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Chances are washing your hair isn’t something you’ve given a ton of thought to over the years.

Sure, maybe you did a little research when picking your shampoo and conditioner. But you probably didn’t spend a lot of time wondering if you’re actually washing your hair correctly.

Kind of!

There’s a little more to it than wetting your hair, lathering up with shampoo, rinsing, and repeating with conditioner — especially if you want optimal results.

“Applying proper hair washing techniques lets you ensure that you don’t damage your hair and follicles,” says Monica Davis, a professional hairstylist. It will also make sure you don’t harm the skin on your scalp.

That’s why, if you truly want to do what’s best for your scalp and your hair, there are a few things you’ll want to pay attention to. But, don’t worry, we’re here to help.

In other words, don’t pick your products just because they smell nice.

Pick the right shampoo for your hair type

If you don’t pick the right shampoo, you might end up doing more damage to your hair than good.

  • If you have fine hair, (aka if you can barely see or feel a single hair between your fingertips) you’ll want to use a gentle clarifying shampoo.
  • If you have thick or coarse hair, look for something with moisturizing qualities.
  • If you have color-treated hair, look for something color-safe that won’t strip your hair dye every time you wash it.
  • For bleached hair, look for a clarifying shampoo to prevent unwanted yellow tones.

Don’t know what kind of hair you have? You can always ask your stylist for advice.

Here’s an easy trick that can help: Take a single strand of your hair and roll it between your thumb and your index finger. If you can barely see or feel it, you have fine hair.

No matter your hair type, you’ll probably want to avoid shampoos that contain sulfates and silicones. While these ingredients may help your shampoo foam up and leave your hair feeling clean, they can end up drying it out over time. These ingredients strip your hair’s natural oils, leaving your hair prone to breakage and looking dull.

This is especially true if you have fine hair, dry hair, or hair that’s prone to frizz.

Sulfates can also cause skin irritation for some people, especially those with sensitive skin. That’s why people with rosacea, eczema, or contact dermatitis may want to avoid shampoos with sulfates.

Try a co-wash

If you have dry or coarse hair, you can try co-washing your hair.

“Co-washing hair products are cleansing conditioners that provide moisturizing along with extra-gentle washing,” Davis explains. “Dry and coarse hair is more vulnerable, so a co-wash is a great idea to restore it. Basic shampoos have more surfactant ingredients for foaming, while co-washes have more conditioning ingredients.”

Know that natural washes are fine

You can also try using household items, like apple cider vinegar and baking soda, as long as you dilute them with water. These products will clean your hair and maintain your hair’s natural moisture.

In fact, according to Davis, apple cider vinegar (as long as it’s diluted with water) can help you “remove stubborn hair products, deep clean your hair and scalp, and even reduce mild scalp inflammation caused by dandruff.”

Find moisturizing conditioners and other optional products

Look for moisturizing conditioners to help keep the ends of your hair from splitting or drying out.

You might also want to consider getting a post-wash protectant, especially if you’re prone to frizzy hair, and a detangling product if your hair is highly prone to tangling.

You’ll also want a good quality hairbrush that won’t break your hair while you brush.


Don’t wash your hair every day, or you’ll strip your hair of its natural oils. This can dry and damage your hair in the long run.

But, like your shampoo, the optimal amount of time to wash your hair varies a little depending on your hair type.

Oily hair types may require washing every 2 to 3 days, but dry hair may only need washing 1 to 2 times per week.

Either way, letting your hair go a few days between washes gives your hair’s natural oils the chance to do their thing and keep your hair healthy.

Most of us don’t think about the water we use to wash our hair, but it can matter.

Hard water contains a buildup of minerals, such as calcium and magnesium, that can leave a film on your hair. This film can make it difficult to effectively moisturize your hair.

Over time, hard water can dry your hair out and leave it prone to breakage. In severe cases, it can even lead to hair loss if the hard water severely irritates your scalp or if you have a skin condition, such as eczema or psoriasis.

This is why some celebrities are rumored to insist upon washing their hair with bottled water. This, of course, isn’t practical for the rest of us.

Most of us have very little control over the mineral levels in the water that comes out of our showers — especially if we’re renting our home, and it’s in the landlord’s hands.

