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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.

1. Bicarb and vinegar.

Okay okay, I know I talked about this last week, 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, but the principle is the same. Here’s the instructions.

Okay, 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 take part in Plastic Free July make the switch from liquid shampoo to solid shampoo because of the reduction in packaging.

Although I’ve never used them myself, Ethique products are definitely the most popular option with my readers. This New Zealand company packages everything plastic-free.

My husband has used bar shampoo from Beauty and the Bees. They are an Australian company based in Tasmania but also with a US online store. I’m not sure if all their products contain honey (and if they do they won’t be suitable for vegans), but the one my husband used was beer and honey.

If you’re vegan, Flora and Fauna offer a range of cruelty-free shampoo soap bars.

Lush Cosmetics is another option, 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 encouraging others to do so too.

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 one example: they allow customers to return bottles for refill and reuse. I’m sure there are others – and if you know of any, please share in the comments! I also 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.)

How I Wash My Hair with Bicarb and Vinegar

Most people are a more than a little intrigued when I tell them I wash my hair with bicarb and vinegar. (The ones that aren’t? They either say, me too. Or they raise their eyebrows in slight alarm!)

Then of course, everyone wants to know the specifics. How does it work? How is it applied? How often do I need to wash my hair? All great questions. If this has been puzzling you, today I’m going to share some answers.

If you’re really not up for trying it yourself, I’ve also shared a post on alternative plastic-free hair shampooing options. But before you head over there, why not read this anyway – you might be pleasantly surprised!

Washing My Hair With Bicarb and Vinegar

I’ve been washing my hair with bicarb (sodium bicarbonate, also called bicarbonate of soda or bicarb soda) and vinegar since 1st June 2014. I wrote a blog post about it at the time, along with my reasons why (aside from avoiding the plastic bottles). Three years later, I’m still using it, although I often use rye flour as an alternative to bicarb (I’ll talk about this later).

Here’s a picture from the first washes back in 2014…

…and here’s one from this week.

I’m definitely a convert.

So how does it work?

How much of each (bicarb and vinegar) do you use?

I have slightly-shorter-than-shoulder-length hair, and I use between a teaspoon and a dessert spoon of bicarb per wash. This is my shampoo replacement. I use 1/8th cup of white vinegar, diluted to a cup with warm water, as my conditioner replacement.

How do you apply bicarb and vinegar to your hair?

I mix the bicarb with a small amount of water to make a watery slurry (bicarb is water soluble). I apply to my hair, rub in (you wont be able to feel it like you can regular shampoo) and then rinse off with warm water.

I pour the vinegar/water mix over my head slowly, rub in, and then rinse off as I would regular conditioner.

I towel dry my hair as normal.

What containers do you use to store them?

I don’t keep them in the shower. I keep a jar of bicarb under the sink, and a bottle of white vinegar under the sink too. After trying various bowls and cups, I now use my stainless steel measuring cups in the shower. I was never particularly worried about breakages, but it could happen. I also find it easier to pour from the measuring cups than a regular cup or bowl.

A friend of mine tried bicarb and vinegar hair-washing, and kept the diluted vinegar ready in a bottle in the shower. I don’t do this because I learned the hard way that vinegar + hot water is a much more pleasant experience than vinegar + cold water. I would only do this if I lived somewhere so hot I wanted a cold shower.

Aren’t you meant to use apple cider vinegar?

I use regular white vinegar. I know that apple cider vinegar is commonly cited as the vinegar to use, and I’ve tried it, but I prefer white vinegar. I find apple cider vinegar leaves my hair duller. Apple cider vinegar is slightly less acidic than white vinegar, but I’m diluting 1:8 times with water, and rinsing off after a minute or less.

Don’t you smell of vinegar?

Actually, no. If you’re worried about smell, white vinegar dissipates almost instantly upon rinsing. Apple cider vinegar will take a little longer. The first time I ever tried this I was paranoid that I smelled like fish and chips, but I think it was just that my hair is much closer to my nose than anyone else’s.

If you’re really worried about smell, or miss the fragrance of traditional shampoo, you can add a 1-2 drops essential oil to the vinegar before applying.

How often do you wash your hair?

I wash my hair every 3-5 days. Not so much because my hair gets greasy, but because the curls start to look straggly. If it’s only been 3 days, I might omit the bicarb step and just do the vinegar rinse.

Will my hair fall out?

