How to Wash Dreads: 9 Easy Steps

black dreads

It’s important to maintain proper hair hygiene when you have dreadlocks. But washing dreadlocks may feel a bit different.

It took my dreads forever to grow, so washing dreads brings a slight fear that I’m going to do something to mess them up. Here’s how to wash dreads without damaging them. 

What You Will Need When Washing Dreads

Make sure you have the right items before you get started:

  • Anti-residue shampoo or shampoo made specifically for washing dreadlocks
  • A microfiber towel

How to Wash Your Dreads

Here is a breakdown of the steps I follow when I wash my dreads.

Step 1: Wet Your Hair 

Use warm water to wet your dreads and scalp. Depending on the thickness of your dreads, you may have to sit under the water for a few moments to make sure they absorb enough water. It’s crucial you get this step right when learning how to wash dreadlocks. 

Pay extra special attention to the dreads at your hairline, above your ears, and along the nape of your neck, as it’s easy to miss them under the water. 

Step 2: Shampoo Your Scalp

First up, gently wash away any dirt or dead skin cells away from your scalp. 

Start from the crown and work your way down to your hairline, over the ears, and down to the nape of your neck. Be sure to rinse your scalp thoroughly to remove leftover shampoo.

Step 3: Shampoo Your Dreads

Lather a quarter-size amount of shampoo in your hands. Take a handful of dreads and lather them up with shampoo. 

The motion your hands make should be as if you’re rubbing your palms together to keep them warm on a cold night. Each palm should be flat against each other. Move your arms up and down while keeping your wrists straight. 

Continue shampooing portions of your dreads until you’ve covered your whole head. Note that suds might not form on top of your head, and that’s okay. 

Step 4: Rinse Your Dreads

Wash out the shampoo from your locks with warm water. Gently squeeze a clump of dreads until you see the water run clear. 

Take extra care to wash out all the shampoo from the back of your head. You might find it beneficial to use two mirrors, one in the front of your shower and one in the back, so you can see the back of your head. 

Step 5: Shampoo Your Dreads Again

After washing away the top layer of dirt and oil from your locks, it’s time to shampoo them again to get a deeper cleanse.

Once more, take portions of your locks and wash them with shampoo. Work your way down your head. 

Step 6: Rinse Your Dreads a Second Time

Rinse your dreads carefully. It’s especially important to wash away all the shampoo so that there’s no residue left in your dreads. Leaving shampoo will dull the look of your dreads and can damage the hair. 

Step 7: Squeeze Out Excess Water

Once you’ve turned off the shower, you’ll see water dripping from your locks. Gently squeeze out excess moisture to help your dreads dry faster. 

Step 8: Wrap Your Dreads in a Microfiber Towel 

Use a microfiber towel over a regular one with a thread count. Microfiber towels help prevent any lint from building up in your dreads. 

The highly absorbent microfiber towel should draw out excess moisture from your dreads, prompting them to dry faster. The faster your dreads dry, the lower the odds they’ll smell like mildew later on. 

Once your dreads feel dry, you can ditch the towel and enjoy fresh, clean-smelling dreads. 

Step 9: Condition Your Dreads

Apply a light coat of almond oil, coconut oil, or another natural oil to condition your dreads. Cover them with a plastic cap until the oil dries.

You might not have to condition your dreads every time you wash them, but you might need to use a daily moisturizing mist between washes.

What to Know About a Dreadlock Deep Cleanse

Even if you wash your dreads diligently, they can still accumulate skin cells, dirt, and oil. After a few months, your dreads may look lackluster and dull. 

To brighten up your hair and get rid of the built-up gunk, you’ll need to do a dreadlock deep cleanse at least once a year. You probably have all the necessary materials to do a deep cleanse at home — and it’s easy to do. 

Here’s are the items you will need to deep cleanse your dreads:

  • A bowl or tub big enough to hold your dreads
  • Hot water
  • 2 tbsp anti-residue shampoo
  • ⅓ cup baking soda
  • ⅓ cup apple cider vinegar
  • Dread oil
  • A microfiber towel

Boil some of the water and mix it with lukewarm tap water. Get it to a temperature that’s hot, but that you can bear to touch. Add the baking soda, apple cider vinegar, and shampoo to the hot water. Mix all the ingredients together until there are no baking soda clumps. 

Next, submerge your dreads in the mixture. Try to get as close to the scalp as possible. Squeeze your dreads to help them absorb the mixture. 

Lift your dreads from the bowl or container after about five minutes, ringing out any excess moisture. Notice that the once white water will now look brown. Toss out the original mixture and rinse the container. 

Perform the deep cleanse one more time. The second iteration allows the mixture to penetrate deeper to thoroughly clean out any built-up residues from your dreads. 

Again, submerge your dreads, squeeze them for about five minutes, then remove your head from the water. Head to the shower to rinse out the apple cider vinegar solution from your hair, since the smell isn’t very pleasant. 

Wrap your dreads in a microfiber towel to dry. Once they’re no longer wet, carefully rub dread oil into each dread. You’ve just stripped away all the dread’s healthy grease, so you need to replace it with a dread-safe product to plump them back up. 

Once that’s done, you will have clean and healthy-looking dreads. 

Tips for Washing Dreadlocks

The following tips will come in handy if you’re new to washing dreadlocks.

Imagine You’re Washing Someone Else’s Dreads

Imagine that you’re washing someone else’s dreadlocks. This simple trick will help you be gentler when you scrub your locks.

When you picture washing dreads one someone else, you lower the chance you’ll scrub too hard and damage your dreadlocks. 

Never Let Your Dreads Stay Wet

The spiral pattern of the hair that forms your dreadlocks means your hair can retain moisture and take longer to dry.

Have a microfiber towel in hand once you’re out of the shower. Wrap the towel around your head and tighten it firmly. Since microfiber towels are light yet absorb a lot of liquid, they are perfect for absorbing the excess liquid the towel squeezes out from each dread. 

You should wrap your locks in a microfiber towel whenever they get wet, whether you go swimming or get caught in the rain. Drying out wet dreads prevents damage and mildewy smells. 

Protect Your Dreads In Dusty or Dirty Environments

Dust and dirt particles can get caught up in your dreads. You’ll have to wash your hair more frequently as a result or do a deeper cleanse sooner. 

Washing dreads too often could damage them and cause them to unravel. Guard your dreads against the elements as much as possible to keep them healthy. 

Keep Deep Cleanses to a Minimum

Unless there are residues in your dreads, keep deep cleanses down to a minimum.

Apple cider vinegar can dry out your hair and cause breakage. The process of deep cleaning your dread removes the natural layer of oil that protects them. You can replenish this protective layer by conditioning your locks with products like coconut oil or another carrier oil.

Final Thoughts

I hope this article gave you a better idea of how to wash dreads. Keep in mind that these steps are a general hair care routine and that you might need to personalize it based on your unique needs and lifestyle.

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