How To Wash Dreadlocks
First Thing’s First: Use a good, clarifying shampoo.
This is extremely important, whether you’re just starting your dreads or have had them for years. This may arguably be one of the most important steps to getting beautiful healthy dreads. And did I mention it’s really important? Early on, months of stumbling around with dirty-looking dreads taught me this the hard way. I was washing my hair all the time, and each time I did, my hair came out looking dirtier than normal. What was the deal? In desperation, I visited a bohemian hair salon in Ann Arbor, and they told me I needed to use a good, clarifying shampoo. I immediately bought a bottle of their shampoo, went home, and washed. Magic! It was like a whole new head of hair. From that day onward, I vowed only to use clarifying shampoo on my dreads. While the brand has varied, I have never deviated from this resolution. Using a quality clarifying shampoo gets all the dirt and residue out, helps your hair dry faster, and ultimately helps your new growth lock up. Sounds good to me!
Now to the Details
Okay, so you’ve just started your dreadlocks using back combing or one of the other prescribed methods, and suddenly realize you don’t know how often you should wash them. Or how, for that matter. Don’t panic! Here’s some advice:
Get On A Regular Schedule
When your dreadlocks are brand new, they will be very delicate. Patience is key in this stage. Wash them every 3-5 days with a quality, clarifying shampoo. Do not compromise on this shampoo. It will help your dreadlocks lock up faster, which will make your life easier. In this beginning stage, I would also recommend wearing some form of thin protection on your head, like a nylon stocking, in the first 4-6 weeks in order to protect your newly started locks. By the second month, you should be able to graduate off the stocking cap. Remember to rinse very, very well (not just in this baby stage of your locks, but through out the entire life of them). You don’t want any suds left in there.
Down the road, you can adjust your washing schedule as necessary. My hair tends to want to dry out relatively easily, so I try to wash them about once a week. Here’s a video from Nikkimo75 as she washes a newbie’s dreads:
Get Your Dreadlocks Completely Dry!
Also, it’s equally important to remember to dry your hair very well. Some people let it air dry (my hair takes like 6-7 hours to air dry, so I wash it earlier in the day). For super thick hair though, I would recommend considering a hair dryer, because any dampness you leave in your hair can turn into mildew months/years down the road, which you DO NOT want (although if it does happen or has already happened, it’s not the end of the world. Check out my article on finding unwanted visitors in your hair). If you smell something funky coming from your hair, you may very well have dreadlock mildew, so be careful.
First, make sure to wring your hair out gently between your hands. I repeat: be gentle. No need to manhandle your locks, especially since they can become more delicate when soaking wet. Then, cover them with a thick towel, and wring them out again. Let the fibers of the towel soak up that water! I would recommend repeating this 3 or 4 times, until your hair is not dripping wet, but merely damp. After this, you have some choices: you couldwrap them in a fresh, dry towel, and leave it there for 20 minutes (go about your life. Get some coffee. Read a magazine), OR, you would whip out your hair dryer and finish off the job with that. If you choose to blow dry, make sure the heat setting is not on scalding (no need to scorch or damage your locks).
Separate Your Dread at the Roots
Often, just after washing your dreads, you may notice that they are trying to tangle together at the scalp. If you go, “Well looky there. How odd,” and just leave it that way every time you wash, you will start to form one, huge, monster dreadlock. I don’t know about you, but this is NOT something I would want. I’ve seen it on other people before, and it literally scares me. Literally. The way to prevent this is to gently pull the dreads apart at the scalp while they are still wet. Depending on how much hair you have, it takes all of about 15 to 20 minutes, and ensures that your dreads stay divided up the way you intended them to be.
Make sure to moisturize your locks after you wash them, lest they get dry and itchy. Learn the best practices for moisturizing here.