6 Plastic-Free Alternatives for Shampoo and Conditioner

Last week I wrote about hair washing with bicarb and vinegar, and I promised all the non-believers that I’d follow up with a post about other alternatives to plastic bottles of shampoo and conditioner.

Here it is: more ideas to wash your hair without plastic.

This post contains some affiliate links. You can read more at the end of the post.

1. Bicarb and vinegar.

I know this might be a bit of a bold one to start with, but I want to say that it’s worth considering! No, it doesn’t work on everybody’s hair, but it’s honestly worth a try. You won’t smell like fish and chips, promise.

I tend to use rye flour rather than bicarb because the pH is closer to the skin’s pH, and it makes my hair softer, but the principle is the same for both. Here’s the instructions.

Moving on…

2. Shampoo and conditioner from bulk stores.

Not all bulk stores have a non-food section, but many do. Bulk stores with a focus on waste reduction (such as my local store The Source Bulk Foods) usually stock these products, and you can buy bulk shampoo, conditioner and other products in your own containers.

Health stores often stock bulk personal care products too, so if you don’t have a bulk store locally, check out any health stores close by.

3. Bar shampoo and conditioner.

Many people who are trying to reduce their plastic use make the switch from liquid shampoo to solid shampoo because of the reduction in packaging. In recent years the number of options have exploded, which means you can find one that will suit your hair type and budget.

If you’re in Australia or New Zealand, Ethique products are definitely the most popular option with my readers. This New Zealand company packages everything plastic-free.

You can order direct from their website, but if you’re looking for deals or offers you’re better off trying Biome, Flora & Fauna or Nourished Life, who all stock a good range and often have deals.

If you’re in the UK, &Keep is a great online store with an excellent range of plastic-free products and they stock a really good selection of solid shampoo and conditioners.

Lush Cosmetics is another option if you prefer to shop on the high street, with stores across the world (including Australia, USA and UK).

There’s also heaps of micro businesses at local markets (I’ve seen several here in Perth) and online via Etsy. Whilst I can’t recommend anything in particular (I wash my hair with bicarb and vinegar, remember?!), I do love supporting local and independent businesses, and it’s great to find someone in your neighbourhood making products.

4. Shampoo and conditioner in refillable bottles.

I don’t recommend purchasing shampoo and conditioner in glass (or other non-plastic containers) as a zero waste option unless they are going to be refilled. Recycling is such an energy intensive process, and there are so many other alternatives, that I truly see it as a last resort.

Rather than recycling the bottles, some companies will allow you to return your bottles for cleaning and refilling. This means you buy a product from them, and can return your empty when purchasing a new one. You don’t actually refill the container yourself, the company takes it away, cleans it, and refills on the production line.

Whilst these companies are not easy to find, they do exist. Plaine Products in the US is an excellent example: they allow customers to return bottles for refill and reuse. I think this is something we will begin to will see more and more of.

(This isn’t to be confused with companies collecting containers back for recycling – such as Lush’s black pot recycling scheme. Recycling takes far more energy than simply washing and reusing.)

If you buy from someone who makes their own, ask if they can refill your containers. Before switching to bicarb and vinegar I purchased shampoo from a small business called Earth Products in refillable, returnable bottles that I provided. The owner didn’t sell refills as such, but was happy to refill my bottles when she made a new batch. I simply had to drop my bottles off in advance.

5. Soap Nuts

Soap nuts are often touted as a a laundry detergent alternative, but recently I met a lady on a course I was running who washed her hair with soap nuts. Soap nut shampoo? I was intrigued.

Soap nuts are dried brown wooden berries, slightly sticky, that have a saponin content. I’m always keen to try new things, so I gave them a go. I followed Monique’s instructions:

Place 9-10 soap nuts in a jug and pour over 500ml of boiling water. Allow to sit overnight. Remove the soapnuts from the liquid (they can be reused several times) and store the liquid in the fridge until ready to use.

I filled 1/4 measuring cup with the liquid and used in place of shampoo. It doesn’t foam like shampoo. I finished with vinegar rinse like usual. My hair felt soft and clean. I’m at day 3 now, and my hair could do with another wash, so it doesn’t last as long as bicarb vinegar, but definitely works better than plain water (for me).

6. Shampoo and conditioner in glass.

As I mentioned above, from a zero waste perspective I recommend the other alternatives over choosing glass unless it’s going to be refilled. Of all the options, it’s the more wasteful one. There’s a huge carbon footprint associated with transporting glass, not to mention that shampoo is 70-80% water. Then the glass has to be collected and recycled.

However, we’re not talking about zero waste, we are talking about plastic-free. I definitely purchased non-refillable products in glass at the beginning of my plastic-free journey, and sometimes these choices are important stepping stones to better ones down the track. If you’re not ready for bicarb or bar shampoo and don’t have access to bulk stores, this might be a good step.

