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How To Wash Dreads: 17 Salon-Proven Steps

Last Updated on: June 8, 2024

Dreadlocks are trendy and easy to maintain. But, they have one of the worst build-ups when you don’t wash them regularly.

How old are your locks?

If they are new dreads, washing them too often can unravel them. It’s such a sensitive locking stage as you have to choose between dread rot and re-twisting your hair every week.

Here’s how to wash dreads without unraveling them.

How To Wash Dreadlocks: Step By Step

Washing dreadlocks

We’ll start with a simple washing method for everyone with dreadlocks.

You’ll need:

  • Residue-free dreadlocks shampoo
  • A microfiber towel

Step 1

Remove dread beads, hair extensions, or any other accessory in your locs.

Wet your locs and scalp with warm water. Long, thick dreads may not absorb the water immediately. 

Therefore, you might have to pour water on them for a while. Alternatively, sit with your head under running water until all locs soak it in. Don’t forget the dreadlocks along the hairline, the back, and the sides.

Step 2

Pour dreadlock shampoo into your palm and spread it on your scalp, starting with the crown as you work to your forehead and the sides. It’ll not lather because of the dirt and oil in your locked hair; however, it’ll still leave you with a clean, healthy scalp by removing dead skin cells and product residue.

Massage the shampoo into your scalp gently. Take about three minutes to scrub the dirt and oils on the scalp, then rinse. Be gentle when working on starter locs, and let the shampoo run through them as you rinse it out instead of running your fingertips through the locs.

Step 3

Shampoo your dreads, working on a handful at a time until you cover all locs.

You can shampoo one hair strand at a time if you have thick locs. If you have long dreads, mimic hand washing motion as you wash a handful of dreads at a time. Be gentle as you may pull too much at the scalp or cause hair breakage. Don’t forget the loose hair growing at the root, as it also gathers oils from the scalp.

Step 4

Rinse them with warm water.

Squeeze a handful of dreads gently to remove excess water. Suds and residue accumulate at the back of the head, the crown, and the sides. If you have a tap sprayer, spray these sections of hair until clear water runs out.

Step 5

Shampoo your dreads again for a deep cleanse since you’ve already removed dirt and oils.

Work on a small section (see Step 4) and rub long dreads between your palms to release stubborn build-up.

Step 6

Rinse the shampoo. There should be no trace of shampoo in your hair because it’ll mix with your hair care products and cause residue. 

Step 7

Squeeze the water out of your locs gently. 

Step 8

Wrap your clean locs in a towel to remove excess water because dreads dry faster when you draw out most water. Use a microfiber towel as it doesn’t leave lint in your matted hair.

Step 9

Massage your scalp and hair with dread oil to restore moisture.

It all comes down to one thing — basic hair care. Know some of the black male hair growth tips to gain further insights regarding this!

That’s it! That’s a simple washing routine for locs without heavy product residue. If you’re already seeing whitish stuff in your hair, you need to add a few more items to your washing routine.

Let’s look at those right after the video below:

Watch This!

How to Clean Dreads: Deep Cleanse Routine

It’s impossible to discuss how to wash dreadlocks without talking about an apple cider vinegar (ACV) rinse.


When dirt, oils, and products accumulate, your dreadlocks become dull. You might not even notice it until there’s white gunk.

For that reason, a deep cleanse is advisable at least once every year. It sounds like a technical process; however, don’t worry. It’s as simple as the process we described earlier, only that you’ll need a few more supplies. 

You’ll need:

  • A large bowl or sink
  • Microfiber towel
  • Three cups of apple cider vinegar
  • Anti-residue dreadlock shampoo
  • One cup of baking soda
  • Dread oil
  • A lemon
  • Hot water
deep cleansing dreadlocks

Step 1

Pour hot water into the bowl or wash sink and mix it with cold water until it’s tepid.

Step 2

Add baking soda, apple cider vinegar, and lemon juice. Some use water and apple cider vinegar only. Nonetheless, when your locs are almost turning white because of gunk, you need baking soda and lemon juice.

Step 3

Sit with your hair submerged in the mixture, ensuring your hair stays in the bowl. Maintain this position for about 15 minutes.

Step 4

Remove your hair from the bowl and squeeze any excess mixture out of your locs.

Step 5

Refill the bowl with a fresh mixture and repeat Step 4 to break down the residue left in your knotted hair.

Step 6

Shampoo the hair like in the routine we discussed earlier.

