Let’s talk about deep cleaning your dreadlocks… Because:

Dreads are dirty and smelly, right?

If you have dreadlocks, you’ve probably been asked this or at least heard it a time or two.

I remember growing up seeing people with beautiful locks out in public and being fascinated, only to have a friend or family member reassure me that they are surely dirty people. They assure me that a person with locks is either not able to wash them, or that they’re just plain nasty and won’t.

This is absurd because I think it bothers most people to feel funky… 

You know, when you’re feeling lazy and don’t wash your hair, or go a day or two without showering, it kinda gets to you after a while. Whether your hair feels greasy, or you reach for a cup in the cabinet and get a whiff of your armpits.

Be honest, I think we’ve all been there…

We typically also get asked how we wash our hair. Though we could give some specific tips on this, it’s a pretty simple formula.

  1. We get our hair wet.
  2. Next, we put shampoo or a natural cleaning product on it.
  3. Then, we scrub really well.
  4. We rinse the shampoo out of our hair.
  5. Then we dry it.

Mind-blowing right?

Just kidding, it’s exactly how we washed our hair before we locked it up.

Deep cleansing your dreadlocks is kind of another animal, however. We wash ours regularly, but I drive a semi and deliver product, so I’m constantly in a dirty trailer surrounded by dirt and dust. So eventually, every 2-6 months I’m in need of a deep cleanse.

The results are insane, there’s so much stuff that gets sucked into your hair that you don’t realize. Not to further perpetuate the “dirty hippie” stereotype, but locks can get pretty dirty.

That is if you don’t take good care of them and keep them clean!

As I said, read through these steps and repeat them about every 2- 6 months, depending on how dirty you typically get. If you work in a labor-intensive field, like me, which involves you being outside most of the day and sweating, do it more often!

Deep cleaning dreadlocks ensures that you don’t turn into a stereotype!

Materials You Will Need:

So remember, this is an all-natural hair cleanse. The reason is that using certain products in your hair isn’t worth it. Most things that get thrown around to help hair lock-up is not correct, and may hinder the locking process, or make them nasty… Here is an article about some of the common suggestions, some are quite comical.

This is the list of items we use!


Baking soda

Apple Cider Vinegar

Lavender Oil (Optional)

Tea Tree Oil (Optional)

A Good Book! Or your phone, I suppose…

Deep Cleaning Dreadlocks, Step One:

To begin with, there are a couple of options that we have read. We have tried using our tub, a large bowl, or a sink

Recently, we actually saw a man that used an old foot massager, and we were incredibly jealous of his ingenuity and brilliance… We haven’t tried this, but would like to eventually.

Its all about your comfort, so if you have a way to dip your head back into your sink, that’s great. If you’re like us and have kind of a tight bathroom, this may be an incredibly uncomfortable option.

Another option is to set a large bowl on the ground and throw a couple of pillows up to it. Throw a towel or two over your pillows to keep them dry.

The most important thing is to ensure that you will be comfortable there for a while!

After you have your setup complete, get the ingredients ready.

Step Two:

Fill the bowl with hot water. If you have a good, natural shampoo you could add it, but it’s not entirely necessary.

We add just a little bit of baking soda to the water and stir it up.

Then add just a few drops of lavender and tea tree oils. This will not only help further clean your hair, but it will leave a subtle but pleasant smell when you’re done.

Step Three:

Lie back and dip your hair into the bowl. Make sure that all your dreads are in the bowl.

It’s not necessary to have your scalp in the bowl, but you want to make sure that you get most of your hair in there. Just a few inches from the root is ideal.

Now start to really squeeze your locks.

Really get in there…

Squeeze your hair from root to tips, making sure that this mixture works its way through your locks and clears out any unwanted debris in them.

I have pretty thick locks, some getting to about 1” or so in diameter. If your locks are thick, obviously you need to make sure you’re squeezing even more. It’s important to get everything out. This includes dirt and dust particles that have found their way inside your thick head-snakes. 

Step Four:

After squeezing your hair for about 5 – 10 minutes, grab that book!

We suggest letting your hair soak for 20 – minutes after you’ve squeezed them. This will further help the cleansing process, and if you got a good book you can learn while you wait!

Alternatively, you could read another article on our blog about locks!

Don’t be surprised when you look at the water. It can get pretty gross…. When I did my first deep cleanse, the water looked like a mud puddle and I must admit, I got a bit embarrassed.

But don’t be! 

Deep cleaning dreadlocks can give an honest view of how dreadlocks and cleanliness go together. You can let them get nasty, or you can keep them clean and tidy. It’s all up to the individual.

My locks are midway down my back and thick. That combined with the fact I have a fairly dirty job that makes me sweat like crazy kinda means that my dreads have a lot coming at them.

Here’s a picture from my latest cleanse!

Deep Cleaning Dreadlocks Step Five:

Once you’ve soaked your locks for a while, or as long as you can stand, hop in the shower.

You want to rinse out every little bit of the mixture and lingering dirt.

We cannot stress enough to you how important this step is, both times you rinse, because leaving the dirt that is still sitting on your dreads defeats some of the work you did. Plus, leaving the baking soda in your hair isn’t good for it.

So get in the shower, hold your head under the water, and squeeze. 

Squeeze, palm roll, and rub your dreads like hell for as long as you can. Once you think you’re good, do it a little more. 

Step 6:

This next step might not be a favorite if you dislike the smell of Apple Cider Vinegar, but it is necessary after the drying side of the baking soda cleanse.

Pour apple cider vinegar over locks slowly working it into them with hands. Massage into scalp as well.

Let that sit on hair while you finish the shower if you are in a hurry.

You should aim for 20 minutes if you can jump out and back in the shower you can wrap the hair up with ACV in it with a plastic bag or hair cap.

Then hop back in the shower and rinse, rinse, rinse with cool water.

Seriously, you need to make sure that there is nothing in your locks except for your own hair!

After you’re all done, and absolutely sure that everything is out, go ahead and dry.

This is the part that is the most time consuming, locks can take so long to dry.

When I do a deep cleanse, I typically try to do it in the morning on a day that I don’t work, so that I can let them dry for the rest of the day. 

I don’t tie them back and let them stay loose down my back. We will sometimes use a hairdryer for a bit on each other to speed the process up but it is until hours (4-6) for them to dry naturally.

You don’t want to sleep on wet dreadlocks nor do you want to throw wet locks into a bun. This can trap moisture in places within your locks and lead to a mildew smell and possibly mold in your locks that is time-consuming and difficult to treat if it sets in.

We have both done this method of deep cleaning dreadlocks for years and it has worked wonders. For Tj it takes longer to dry since her locks are longer and more mature (denser). It definitely helps to have someone else in your life to help you, because damn locks get heavy when they’re wet…

When we finish depending on the way our locks feel we massage coconut oil into them to condition further and even do this with our regular shampoo (1x every 1-2 weeks).

We find that in the midwest winter we need that extra moisture but in summer we may skip that step every other deep cleanse.

You’d be surprised by the amount of dirt that you harbor in your precious scalp-pals. Never fret, because if you do it correctly, you can always make sure your hair stays nice and clean!

Give this method a shot and let us know what you think!

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