Cost-Benefit Analysis & Troubleshooting: Do You No 'Poo

I would like to preface this post by saying that I am not an Earth Mama. I don’t own any hemp. I don’t use essential oils as perfume. I pay for haircuts. I say this not to disparage Earth Mamas, who are some of my favorite people, but to make it clear that you don’t have to be an Earth Mama to cut the nasty chemicals out of your life and save money doing it!

TinyHands's Hair, Just Washed

TinyHands’s Hair, Just Washed

We went completely fragrance free two years ago when I purchased a bottle of Earth Science Shampoo, Fragrance Free 12 oz. I liked the shampoo just fine. My scalp hardly itched at all! Then we went gluten free and started reading more about how gluten is in everything. Including some shampoos. Including my fragrance free earth mama shampoo – yep, the second ingredient is “wheat germamidopropyl betaine” and the sixth “hydrolyzed wheat protein”. Crud.

So we went no ‘poo.

Mama picking up here… about 10 months later, since this was yet another stub I found when cleaning up the site. But guess what? The whole family is still washing without shampoo!

How to Wash Your Hair with the Simplest No ‘Poo

Some folks make lovely recipes for their no ‘poo. But we’re already cooking everything from scratch – we needed this to be as easy as it gets. You won’t find any extra work here!

Mama's Hair, Washed the Night Before

Mama’s Hair, Washed the Night Before

It’s important to realize that you aren’t going for a reaction between the baking soda and vinegar ala science project volcano! What you want is to rinse out ALL of the baking soda, then apply the ACV, then rinse out the ACV, too!

First off, I get my hair all wet. Then I scoop some of the baking soda into my hand and rub it into my wet hair and massage my scalp. How much you need depends on how much hair you have. I’d say I use about a tablespoon or so. When all my hair feels like it has the baking soda in it, I rinse with water. We have soft water, so this works well. If you have hard water, you might need to do a bit of prep (see below).

The baking soda is alkaline, it cleans the grime and oils off and opens the pores of your hair, while being gentler than the surfactants in regular shampoo. To keep healthy hair when washing with baking soda, you’ll need to close the pores back up to condition your hair with an acid.

To condition, I pour a little of the apple cider vinegar into a cup. The amount you need depends on how much hair you have and how good you are at pouring! I use about 1/4 cup. I tip my head back and pour it carefully, starting at my hairline. I smooth that through my hair and massage my scalp, and then rinse with water again.

The ACV will feel cold on your scalp – so be prepared. The contrast of cold and hot in the course of a shower is good for you anyway, and helps the pores close up that much faster. But if you can’t stand the shock, mix the vinegar with a bit of warm water before rinsing with it. On days when I don’t wash my hair, I either rinse with water as though I am washing it or I get it a bit damp in order to style it.

A word of caution: If you get either the baking soda or the vinegar in your eyes it will hurt! Do it once and you will never do it again.

Will It Work For Everyone?

I was surprised to learn that no ‘poo really can work for a variety of hair types. I don’t know if it would work very well for people who use a lot of treatments and color their hair, but honestly, if you’re doing all that, you’re probably not interested in cutting out shampoo, anyway.

In our family, we have two hair types. Kid2 and I have wavy/curly/frizzy/unruly hair that can be wildly different from one day to the next. I used to get dandruff really bad. TinyHands and Kid1 both have fairly straight, well-behaved hair that tends to get itchy and greasy. There are loads of blogs out there about trying no ‘poo with straight hair. But what about super curly, easily tangled hair, or dry, kinky hair? After doing a bit of research, I think the main reason so many of the no ‘poo posts out there focus on straight, manageable hair is that those are the folks most willing to try living without their regular products.

I love this post from My Merry Messy Life about using no ‘poo with very curly hair. I found some youtube videos of black women using this method, but links aren’t working properly – go search! A lot of the African-American blogs touching on the baking soda and vingar method talk about how the alkalinity of baking soda can be a problem, but it seems that people are finding success as long as they remember to use the vinegar rinse.