Step 7

Rinse your hair under running water to remove the smell of the mixture and the shampoo. Afterward, dry it with a towel.

Step 8

Oil each dread to replace the moisture lost when washing dreadlocks.

Some people start with this method as a pre-shampoo treatment to loosen oils and dirt so that the locs and scalp are ready for shampooing.

Facts On How Often To Wash Dreads

We’ve told you how to clean dreads, but how frequently should you do it? Here are some tips.

How Often?

There’s no rule of thumb to follow. Your next shampoo day depends on many factors, including how active you are outdoors and the products you’re using to knot your hair. 

If you’re using wax, all the more you have to wash your locs often because, contrary to what some think, oil residue prevents hair from knotting. The more dirt and oil stays in your hair, the longer it’ll take to grow your dreads.

Faux locs also need regular washing to maintain healthy natural hair underneath. Use a clarifying shampoo as regular shampoo doesn’t clear residue.

For starter locs, wait for at least two weeks before washing them, so they don’t have you heading back to your loctician. Another trick that reduces unraveling is wearing a mesh cap over the locs so that as you shampoo your hair, the cap holds the locs together.

You could also make your dread care routine easier by protecting your hair from dirt and dirt.

I mean, wrap a headscarf over your locs whenever you’re in such a dusty environment. If you don’t, you’ll have to wash regularly, and it could unravel locs or cause breakage.

Should You Use A Conditioner?

If you’re wondering why we haven’t mentioned conditioning anywhere in this article, it’s because the traditional hair conditioner unravels locs. Instead, incorporate an ACV rinse to restore the PH level of hair or add some essential oils to your routine to soothe your scalp.

Drying Dreadlocks

After washing dreads, dry them, or they’ll smell and gather dread rot. Since dreads dry in about eight hours, you’ll have to use a hair dryer when you wash your hair several times a week. It’ll even take longer when you have dreadlock extensions.

Additionally, squeeze the water out as matted hair absorbs a lot of water and takes longer to dry.

Even though your hair accumulates residue, minimize deep cleansing because vinegar has a drying effect. 

All About AVA shows us how to do the ACV rinse we talked about earlier.

Fun Fact 1: Hair experts agree that proper locs care is the key to hair longevity. Learn how to achieve this by researching how to prevent hair loss in black men to get all the details!

Fun Fact 2: Dreadlocks don’t get compromised by keeping them “under wraps”. Know what a durag does to learn more about this hair care technique.

Watch This!

Frequently Asked Questions

How do you get the dirt out of dreads?

You’ll need a residue-free shampoo to break down the oils and dirt. Furthermore, do an ACV rinse at least once a year to break down residue where new hair growth meets the old, matted hair.

You’ll also need to read related articles about caring for curly hair, as there’s a difference between personal care for textured and straight hair. For instance, it takes longer for straight hair to matte, and it unravels faster, while curly hair forms a thick strand of matted hair that may hide gunk.

Can I wash my dreads with dish soap?

Yes, you can, but it’s not advisable because its ingredients aren’t suited to the residue in dreads. It may clean grime from kitchenware, but there’s no proof it removes residue in any hair type. On top of that, dish soaps contain chemicals that may damage natural hair.

One popular alternative to regular soap is Castile Dread Soap with Essential Oil. For instance, Dr. Bronner Castile bar soaps come in a pack of five containing lavender, citrus, rose, peppermint, and almond oils. They’re unscented and don’t contain detergents or preservatives.

Can you wash dreads with just water?

Water won’t work unless you’re rinsing it after soaking your hair in an apple cider vinegar mixture. Oils and residue need a surfactant — the main ingredient in a hair product like shampoo.

How do you make your dreads smell good? Add a few drops of essential oils to your hair care routine. The favorite oils for most people are lavender, rosemary, lime, tea tree, and peppermint. Mix them in a bottle and spritz your clean hair. Some, such as peppermint, relieve an itchy scalp.

What is best to wash dreadlocks with?

As we noted earlier, use anti-residue shampoo instead of regular hair shampoo. If you’re doing an ACV rinse first, check the essentials we listed above.


Dreads lock better when they’re clean and oil-free. That’s why you should wash them regularly. Plus, they smell good.

The daunting task is washing starter locs without messing them up. Therefore, if you have new dreads, you can wash them every other time instead of several times a week.

Remember, dreads don’t use just any hair product. You’ll need dreadlocks shampoo to wash out gunk and dirt in your matted hair.

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