Shampoo bars are not the only option! Hard water friendly zero waste / low waste hair wash options.

When it comes hair washing and reducing waste the first option many people go for is a shampoo bar. You can buy them loose on the High Street from shops such as Lush and there are many options sold just in card in zero waste shops, health food shops and online.

Before deciding whether to give shampoo bars a try you need to consider a few things:

  1. Are you happy to use a bar with SLS as an ingredient? SLS can be (but isn’t necessarily) derived from palm oil, and can be a skin irritant – if you are concerned about either of these you may want to check if the supplier knows the source of their SLS or choose an SLS free bar. On the other hand, the inclusion of SLS means the bar will work much more like a regular shampoo and so is less likely to need a transition period while your hair adjusts. Also should work OK with hard water.
  2. Shampoo bars without SLS generally need to be followed with a ph balancing rinse to counter their alkalinity. Diluted vinegar ( 1tbsp to 1 cup water) is a popular choice but there are lots of alternatives. If you use vinegar it doesn’t need to be fancy apple cider vinegar – plain white vinegar will do, or you can make your own apple scrap vinegar. I often use black tea – if there is any left in the pot I pop it into a lidded cup or jar and store in the fridge until needed. Black coffee or diluted lemon juice are other options. Most people will experience a transition period if moving from regular shampoo, as the hair loses the build up of silicones. Your hair may feel waxy during this time. An apple sauce mask will help with this – more information below. However, while some people get on with them fine, shampoo bars are known to be quite tricky to use in hard water areas.

If you have hard water and would prefer to try an alternative way to wash you hair there are plenty of options. I have been No Poo for over 3 years now, living in an area of extremely hard water for most of that time ( since moving we still have ” moderately” hard water) and these are the things that have worked for me:

1. Rhassoul clay: This is my favourite wash method. I have short fine hair so don’t need to use a lot but I essentially mix a teaspoon or 2 of clay with a little water to form a paste. I then massage this into my scalp in the shower. Always apply to dry hair – this makes your hair less likely to absorb the hard water you use to rinse. Then rinse thoroughly and follow with a ph balancing rinse of black tea or diluted vinegar (homemade apple scrap vinegar when I have it). Then rinse again with water – you won’t smell of tea of vinegar once your hair is dry. Alternatively I just mix the tea or vinegar rinse into the clay to make it a single step process. I don’t worry too much about the quantities but if you do I initally started with the ratios in this Holy Grail shampoo recipe which also includes honey for conditioning. You may be able to find rhassoul clay (or bentonite clay which can be used in a similar way) in your local health food shop but if not you can find it in paper bags online. I most recently found mine at eccoverde but it is is also available from Amazon or ebay.

2. Aruvedyic hair powders: A wide range of hair powders can be bought quite cheaply from Spices of India where you can also find information about the properties of each one to see which is most likely to suit your hair. Depending where you live you may also find them in your local supermarket or international store – I actually found a single box or aritha powder reduced to clear (about 50p) in my local Morrisons although I’ve never seen them there before. The powders generally come in card but do have a small plastic bag inside. When I ordered from Spices of India I asked for no additional plastic in the postal packaging and they heeded my request. I use a mix of shikakai and amla powder – the shikakai is a gentle cleanser and the amla is conditioning. Similar to the clay, I just mix a spoonful or 2 of the powders to a paste with a little water the massage into my scalp ( again starting with dry hair) and rinse well. Aritha (soapnut powder) also works well with hard water although I personally find using it regularly too drying for my hair). No ph balancing rinse is needed with these.

3. Protein washes: chick pea flour / gram flour; rye flour: As with the above methods, mix a little into a paste with water and massage into dry hair and them rinse well. These works well for me as occasional wash methods only – very cleansing but contains a lot of protein. Most people can’t use protein washes more than about once a month but it varies so you might find it works fine for you. I find that if I use protein again for the next wash it doesn’t work at all. And I personally don’t like the smell of the chick pea flour which I find lingers however much I rinse. Egg is another protein wash option – mix an egg with an equal amount of cold water. Apply all over dry hair and leave on for about 10 mins – it will drip so stand in the shower or close to a sink. Then rinse off thoroughly with cool water – otherwise you will end up with hair full of scrambled egg!

These are just the methods I have successfully used – do have a look at wealth of information over at the No Poo and Low Poo Facebook Group for lots more hair wash methods, conditioning advice and detailed advice on dealing with hard water.

If you have hard water I would love to know what works for you.

Dealing with waxy hair during transition:

Apple sauce mask:

Peel and chop a cooking apple (any other apple will do fine too – so use what you have) and cook until it is soft enought o mash easily to a puree. I usually use the microwave. I tend to just mash it with a fork but you may prefer to use a blender for a smoother puree which is easier to rinse out. While the puree is still warm ( but not oo hot) apply it all over your dry hair and cover with a shower cap. Leave it on for at least half an hour and then rinse thoroughly. You may need to do this a few times during the transition period.