What Does it Cost?

Our family of four goes through a 50 lb bag of baking soda about every year (some gets used for cleaning, too) for a grand total of $16.20. There are about 2 cups in a pound of baking soda. At about 1 tablespoon per wash, that’s 32 washes per pound.

Kid1's Hair in Ponytail, 4 days after washing

Kid1’s Hair in Ponytail, 4 days after washing

The organic, raw apple cider vinegar is spendier and we go through it faster, at about 1/4 cup per wash – 64 washes per gallon. We buy 5 gallons at a time for $38.45.

TinyHands washes her hair every other day, and the kids and I wash ours about once a week. That makes for about 400 washes a year. So that means we use 5.88 gallons of apple cider vinegar at $45.21 and 13.5 lbs of baking soda at $4.05 for a grand total of $45.21 + $4.05 = $49.26 per year.

The shampoo we were buying was $4.49 per 12 oz. 1 oz is about 6 teaspoons, and we used about a teaspoon per wash (well, actually a bit more, but I’m being conservative here), so that’s 72 washes per bottle, or about 5.55 bottles per year for a total of $24.96. The conditioner comes in a three pack (total of 36 oz) for $17.66. At a teaspoon per wash, that comes out to $32.88 on conditioner for the year. That’s a total of $57.84.

Another consideration is that I actually washed my hair with shampoo about three times as often as I do now. The kids probably wouldn’t wash more, but my cost would have been higher.

So anyway, we saved about eight dollars in the year by going no ‘poo. If the financial side of things was the only consideration, we could get cost down a bit more by not buying organic ACV. But honestly, we’d probably stick with the familiar convenience of shampoo. But we also didn’t send plastic shampoo bottles to landfill, coat ourselves in nasty chemicals, or send toxins into the watershed! We think it’s worth it.

What Could Go Wrong?

You might think it stinks. Apple cider vinegar has a distinct smell that some people really don’t like. It doesn’t bother me at all, but TinyHands is not a fan. If you hate the smell of ACV, try citric acid instead. Lots of people swear by lemon juice.

Kid2's Hair, Two Days after Washing

Kid2’s Hair, Two Days after Washing

Your hair might feel kind of sticky. Baking soda is alkaline, and if you have hard water, that’s alkaline. When we’ve visited family in Spokane, I’ve noticed my hair feels very different than it does at home. If you have hard water, you’ll want to mix your baking soda up with boiling water or distilled water and make a batch ahead of time. Use the ratio of 1/2 cup baking soda to 1 quart of water.

Some people find their scalp is itchy and their hair is brittle. Generally this means that the baking soda is not getting thoroughly rinsed out. Remember to rinse thoroughly before applying the apple cider vinegar. Another reason this happens is that some people try to use the apple cider vinegar like a traditional conditioner and just focus on the tips. You want to make sure you get the hair wet with the apple cider vinegar all the way from the scalp to the tips.

If your hair or scalp is still dry or frizzy, you may want to use a (little!) bit of coconut oil to tame it after it dries, or to comb it out with if it tangles badly. Personally, my hair tends to get frizzy in the first place, but I’ve found since using no ‘poo my curls have been softer than ever before.

Greasy feeling hair when you start using no ‘poo is something some people report. This is usually because of the cycle of dryness and overproduction of oil that resulted from the use of shampoo. I like this post from The Crunchy Wife about how to break that cycle!

This post is part of Simple Lives Thursday, Freaky Friday, Make Your Own Monday, Traditional Tuesdays, Fat Tuesdays, Frugal Days, Sustainable Ways.

Related posts:

15 comments to Cost-Benefit Analysis & Troubleshooting: Do You No ‘Poo

  • Tina

    I’m curious where you find a 50lb bag of baking soda and a 5 gallon bucket of ACV? I would love to buy in that sized bulk containers.
    Thanks for this post, can’t wait to try this.