If you do decide to look for products packaged in glass, try to find products made locally first. They will have a lower footprint. Try crafts markets and farmers markets, or investigate health stores to see if they stock locally made products.

Now I’d love to hear from you! Do you have an eco friendly solution for washing your hair? Any other method you’d recommend? Any experiences with any of these that you’d like to share? Please tell us your thoughts in the comments below.

(Disclaimer – this post contains affiliate links, meaning if you click a link and choose to make a purchase, I may be compensated a small amount at no extra cost to you. I only recommend products and businesses whose commitment to creating zero waste and plastic-free solutions I believe in wholeheartedly.)

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66 replies
  1. Valda McGillivray
    Valda McGillivray says:

    Due to chemical and perfume allergies I have only used water to wash my hair for about 8 years..only occasionally do I give it a bit of rub with goat milk soap..perfume free..hair is lovely and silky and white…saves me a fortune

  2. Kate
    Kate says:

    Thanks for the great post Lindsay. I’ve been using Ethique products for the past year and love their shampoo and conditioner. The bars last me a few months and then just put the small cardboard box in compost. I highly recommend them and wouldn’t switch back although might have to give your bicarb and vinegar a go!
    With best wishes Kate

  3. Stephanie Jane
    Stephanie Jane says:

    I can recommend the solid shampoo bars at Fresh Soap here in Torquay, Devon. They sell slices from soap bars so you can buy as much as you need and I just ask for mine to Not be wrapped in a sheet of plastic. I take my own little bag or they have paper bags too. Website is freshsoap.co.uk

  4. Stephanie
    Stephanie says:

    Hi Lindsay, I have just this week discovered Noora Herbal Shampoo Bars. Noora is made in Tuart Hill and they are Vegan and completely natural . They do 3 different shampoo bars for different hair types packaged individually in brown paper bags. They also make a Hair and Scalp Repair Oil, Deep Repair Masque, Katira Conditioner and Katira Leave-In Conditioner. These all come in plastic, however.

  5. Annie
    Annie says:

    I used to wash my hair with Rhassoul Clay for years due to chemical and perfume allergies then I switched to rye flour a few month ago. Afterwards I use a apple cider vinegar rinse. I get the rye flour in bulk. That’s one reason I changed to rye flour. It does take more time to wash my hair but I got used to it a long time ago and I just have to wash it once a week.

    Sorry about my structure of the sentences and the vocabulary, I’m not a native speaker and live in Germany. But I do like your blog :-)

  6. Cindy
    Cindy says:

    Have you ever tried African Black Soap? I use it as a shampoo and body wash. Foams great. Rinses clean and my hair is soft. It is a bar soap that I get when I am in Charleston South Carolina. Lasts a long time.

  7. Tarnya
    Tarnya says:

    Thanks Lindsay! Bicarb and vinegar doesn’t work for me. I have very thick and oily hair so it seems I need to use a lot of bicarb and then I end up with dry and basically just yucky-feeling hair. I’m always searching for a more natural alternative so I’m going to look into bar shampoos and conditioners and soap nuts. I’ve never heard of soap nuts. Off to investigate! :)

  8. farmer liz
    farmer liz says:

    Great list. I use soap with an apple cider vinegar rinse. Any good quality handmade soap is fine for hair, it doesn’t have to be a special “bar”, especially if you don’t want to spend a fortune!

  9. Neophema99
    Neophema99 says:

    Using shampoo bars, which are fine and don’t need conditioner. However, my frizz is beyond vinegar rinses so I still use a ‘frizz creme’. It’s pretty pox ie full of chemicals. If anyone has ideas for alternatives, please share. And yes, I have considered not caring about the way my hair looks!

    • Lindsay (Treading My Own Path)
      Lindsay (Treading My Own Path) says:

      Hi Debbie, are you *sure* that the frizz is beyond vinegar rinse?! I only ask because I was addicted to frizz serums for years, only to discover that vinegar worked better than all of them! You might find a conditioning bar helps instead – worth a try at least?

  10. Jenny S.
    Jenny S. says:

    Hi Lindsay,

    I don’t usually trust just any shampoo brands because I had a horrible experience using shampoo. My hair strands started to fall off and my hair begins to dry. I consulted a doctor and told me to stop using shampoo products. From then on, I only use aloe gel fresh from garden and some coconut oil. Thanks for sharing this informative post.

  11. Frances Reiher
    Frances Reiher says:

    I use handmade soaps from my local markets. I prefer olive oil based ones as I have greying older hair. My favourites are thyme and honey, and clove from dreamboat soaps. Locally made in Lismore NSW. Also Byron Bay Soap company’s olive oil soaps.