Making apple scrap vinegar:

Save up apple peels and cores in the freezer until you have enough to fill a jar of your choice. Then place them in the jar, add a tablespoon of sugar and cover with water. Give it a good stir. Secure a cloth over the jar to let the air in but keep fruit flies etc out. Be sure to give it a stir at least once a day so that the same bits of apple aren’t exposed to the air – otherwise the exposed bits can go mouldy. After a few days or a week, depending on the warmth of yor kitchen, the mix will start to bubble and ferment. Keep on stirring it. After a few weeks the apple pieces will all sink to the bottom. At this stage strain the mixture through a sieve or cloth and compost the apple pieces. By this stage it should already smell vinegary but I usually leave it with the cloth cover to continue to develop.

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Natural Haircare – can you really wash you hair (and clothes) with conkers?

Horse Chestnut Tree
Horse Chestnut Tree

Natural haircare can be fraught with challenges. Where are the ingredients from, how are they sourced, are they sustainable, and will they work? Well, let me tell you a secret – I haven’t used regular shampoo to wash my hair for almost a year now.

Recently, I have been using a soapnut shampoo every 4-6 days, substituting for a wash of chick pea flour (a tablespoon mixed with a little warm water) every few weeks.

But, conscious that the soapnuts grow far away and of concerns expressed about the impact of their rising popularity here on their cost for those who have been using them for centuries, I have been looking for a more sustainable alternative.

So, when I heard (via the fantastic community that is the Zero Waste Heroes Facebook Group) that conkers are a popular alternative to soapnuts in Germany I was keen to give it try. Something both local and free – now what could be better? Now autumn has arrived, I can finally give it a go.

My first foraging trip was unsuccessful and turned up just a single conker but then I realised a park would, of course, be the best place to look. I found a few on my way to work (quick dash as I realised the park opposite the station was a good place, but that my train was in 10 mins!), but did much better in my lunch hour at the beautiful Cassiobury Park in Watford. My cloth bag was swiftly filled, though as I carried them home at the end of the day I did wish I hadn’t gathered quite so many.

Now how to choose between the variety of recipes online? Although I read a few I decided I wanted to keep it simple. I crushed up about 5 or 6 conkers, but you can experiment with the strength to see what works for you and your water, and soaked them in a cup or so of warm water overnight. Discard any that are split – I had a few and they went mouldy before I got to use them.

I strained the liquid in the morning (you should get a nice milky looking liquid – that in the photo below has separated out slightly – this was just before I shook and sieved it) and used some of it to wash my hair. Giving it a quick shake revealed the frothiness caused by the natural saponins. I used an empty liquid soap dispenser to apply to my hair, focussing on the roots – an old shampoo bottle would work well too. Take care to avoid getting any in your eyes. The conkers apparently have a slightly lower ph value than the soapnuts. I’m not quite sure (will try to find out and update) whether this means a ph balancing rinse is necessary (not needed with soapnuts) but I did rinse with some leftover coffee with a splash of white vinegar. This also acts as a conditioner. The liquid won’t lather like shampoo and is much less thick, which may seem strange if you are used to shampoo. I wasn’t sure it was working at first and my hair did feel a little waxy while it was wet (a hard water problem) but once dry I am really pleased – it feels lovely and soft, and importantly, clean.

I didn’t need to use all of the liquid on my hair so used the rest to wash a load of laundry. I added a splash of vinegar to the machine as well as we have very hard water. I wasn’t washing anything with stains so can’t yet comment on effectiveness there (I usually need to apply stain remover anyway with soapnuts) but they came out smelling nice and fresh. I am sure you could add a few drops of fragranced oil if you like a scent to your laundry. I’m used to it being unfragranced.

If you have collected enough to see you through the winter you can dry the whole or the chopped up conkers, and then mix with the water as you need to use it. A word of warning – I tried chopping them in a mini food chopper and, it broke (though it’s possible that the plastic bowl cracked during washing up) – so might be better to cut them, grate them or bash with a hammer, or at least not try first time in an expensive food processor. Be sure to label them clearly – remember that raw conkers are poisonous. Might also be worth testing a small amount on your skin in case of allergies.

Don’t forget that you can compost the used conkers.

I will definitely be trying this again, to see if I can replace soapnuts altogether, or at least partially. Do let me know if you give this method, or any of the variations, a go and if it works for you.

You can read more about the other natural hair washing methods I have used in my earlier post about Giving up Shampoo

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Giving up Shampoo

It has now been 7 months since I last used a commercial shampoo to wash my hair.

My experimental journey towards “no poo” as they call it, started off fairly easily.  I decided to try living without commercial shampoo shortly after I had applied a colour to my hair, which handily means I know that where the colour ends is also pretty much where the shampooed hair ends.  I had read a few blogs about it, including washing with baking soda and apple cider vinegar either long term or as a transition to using water only,  and washing with honey (at blog High Heels and Training Wheels ), and as the honey method seemed to be popular with curly hair and suitable for use with hard water (ours is really, really hard) I decided to start with this method, with the ultimate aim of getting to water only washing. I also liked the fact that I know exactly what the honey is and where it comes from (within my small town), unlike many of the shampoo ingredients.