So, what do you do? If you own your home, you might consider getting a water softener for your whole home. If you rent, you can install a water softener shower head, which contains carbon cartridges to remove excess minerals and purify your water in a cost-effective way.

In addition, you can use clarifying shampoos to help revive hair damaged by hard water and apply hair masks 1 to 2 times per week.

“You can also minimize the impact by using leave-in conditioners,” Davis adds.

Here are some basic steps you should follow.

1. Wet your hair thoroughly

Don’t jump straight into applying your shampoo. Instead, let your hair get fully wet.

Depending on how thick or dense your hair is, this might take longer than you think. So let the water flow over your head for at least 1 minute, then run your fingers through your hair to make sure all of it (even the ends) are fully wet.

Letting your hair get fully wet with lukewarm water helps open the cuticles, making it easier for your hair to absorb your conditioner later, Davis says.

2. Apply your shampoo

Remember: This shampoo should be the right kind for your hair.

You also need to make sure you’re applying the correct amount of shampoo for your hair length — not too much (you might not get it all out) and not too little (your hair might not get a thorough cleanse).

If you have short hair, aim for a dollop of shampoo that’s about the size of a nickel. For shoulder-length hair, think quarter-sized. If you have long hair, you’ll want to squeeze enough shampoo to roughly cover your palm.

Before applying the shampoo to your hair, mix it with a little water in the palm of your hand. “This way you’ll reduce the direct impact of the shampoo on your scalp and reduce product consumption,” Davis says.

Then, make sure to apply the shampoo to your entire scalp and crown. You don’t need much (if any) shampoo on the tips of your hair.

“The truth is that you have to focus on shampooing your scalp, rather than the ends of your hair,” Davis says. “Apply shampoo only onto the scalp, and let it clean the rest of the hair when you rinse it out.”

3. Go easy on your scalp

It’s easy to be tempted to dig in with your nails and “loosen” buildup on your scalp, but this is a really bad idea.

“Our scalps are highly vulnerable to abrasive washing,” Davis explains. “You should never scrub with your nails, as it may cause serious irritation — or even let infections in.”

Instead, take the time to massage your scalp with gentle pressure, sans nails, for about 3 minutes. Aim for the same kind of pressure a stylist uses when they wash your hair and give you a scalp massage.

Davis adds that you should “avoid circular or harsh back and forth movements,” while you massage the shampoo into your scalp. “Move your fingers and palms gently to avoid tangling and damaging the follicles.”

4. Rinse thoroughly

Spend 1 to 2 minutes rinsing your hair to be sure no soap remains. One of the biggest mistakes people make is accidentally leaving shampoo in their hair, which leads to scalp buildup.

If you have dry hair, you might want to try rinsing with cold water, because it helps hair stay stronger and healthier. Cold water doesn’t dry out the sebum layer of your hair, a naturally lubricated barrier that protects your hair and keeps it strong.

5. Apply conditioner

You don’t need to put conditioner on your scalp — it might make things oily. Instead, apply the conditioner from the mid-shaft down to the ends of your hair.

Then, let it sit the recommended time (usually found on the bottle). Some conditioners need to sit for 2 to 3 minutes, while others require 5 to 7 minutes. Letting it sit this amount of time will soften and smooth your hair, making it shinier once it’s dry.

Don’t leave your conditioner in for too long, though, or it might be hard to get out and leave residue behind.

While you let the conditioner soak in, you can use a wide-tooth comb to detangle your hair if you want.

6. Rinse again

Just like with shampoo, make sure you get it all out.

7. Dry

Once you get out of the shower, towel dry your hair. Be sure to squeeze or pat your hair dry instead of rubbing it.

If you can, use a microfiber towel or an old T-shirt to dry your hair. The rougher the material fiber, the more damage it may cause to your hair.

If you want to, you can also add in a detangler or hair protectant after towel drying.

Turns out, there is a right way to wash your hair.

If you take the time to choose your products carefully, invest in a water softener, wash your hair carefully and diligently every few days, or towel dry — or all of the above — you can help your hair stay stronger, healthier, and shinier.

Simone M. Scully is a writer who loves writing about all things health and science. Find Simone on her website, Facebook, and Twitter.