    • Lindsay (Treading My Own Path)
      Lindsay (Treading My Own Path) says:

      I agree that they aren’t perfect Som. But they are a good transition for people who still buy regular shampoo and conditioner in plastic from the supermarket. They are a company that try to do good things. No perfect, but a better step on the journey of change :)

  12. Padma Ramdas
    Padma Ramdas says:

    I used to use soap nuts in my younger days back in India. have gone back to it now. Works really well. Can mix it with hibiscus leaf powder to make it more gel like and easier to handle. Hibiscus leaves are a good conditioner too. I dry the hibiscus leaves and powder them, can blend them up fresh too

  13. Amy
    Amy says:

    I’ve tried shampoo bars a few times but my hair goes through such a massive detox I give up after a week. After about four days it gets greasy within hours of washing and I get desperate to wash it again. At first I thought the beeswax was being left in my hair but now I think it is just oil from my scalp. I’ll try bi carb but I suspect I’ll have the same issue :(

    • Hollie
      Hollie says:

      I have found if I do a bicarb rinse about once a week, use the bar, and then an ACV rinse it works well. Your hair may feel a tad dry, and if so, use a very small amount of coconut oil and rub up the underside of the hair first then to the ends And lastly the front of your hair and top… that way it’s not too greasy. I also use a boar bristle brush to really distribute the oils well.

  14. Miyuki
    Miyuki says:

    Hello, and a happy new year. You mention Plaine Products. I am looking for something similar in Europe/Spain/UK. I just wondered whether anything has come to your attention since the writing of your post. We have a small B&B and I’m scratching my head about what to do with our plastic bottle use in the bathrooms

    • Lindsay (Treading My Own Path)
      Lindsay (Treading My Own Path) says:

      Hi Miyuki! I haven’t no, but I suspect there will be something, or if not, it will come soon. I feel like Europe was a little slower to the plastic-free movement but are making up for lost time! I have seen hotels in the UK attach big pump bottles to the wall with brackets (I don’t mean ugly commercial ones, I mean attractive ones), and these obviously get refilled when empty. Could that work for you?

      • Jeanine Werckmann
        Jeanine Werckmann says:

        Disney world has started doing that in their resorts. Instead of the tons of little bottles of shampoo, conditioner and body wash they now have them in larger bottles mounted in the shower. The only plastic bottles they place out are for the little lotion bottles.

  15. Pete
    Pete says:

    I’ve been using shampoo bars for a about a year now and will never go back to plastic bottles. They last way longer than shampoo in a bottle and there are some quite affordable ones (I’m a bloke so I don’t want to spend to much on hair products!) and feels no different from anything that comes from a plastic bottle.
    The only downside is if you are travelling or for the gym etc but you can just buy a metal soap tin so not much of a problem.

  16. Tressa Clifton
    Tressa Clifton says:

    Hi Lindsay, I have continued using the apple cider vinegar rinse for awhile now as the coniditoner and it works great. However, when I tried baking soda as a shampoo alternative ny skin broke out in pimples. Did that happen at all to you?
    Perhaps the ph of the rye flour woud help with that issue. Also, the Braggs vinegar I buy is a glass jar, do you refill yours somewhere?
    Thanks for the forum on this topic!

  17. Joshua Howard
    Joshua Howard says:

    Thanks for these great ideas! I want to try one of them. I live the eco-friendly lifestyle and wash my hair with baking soda. It’s a natural product that works great.

  18. Haley
    Haley says:

    Hey, you should check out The Good Fill in Nashville. They sell refills and clean, sanitize, and refill the pouch for the next purchase. Though the mailing does have a carbon impact it’s a great option if bars don’t work well for you.

  19. Ethan Brown
    Ethan Brown says:

    Great idea! Lindsay Miles.
    You are a clever lady, Lindsay Miles. I popped over from DnPackaging. Glad to find you. I’m now following.
    I’m interested in one of the Shampoo and Conditioner.

  20. Fran
    Fran says:

    I just went to a store that has bulk shampoo. Unfortunately they get their products in disposable 1 gallon plastic containers so we’re not saving much on the way of plastic. And the cost to fill my bottle was at least twice what I would pay oz for oz if I bought the biggest plastic bottles I could find. Probably quart size. Still looking.

    • Lorna
      Lorna says:

      We must be lucky in the UK – we have all sorts of vinegars in glass bottles. Our french white vinegar is only around 60p a litre so I use it for cleaning the bathroom, windows and surfaces.

  21. Jessica
    Jessica says:

    I love how you not only talk about the problem but also provide actionable solutions. The idea of shampoo bars sounds fascinating. Do they lather up like traditional shampoo? And how long do they usually last?


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