusion ideas). This may seem like too much work but it isn’t. I pre-make the rinse in bulk and store them in fridge or freezer.

Hard water: Like I mention earlier, if you live in hard water areas or have oiled your hair, use the mixture on dry hair, this way it will clean better.

Also, one thing that works for me is to boil the baking soda and water for 2 to 3 minutes. This seems to help with hard water – I don’t know the theory behind this but it works. (If you know why then please share with us).

Other uses of baking soda: You can use it to white your teeth, as a natural deodorant, in your bath, clean kitchen tops and pretty much all surfaces in your house.

Mud Hair Cleanserhow to wash your hair with mud

Mud or clay are great options for those with oily hair and also to get oil treatments/ masks out of your head.

Clays such as rhassoul, bentonite, fullers earth, green clay, black mud (kali mitti), and kaolin clay have been used by many cultures to clean their bodies and hair. Most of the clays are rich in minerals such as silica, magnesium, and calcium, and they literally act like multivitamin for hair to help strengthen the hair shaft, boost shine and reduce hair fall. They also have an ability to absorb toxin and impurities that can build up on the scalp and hair.

Clay guide:
For normal – dry hair use rhassoul clay, kaolin clay or fullers earth (multani mitti)
For oily hair use green clay or bentonite clay

To make mud cleanser you will need:

  • ¼ cup clay of your choice
  • 1 tablespoon orange peel powder (you can also use lemon/lime peel powder)
  • 1 cup water or herbal infusion
  • 3 drops of lavender essential oil (optional, or other essential oil of your choice)

How to make:
1. Simply mix the water, clay and orange peel powder together to make a runny paste. (For extra boost you can also use herbal infusion instead of plain water – see below for ideas).
2. Add more water if necessary.
3. Stir in essential oil and mix well.

How to use:
Wet hair. Massage the clay mixture into your scalp and hair just like shampoo. Leave on for 5 minutes, then rinse well.

Note: those with oily or thicker hair might need a bit more clay, and those with thin or fine hair might need less. Also you can try adding less water if you are trying to wash out oil or hair masks from your hair.

How To Make An Herbal Infusion/Rinse

Herbal infusions/rinses are by nature conditioning and a great alternative to shop bought conditioners. When applied through your hair after a wash they will close the cuticle, creating exceptionally smooth and shiny hair that feels thicker and is more manageable.

Hair rinses can also be quite therapeutic for the scalp and help relieve dryness and itch. Depending on the ingredients you choose, they can also detangle the hair, restore pH, remove product residue, and enhance colour.

You can also use herbal infusions in preparation of mud/flour cleansers.

Here’s some choice of hair nourishing herbs that you can use… You can use them singly or in combination.

Light hair: chamomile flowers, marigold (gendha) flowers, calendula petals, mullein flowers, shikakai.
Dark hair: rosemary leaf, hibiscus flowers, rose petals, tulsi leaf, black tea, amla, nettle leaf, sage leaf, shikakai, amla
Oily Hair: burdock root, horsetail herb, nettle leaf, peppermint leaf, rosemary leaf, shikakai, lemongrass, lemon peel, lavender flower, green tea, reetha, amla
Dry Hair/scalp: shikakai, marshmallow root, mullein flowers, comfrey root, elder flower, calendula petals, sage leaf, mulethi or licorice, lavender.

Create an herbal infusion by pouring 1 cup of boiling water over 2 tsp of herb/herbs (you can use one, two, or more… see what works best) of your choice. Allow to steep** for 15 minutes covered. Then strain and use. It’s that simple!

**For stronger infusion you can steep it overnight.

How to use:

Use as a final rinse to condition your hair. Pour the rinse slowly over freshly washed (not conditioned) hair. Massage the infusion into your hair and scalp. Leave on for 5 minutes, then rinse it out lightly with cool water. You can also leave it on –  try both ways, and see which one you like.

You can also store it in a spray bottle and use a moisturising treatment between your washes.

Experiment to know what herbs work for you, and which may leave your hair feeling dull.

Do you make your own cleanser? Please share your views in the comment box below ..

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