How to Decide Which Hair Cleansing Method to Use

“I want dirty hair” said no one ever. Yet, while you want your hair (and scalp) to be clean, you don’t want your hair to be stripped of its natural oils. You want to use one of the right hair cleansing methods for what your hair needs.

hair cleansing methods

When to Wash Your Hair

hair cleansing methods

One would say that you need to wash your hair when it’s dirty. While that’s definitely 100% accurate, there are other times you may want to wash your hair. These include:

To prep for a long term protective style

If you are going to put your hair in a protective style for more than a week you will want to wash your hair so that you can follow it with a good deep conditioning and/or protein treatment. This will help prepare your hair with moisture and strength.

After exercise

Your hair may not be dirty after exercising but if you sweat a lot in your head, you don’t want bacteria to build up in the scalp. So, you wash your hair. I wouldn’t recommend washing every day that you exercise but picking a day before your normal wash day can help keep your scalp clean.

To add moisture to your hair

Sometimes your hair is so dry that no amount of surface moisturizing can help. This is especially true for those of us moisturizing low porosity hair. The cuticles are so tight that the only way to get them opened is with a good ‘ole hair washing session.

5 Methods of Hair Cleansing

Now that we know when you should be washing your hair, let’s look at the various hair cleansing methods available to you.


Curls Dynasty shampoo

The most widely recognized way of cleaning one’s hair, shampooing is capable of removing dirt and oils.

Sometimes shampooing can be a little too cleansing as shampoos usually contain sulfates which can be rather harsh on your hair. Shampoos containing sulfates can strip the hair of its natural oils but it’s not as bad as some people make it out to be.

If you have a lot of product build up, shampoos are quite effective at restoring your hair to a clean slate. For lots of product build up, you want to use a clarifying shampoo.

Using shampoo bars to shampoo

Alternatively, shampoo bars are much gentler and can be formulated to actually moisturize and nourish the hair. These shampoo bars by Henna Sooq are a favorite of mine. Look at the inner working of the Sweet Honey Shampoo Bar:

sweet honey shampoo bar

Dry Shampooing

Using dry shampoo to cleanse your hair can be a good option for when your hair isn’t very dirty or you just want to remove excess oils from your hair. It’s typically used when you want a quick freshen up of your strands. It’s not meant for a thorough cleansing..

Dry shampooing is not something I prefer. I’d rather just wash my hair normally with either shampoo or a co-wash product. This leads me to the next hair cleansing method.


Co-washing is most popular in curly hair circles. It became truly popular with the Curly Girl Method.

Initially, to co-wash your hair, you would use a conditioner that was formulated to be rinsed out after cleansing your hair with shampoo. In the CG Method, said conditioner is used in place of shampoo.

The problem with using a “rinsing” conditioner to co-wash is, it leaves a film on your hair but doesn’t really clean it.

Enter Co-Wash products….

Manufacturers of hair products have since stepped up their game and started formulating co-wash products. These are typically called cleansing conditioners. Cleansing conditioners have the ability to clean your hair without stripping it of natural oils. This type of product also promotes moisture in the hair.

Oil Cleansing

Similar to oil cleansing your skin, this hair cleansing method proceeds the actual washing of your hair. Or rather, it can. You can also use the oil as a “cleanser.” It doesn’t deep clean. It grabs onto surface dirt and as you agitate your hair and rinse it out, excess dirt is removed.

After oil cleansing, you rinse your hair with warm water or with a gentle cleanser like a co-wash product.

Either way, you will be leaving a coating of oil on your hair which helps with moisture retention.

So, this method is best used when you simply want to rehydrate dry and parched hair.

Clay Washing

Washing your hair with clays like bentonite, rhassoul and/or kaolin clays are an effective way to clean your hair. Clay washes are also a natural way to detoxify your hair and scalp.

They can be used to remove product build up instead of the harsher clarifying shampoo.

Check out this video on How to Cleanse Fine Hair Better:

In the video I go into depth on how to wash fine hair and the methods listed above. While oil “cleansing” and dry shampooing are methods for removing some dirt from the hair, they are not adequate cleansing methods. That’s why they are not mentioned in the video.

YouTube video

The video is part of the Fine Hair Doing it Better Series. Download the free companion e-book here.

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