  • Melisa

    I tried this for well over a year because I love the idea of not dumping chemicals on my head and saving lots of money. However I gave it up because, just like every shampoo I’ve ever tried, baking soda is just too harsh for my sensitive scalp and the baking soda/vinegar combo just trashed my hair (which has already been weakened by my thyroid disease). At the moment, due to rapidly dropping thyroid hormone levels, my hair is falling out by the handful and I have been working hard on coming up with something that will actually nourish my scalp and stimulate hair growth rather than just removing oil and *I think* I’ve hit on a winning combo: homemade shampoo using a tiny bit of unscented castille soap, aloe vera, rosewater, rosemary infusion, and a few beneficial essential oils along with a weekly hot oil treatment full of goodies to soothe my scalp. The hair I have left is looking better than it has in ages: shiny, wavy, and no longer limp and sad. Plus it smells great. Admittedly, this is all very fiddly. Baking soda and acv are much easier and cheaper, I’m sure, but were not a winning combo for my sensitive scalp and thinning hair.

    I’m also learning that the same cycle of stripping oil/overproduction of oil that plagues our hair when using harsh commercial products goes for delicate facial skin as well. I am having great success with the oil cleansing method and finding that even as winter approaches, I no longer have dry, itchy, red skin.

  • I went no ‘poo for a while. After the first month, it wasn’t too bad. Just a little different. Then all of a sudden I started getting dandruff like crazy. Maybe it was the weather? But I’m back on shampoo now. 😛

    • I get dandruff from eating the wrong stuff. I wonder if your diet has changed at all? TinyHands does tend to get an itchy scalp and has to wash more frequently than I do. Her eczema tends to flare in winter (and from eating the wrong stuff and skipping probiotic foods) and I have a feeling that it may all be related, too. Anyway, if the shampoo keeps your head from itching, and the baking soda doesn’t, I’m all for it 🙂

    • A few drops of tea tree oil in the vinegar rinse will help to control dandruff. But considering possible nutritional causes is a good idea too.

  • c.

    No poo for three or so years. Hair is just past my shoulders. I get compliments on my hair in public. It’s kind of embarrassing.

    I use a bit more baking soda in the summer. I used to get acne on my scalp when I sweat too much in the heat (obviously my body isn’t built for heat) and the extra baking soda and letting it set a bit longer come summer works perfectly to keep the acne away!

  • This was a great article. I’ve tried no poo now about three times with no real success, but I think it must be because we have hard water. I am just not going to be boiling my water first, so I am not sure what the answer is for me. Anyway, really interesting article. Thank you!


  • I just went back to no poo about a week ago. I was no poo from 2007 to late 2010 and then for some reason it just became one more thing I couldn’t keep up with. In the meantime I used a shampoo that was gluten-free, and pretty expensive but I think I only used 2 containers in a year’s time. I’ve changed my technique a little from my previous one after reading up on it some more. I’ve been thinking about putting together a blog post about it actually. Thanks for sharing your experience. I’m glad to see that you are saving money this way. 🙂

    • I’ll look forward to seeing your new method! I’m going to try to do more posts about natural body care and keeping toxins out of the home, too. It’s an important part of GAPS that our blog has kind of neglected.

  • I never liked my hair much until I went no ‘poo. It was extremely flat and stringy. Now it has more volume. I don’ think I could ever go back. Although, every once in a while I do like to use my husband’s shampoo for the bubbles and nice smell, when I start to miss them!

  • Nice detailed article!

    I went off shampoo 8 years ago using a vinegar-only method and alternating it with shampoo, that is using vinegar every other time I washed my hair and shampoo in between. I quit shampoo completely when it started to make my hair feel weird! I was using ACV at first but switched to white vinegar because it’s less expensive; it works just as well for me.

Leave a Reply

Subscribe to the Newsletter

Berkey Water Filter