It started off really well.  I began by spacing out my conventional washes from approx 3 times a week to once a week, washing with just water once or twice in between.  I did this for a few weeks until I had used up a bottle of Bodyshop Rainforest shampoo that had been hanging around for a while (this shampoo contains no sulfates, silicones or parabens).  Then  I switched to a dilute mix of honey and boiled water to wash my hair (approx 1tbsp local honey dissolved in about 3 times the amount of warm water and left to cool) once a week.  And it seemed to work pretty well.  Initially I continued with a water only wash once in between.

I joined an international Facebook group of people living without shampoo and learnt so much more. They have a whole host of files with more information and shampoo recipes here , where you can find out more about most of the methods I mention.  I learnt to expect that my hair might feel waxy to start with as the silicones are gradually removed (although I was using a natural shampoo my curl serum did contain silicones), and that apple sauce could be used as a treatment.  I learnt that hard water can be a challenge, and can also cause waxiness.  I also learnt that tea or coffee can be used as a rinse between washes so gave both of these a try, along with rosehip tea, and lemon and ginger tea as I had these already.

I began my no poo journey towards the end of October.  By Christmas I was still washing with honey and water once a week but was finding the waxiness beginning to build up (which unexpectedly gave my hair loads of volume so didn’t look at all bad but felt pretty yucky).  So I tried an apple sauce hair mask.  Basically I chopped up a cooking apple and microwaved it until soft enough to mash up really well with a fork (generally advised to use a blender although I didn’t bother) .  Once it had cooled enough to not burn me but was still warm I spread it all over my hair and covered with a shower cap.  I rinsed it out thoroughly after about half an hour and hey presto, clean hair (if much flatter than with the wax).  Around this time (can’t recall if before or after) I also tried an egg wash which was also pretty effective – an egg mixed with an equal amount of cold water (hot water will cook the egg!), and applied to the hair (in the shower or over a sink as it will drip everywhere) then rinsed off after about 10 mins, again with cool water to avoid cooking the egg.   Due to the protein content this is generally not recommended more than once a month but it depends on your particular hair needs.  After new year I also tried a beer rinse as we had an open can left over – my hair loved this!

After another month I used the apple sauce and egg again.  A few months into the new year I was starting to find the honey was not as effective – I think this may be  because the new hair growth was not as dry as the coloured hair – and that my hair was becoming much greasier.  At this point I tried  using  a wash of chick pea flour – 1tbsp of chick pea flour dissolved in warm water.  I added some lemon juice which my hair seems to like ( in moderation).  This was the cleanest my hair had felt yet.  Sadly the next week it didn’t work so well  – this is because it has similar protein issues to the egg.  So I went back to the honey wash, but adding lemon juice, and at one point also tried using the olive oil bar soap I use for washing (not best in hard water and needs to be followed by an acidic rinse such as diluted vinegar) when I didn’t have anything else to hand.

Anyway, 7 months and a fair bit of trial and error later, I have found a different routine which is working really well  for me.  I am now using a wash of soapnuts with added honey and lemon juice alternating with a wash of tea (currently teapigs liquorice and peppermint bags I rescued from being thrown out at work) with a capful of distilled white vinegar.   At the moment I use one of these every 6 days and in between avoid wetting my hair by wearing a shower cap when I shower (to minimise the chance of hard water build up).  Towards the end of the 6 days I might wear my hair up, and brush with a bamboo brush or boar bristle brush at bedtime.  I mainly use soapnuts I have already used for laundry to make up the soapnut shampoo but find adding a couple of new soapnuts does help to make it lather sufficiently.  I make enough around once a month to fill an old small shampoo bottle – then  I use half and then pop the bottle in the freezer to keep the rest fresh for the next wash.  Since the soapnuts contain saponins which produce a lather and also work well in hard water this method seems to work much more like a regular shampoo than some of the other methods did for me and I am quite happy my hair is getting a good clean.  I have been using soapnuts for my laundry since last September and find they clean well so perhaps it should be no surprise that they also work well on my hair.  The effectiveness of the liquorice root and peppermint tea and a little vinegar is perhaps more surprising but smells great too (mint sauce!).

I am hoping this method will continue to work for the moment, at least until I finish the large bag of soapnuts I am using for the laundry.  At that point I intend to experiment with the more local alternative of soapwort, or ideally attempt to go water only.

Along the way my son also gave up shampoo – at the same time as going from long to short hair – he just uses water and had no transition issues (he’s 9 so was ecstatic at me allowing him to not use shampoo); and I found out that my dad had already switched to water only washing a few years ago.  My husband has just decided he’s going to give it a try too so we might well soon be a shampoo free household.

Have you ever tried giving up shampoo?  How did you get on and what method did you try?

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I have also started putting together a Pinterest Board on Natural Haircare .