There was an article going around the internet, stating that using bicarb and vinegar to wash your hair will make it fall out. I’ve written my thoughts on that here. There’s no reason why using bicarb or vinegar to wash hair would cause hair loss.

After 3+ years, I still have a full head of hair.

You mentioned rye flour. How does that work?

Instead of using bicarb, I’ve also used rye flour to wash my hair. Bicarb is a salt, and is mined from the ground. Rye flour is ground from rye, a plant. Sustainable speaking, rye is probably the more eco-friendly option. It also leaves my hair much shinier than bicarb. Plus, as it’s not water soluble, it mixes with water to form a paste which is much easier to apply to your hair.

On the down side, if you aren’t careful you can end up with huge flakes of rye flour that look like brown dandruff. Believe me, discovering chunks of flour falling out of your hair as you ruffle it is quite alarming.

To reduce this, you can sieve the flour before you use it (a tea strainer will likely have the finest mesh). Also, post washing, be sure to towel dry your hair really well. And never ever apply to dry hair, or you will end up with a flour crust on your scalp!

Anything else?

If you’re switching from regular shampoo, your hair will take some time to adjust. Regular shampoo tends to strip oil from the scalp, so the skin compensates by making more oil. Some people find when they first use this that they have oily hair for a few days, or even a few weeks. Push through!

Ultimately though, this isn’t for everybody. It works particularly well on people with curly hair. If you’ve tried for a few months and you still don’t like it, maybe it’s not for you. Don’t worry, there are plenty of other options.

If you haven’t tried it, I definitely recommend you give it a go! There’s something very satisfying about personal care products that come from the pantry and with single ingredients.

Can I tempt you?!

Now I’d love to hear from you! Have you tried the bicarb and vinegar method? Do you love it? Did you hate it? Are you tempted to give it a go? Please share your thoughts in the comments below!

The Bicarb No-Poo Hair-Washing Controversy

I never even knew that there was a baking soda hair washing controversy. I’ve been washing my hair with bicarb and vinegar since last June, and I’ve had no problems. My hair looks and feels better, and I’m in love with the simplicity of it. So when I got this email from a reader, I was quite surprised!

“I was looking at the bicarb/vinegar hair cleaning idea and saw a couple of links like the one below about the pH levels etc. Just wondering if you’d come across this kind of feedback before and if so, whether you found it valid or not? I’m sure like anything there’s people for and against, just curious about the science behind this lady’s thoughts.”

The link she was referring to was an article called Baking Soda Destroyed My Hair. Punchy title, no? I hadn’t seen the article before, so I read it, and then a few more.

Here are my thoughts.

The Science Behind Bicarb and Vinegar Hair Washing

The pH scale measures whether a substance is acidic or alkaline, and runs from 0 to 14. 0 is the most acidic, 14 is the most alkaline and 7 is neutral (pure water has a pH of 7). The skin has a layer on the surface known as the acid mantle, which is a mixture of sebum (oil that the skin produces) and sweat. This acid mantle has a slightly acidic pH (around 5.5).

Most cleansers and shampoos are alkaline because these clean better than acidic products. Alkaline products will also open up the hair cuticle, as will hot water and hair brushing. However alkaline products can leave the skin and hair feeling dry, and if hair cuticles are left open the hair is more susceptible to damage. That is why conditioner is used after shampooing – to smooth the cuticles and protect the hair shaft.

Bicarb soda is a base with a pH of about 9. Vinegar is an acid with a pH of almost 2. Bicarb is used as a cleaner to remove dirt and grime from the hair; it is also an excellent exfoliant. The vinegar rinse (the vinegar should be diluted so it is not too acidic – I use a 1:4 ratio vinegar:water) restores the pH of the skin to an acidic level, and closes the hair cuticles.

Thoughts on Whether Bicarb and Vinegar Cause Hair Damage

I’ve never read that you should dilute the bicarb to make it less basic – to me that just doesn’t make sense! I use bicarb knowing that it is a base, and only mix with a tbsp water. If hair is wet and you’re in the shower, there’s gonna be some dilution going on, but bicarb is still alkaline.

I disagree that using bicarb and vinegar is like dyeing your hair twice a week. Hair dyes, which are also alkaline, are left on the hair and scalp for for ages, hours even. The bicarb goes straight on, wait a minute and then off. Not quite the same!

Most bar soaps are alkaline and can have pH as high as 10. Many facial cleaners also have an alkaline pH – that’s how they clean.  Alkaline products are definitely drying on the skin, which is why it’s important to moisturise or use facial oils. It’s also important that these finishing products more closely match the skin’s pH as these products will be left of the skin, whereas cleansers are washed off fairly quickly.

