Does Water Only Hair Washing Work?

Having looked into minimizing my cosmetic routine, and discovered the No Poo method I wondered; does water only hair washing work?

Water only hair washing involves using just water to keep the scalp and hair clean from dirt, grease, and dust. This No Poo method is very effective for some individuals, however, certain hair types, or those living in a low-quality water area may find this method problematic. Regular scalp massaging, scritching, and preening are required to keep hair healthy.

The lure of the No Poo movement for me was the ability to improve the condition of my hair in an environmentally friendly way.

No Shampoo means no plastic bottles cluttering up the bathroom, less landfill waste, and fewer chemicals in the atmosphere from the manufacturing process.

As I wanted to reduce my carbon footprint and get that warm and fuzzy feeling, knowing that I was ‘doing my bit’, I needed to know if water-only hair washing works.

When I was looking at starting on my No Poo journey I came across many variations of No Poo washing; including baking powder, apple cider vinegar, and some specialized shampoos with no chemical ingredients.

I also found many references to washing my hair with water alone.

As I couldn’t believe that I would be able to keep my hair clean and non-greasy without using at least some type of product I decided to investigate!

What Is Water Only Hair Washing?

Water only hair washing is exactly what it sounds like, only water is used to keep hair in clean and healthy condition.

It’s not quite as simple as ditching the shampoo and conditioner and not bothering anymore.

Many commercial shampoos contain harsh chemicals which strip the sebum from your hair (to make it appear less greasy) and then we add conditioners to reapply these oils!

When managed correctly, without using shampoo, our scalp will soon self-regulate and produce just the right amount of natural oil for our hair.

Indeed, water only hair washing uses methods to ensure that the oils produced by the scalp are evenly distributed throughout the hair, thereby improving the look and health of every single hair.

1. Scritching

The scritch, preen, and brush method is the agreed-upon method for water only hair washing (source 1).

Scritching is massaging the scalp all over to get rid of accumulated dead skin and to encourage the production of sebum which will be spread through the hair in the next steps to create healthy, stunning-looking locks!

The first step is to detangle your hair with your fingers before ‘scritching.’

2. Preening

Preening is simply bringing down the oils produced naturally by the scalp to coat each and every strand of hair.

As long as only small segments of hair are preened at one time you should be able to cover the majority of the hair by this process.

3. Brushing

The final stage is to use a boar bristle brush to make sure that all the oils are evenly spread from the roots of the hair to the very tips, leading to wonderfully clean and silky tresses.

Does Water Only Hair Washing Work?

There have been many converts to Water Only Hair Washing practices.

Water only hair washing can leave you with silky, healthy, and manageable hair using only water. However, a great deal depends upon your hair type and the water that you have available to wash it in.

In hard water areas where the water contains lime-scale, chlorine, and other chemicals, water only hair washing may not work so well.

Water only hair washing can work brilliantly if/when the scritching, preening, and brushing is carried out correctly and your hair type and water type are suitable.

Water after the scritching process should be lukewarm, not hot enough to cause damage to the hair, and not too cold that the natural oils cannot be loosened (source 1).

A cold water rinse at the end of the process is also incredibly important!

This is what seals up the hair follicles and keeps the oils and moisture in the hair to give it a healthy appearance.

Pros & Cons of Water Only Hair Washing

As with anything else, there are pros and cons associated with this method.

Below I shall highlight both the pros and cons of water only hair washing:

Benefits Of Water Only Hair Washing

Here are the key benefits of water only hair washing:

  • Environmentally Friendly: Less plastic manufactured and going to landfills
  • Better For Your Wallet: Apart from investing in a Boar Bristle brush, savings on shampoo
  • Better For Your Hair: No shampoo stripping essential oils from your hair
  • Time Saving: Water only hair washing doesn’t need washing as frequently
  • May Reduce Scalp Problems: This is because the pH of water is closer to that of the scalp and no chemicals are stripping the natural oils

Cons Of Water Only Hair Washing

There are of course many cons to go against these pros of water only hair washing.

Here is a list of reasons why no poo is bad for your hair:

  • Poor Hair Condition: Water Only method may not work owing to your hair type
  • Over Oily Hair: It may take time for your scalp to adjust to the lack of chemicals
  • Smell: Your hair may smell during the transition period
  • Dandruff/Dryness: You may need to add oil/product to keep ends moisturized

Water Only Hair Washing Results

Let us look more closely at water only hair results. Does water only hair washing work, or not?

The first thing to note is that to achieve good results water-only hair washing works best in soft water/natural water scenarios.

a. Hard Water Area

You may find that if you live in an area of hard water – with lots of chemicals and lime-scale, the results you achieve will not be as good.

This is because the chemicals in the water scrub the hair and the end rinse opens the follicles and results in dry hair and breakages.