The principle is the same with hair. Using an alkaline product will help clean the hair but it risks drying out the scalp and hair if the alkalinity is not countered, wither with a vinegar rinse or other moisturizing treatment.

Remember too that plenty of other environmental factors play a role in the condition of our hair. Diet, medication, hair dyeing, pollution, sunshine, ocean water, chlorine from swimming pools and aging all have an impact of the condition of our hair.

It is clear that the lady who wrote the article has suffered hair damage. What works for some people doesn’t neccessarily work for everyone. In the same way that some people live using bar soap whilst others find it too drying, bicarb clearly does not work for everyone. I know several people who have used bicarb and vinegar for decades and swear by it; the internet will tell many other stories of people who didn’t get on with it.

My conclusion would be that it’s not dangerous, but its also not for everyone. If you can’t get on with it, it’s probably best to try something else.

Don’t Want Bicarb Drying Out Your Hair? Try These Alternatives

If you’re worried about bicarb drying out your hair, there are plenty of alternatives.

  • If you’re happy to stick to bicarb, you can use oils or other treatments (such as avocado, egg or honey) to moisturize your hair after washing.
  • Try using oil to restore moisture to you hair after washing. Try treating your hair with olive oil: After cleaning your hair, squeeze out excess moisture, rub a couple of tablespoons of olive oil in your hands, and then rub evenly through into your hair. You can leave the oil on for as long as you like – even overnight (but you’ll need to wear a shower cap!) – the more dry or damaged your hair is, the more beneficial leaving it for longer will be. Wash the oil out after you’re done.
  • Another alternative is moisturising your hair with coconut oil before washing, to help protect the cuticles from damage.
  • After using vinegar ,you could always opt to use regular conditioner (choose one with natural ingredients and preferably some oils) to moisturise your hair.

Feeling less trusting of bicarb after reading this?

  • One popular alternative I found is using rye flour to clean your hair. You use it in the same way as bicarb, making a paste with a small amount of water and rubbing into your hair, before rinsing out and proceeding as normal. Rye flour has a pH of 5.5 so is slightly acidic. I haven’t tried this but I would expect it to be worse at cleaning, but I like that it is plant-based rather than mined. Rye flour has less gluten than other flours so should make less mess in your bathroom.
  • Another option might be to combine bicarb with rye flour so the mix is less alkaline. Again, I haven’t tried this or measured the pH – if you do this please leave a comment and let me know the results.
  • A third option is washing your hair with clay. (Yes, clay!) Meg from Mrs M’s Curiosity Cabinet uses Rhassoul clay and loves it!

I love the way bicarb and vinegar cleans my hair: I also love the simplicity and minimalism of it (no extra bottles cluttering up my bathroom!). I’m keen to try flour and even clay, but for now I’m sticking to what works for me.

How about you – have you tried bicarb and vinegar hairwashing? Did it work for you or did you never quite get on with it? When did you start using it and have you noticed any drying or damage? Do you have any other green alternatives to suggest? I’d love to hear your thoughts so please leave a comment below!

Would You Wash Your Hair with Bicarb and Vinegar?

Would you switch from using regular shampoo and conditioner to washing your hair with sodium bicarbonate (also called bicarbonate of soda, bicarb soda or bicarb) and vinegar? Sounds completely crazy, doesn’t it?! Why would actually do something like that?! Well, I’m gonna tell you not only who, but also why, and…what happened when I tried it out myself!

Who Would Wash Their Hair with Bicarb?

I’m not talking about eccentric old ladies with too many cats, the ones who sit at the bus stop talking to themselves. Maybe they do too; I’ve never asked. But if you think they’re the only people who would do such a thing, you’d be mistaken.

In fact, there’s so many people on board it’s even been described as a movement. It’s called the “no poo” (as in “no shampoo”) movement, but as someone who cringes at toilet humour, I try to avoid that description! No poo is bad enough, but combined with movement…nope, I just can’t (won’t) go there. However, if you Google it, you’ll be amazed how many entries pop up!

Broadly speaking, converts fit into three groups – the environmentally conscious, the health conscious, and the thrifty. Their motives are all slightly different, but the outcome is the same – clean, shiny hair!

Kate with Bicarb Vinegar Hair

This is my friend Kate Raynes-Goldie (@OceanPark), “doing a Shirley Temple”… “Getting ready for the WA Screen awards (and to think, once upon a time I had purple hair, and pink hair, and bright orange…) But, even more exciting is that as of the time this picture was taken, I hadn’t used shampoo on my hair in over a month (sodium bicarb and apple cider vinegar, baby! ” KRG

 Why Would You Wash Your Hair With Bicarb and Vinegar?

There’s actually a whole heap of reasons.

  • Shampoos can strip natural oils from the scalp, so the scalp produces more oil to compensate. This makes more regular shampooing needed to remove the oil, and becomes a vicious cycle. Feel like your hair is constantly greasy and needs washing every day? Ironically, your shampoo may be to blame. Dermatologists found that reducing shampoo use causes oil to be produced at a lower rate.
  • Shampoos typically contain synthetic ingredients and their safety is increasingly under question. Parabens have been linked to endocrine disruption and neurotoxicity, and 1,4-dioxane has been labelled a probable human carcinogen. Sodium bicarbonate and vinegar are both completely safe – we put them in our food!
  • Silicone derivatives such as dimethicone which are added to shampoo to coat the hair and make it appear shiny and more manageable are now thought to dry the hair out because they prevent moisture entering.
  • Plastic! The majority of shampoo and other haircare products come in plastic bottles, which contribute to plastic pollution in the environment. In addition, flushing these chemicals down the drain does nothing for our waterways.
  • Bicarb and vinegar are far cheaper than the majority of shampoos and conditioners, and if you’re on a budget, can help save money.
  • It’s another way to simplify. You probably already have bicarb and vinegar in the house, so why not multi-purpose them? By replacing shampoo and conditioner you’ve got two less bottles cluttering up the house, plus that’s two less things to run out of.

What will happen to my hair?!

If you’ve been using conventional commercial shampoos for a while, chances are you’ve got a lot of residue built up on your scalp, which takes time to wash away. You’ve also got to allow your sebaceous (oil) glands to slow down once they realise you’re no longer stripping the natural oils from your head.

It can take 5-7 day for your scalp to adjust, but usually 2-6 weeks is more usual to break the cycle. During this time, your hair may seem a little greasier than usual.

My Bicarb Vinegar Experiment

So what was my experience? My experiment began on 1st June this year. I’d been thinking about it for a while, and I decided that I should give it a go before making judgement!

As a bit of background, I have reasonably short (maybe shoulder-length) curly hair. I haven’t used commercial shampoos and conditioners for two years; I use natural products made locally. I only wash my hair every 2-3 days – curly hair doesn’t like too much washing!

Method:

Mix a few tablespoons of bicarb with just enough water to make a paste. Rub into your scalp and work towards the ends. Leave for a couple of minutes, and then rinse out.

Mix 1/4 cup vinegar with 1 cup (warm!) water. Tip your head back and pour onto your scalp so it runs onto your hair, and rub in with your hands. Avoid getting it into your eyes – vinegar stings!

Rinse off.

Results:

Please excuse the bad photos. There was no-one around, so I had to take them myself. Clearly I’m no master of the “selfie”…but that’s possibly a good thing…

Bicarb and vinegar hair experiment no poo just washed 2 Bicarb and vinegar hair experiment no poo just washed Bicarb and vinegar hair experiment no poo

The process was very simple, and my hair actually looked normal straightaway. There was no greasy hair, and no frizz problems. I was expecting a couple of weeks of bad hair days, but that never happened (or at least, no more than usual)!

It definitely needs washing less. Whereas before I would notice my hair getting greasy after a couple of days, now it will last three or four.

As for the vinegar smell… I read that the vinegar smell will dissipate after an hour. Not true! The first time I was paranoid that I was walking around smelling like fish and chips. I’ve since tried adding essential oils to the vinegar mix. Rose oil was too subtle and didn’t work. Lemon myrtle was a little overpowering. I’m currently using clove oil, which seems to be a good compromise. Lavender is often recommended but I really don’t like the smell. There’s plenty of options though, and they do work to mask the vinegar odour effectively.

Verdict: Overall, I think its great! I’m definitely a convert : )

Give it a Go!

Everyone’s hair is different, and just because it worked for me, doesn’t necessarily mean it will work for you…but that shouldn’t stop you trying! Why not give it a go?!

Now I want to hear from you! Do you already use the bicarb/vinegar method, and how have you found it? Did you try and admit defeat? Are you tempted…or is it something you’re still not even game to try?! I’d love it if you shared your experiences so please leave a comment below!