If you are happy to add coconut oil or something similar to your hair you may still be able to have great hair using the Water Only method.

b. Coarse / Dry Hair

The Water Only method works wonderfully well with hair that is coarse and prone to dryness, especially with curly hair.

This is because the body’s natural oil has a chance to reverse the stripping effects of the shampoo previously used (source 1).

c. Transition Phase

If your hair is still looking greasy, or getting greasy quickly after washing there could be a number of causes.

You may still be in the transition period, with your scalp still trying to find the optimum production of sebum to ensure healthy, but not greasy hair.

Whilst you are experiencing the transition period and waiting for your hair to realize you have freed it from chemicals; hats, scarves, and clips can be used to disguise the unwanted greasy look.

If your hair is long enough, plaiting can look really pretty, and is easier on slightly greasy hair.

In fact, even once your sebum production has settled down, and your hair is looking and feeling fantastic.

You may not want to do away with these accessories as they can really give your style a boost!

d. Silcone Build-Up

Alternatively, you may still have a silicon build-up.

Silicon on the hair means that it won’t absorb the natural oils made by our bodies. Therefore the oil you produce has nowhere to go, but to sit on top and look lank and oily (source 1).

If you are using any products on your hair, check that they do not contain silicon ingredients. If they do, stop using the product and find a similar product that does not.

Your hair will benefit in the long run, and you may find that you are able to go without any styling products at all!

How To Transition To Water Only Hair Washing

There are several ways to transition to Water Only Hair Washing.

How you go about it depends entirely upon you!

  • Cold Turkey: The first, and possibly simplest, is just to go cold turkey. This may seem a little extreme but works for many as the transition period is reduced and starting a new regime has a definite start date.
  • Lengthen Time Between Washes: Lengthening the time between washes and/or reducing/diluting the amount of shampoo used is also a widely chosen route to water-only hair washing.
  • Combine No Poo Methods: Another method is to use a combination of water only and another No Poo system such as baking soda and apple cider vinegar. There are specially formulated No Poo shampoos which can be used exactly like traditional shampoos to leave your hair looking wonderful whilst staying away from harsh chemicals.

Each method leads to being able to ditch the traditional shampoo altogether in only a matter of weeks or months

….it’s entirely up to you!

Does Washing Hair With Just Water Make It Greasy?

Washing hair with just water may make your hair greasy during the transition period.

When you start your water-only hair washing journey you should start with slightly greasy hair to allow your scalp the best chance of starting to optimize its production of sebum and to ensure that your hair, even to the tips, is fully nourished.

Your hair type, the water you use, and if your hair has residual silicon products on, will all impact how greasy your hair may become, especially at the very beginning.

Once you get to know your hair, and all previous products have been successfully removed, water only hair washing will simply lead to healthy, nourished hair, that looks amazing!

Does Washing Hair With Just Water Dry It Out?

Water only hair washing should allow when done correctly, for your hair to be thoroughly nourished and should not lead to dried out or brittle hair.

Here are some factors to consider if water only hair washing is making your hair dry out:

1. Scritch, Preen And Brush

If you find your hair becoming dry using this method then make sure you are following the scritch, preen, and brush regime.

This is important so that the oils from your scalp are pulled all the way through your hair – perhaps when preening using smaller sections of hair will enable you to coat more strands more evenly.

Making sure that every hair strand is coated with natural oil is the key to shiny and healthy hair with the water only method.

2. Temperature

Remember that the temperature of the water should be a little warmer than body temperature to allow the oils to travel down the hair.

The final rinse though should be in cold water, as this seals in the moisture that you have preened down the length of the hair shaft.

3. Drying Hair

When drying your hair, a normal cotton t-shirt can be used to remove the excess water before brushing with your boar bristle brush.

4. Water Supply

Your water supply could also be a culprit, especially if you live in a hard water area.

Hard water is full of chemicals that will strip your hair in a similar way to using traditional shampoos.

If this is the case then many people boil the water or use bottled water, especially for the final rinse in water only hair washing is very important; it closes the hair shaft to retain moisture and keep hair smooth and healthy-looking.

5. Egg Treatment

If you have followed all the advice and still find that dryness remains, a monthly egg treatment could help out your hair and make it more nourished, and even make it feel thicker:

  • Beat egg
  • Smooth egg into wet hair
  • Wait 5-15 minutes
  • Wash out as normal

Once a month or every few months this will revitalize your locks and remove any concerns you may have about dry hair.

However, please be aware that if you are planning on using an egg on your hair, only use cold water since the egg may cook into your hair if shower water is warm!!

I’ve personally made this mistake, so don’t ignore this useful No Poo tip!

Water Only Hair Washing Smell

As with anything different people have different experiences.

Some people never notice a smell during the transition period or long term. Others find that when starting water only hair washing there is a smell for some time.

You may experience a different odor to your hair, but then, as you’re not washing it in chemically laden shampoos with added perfumes, the smell is more natural.

This is the natural bacteria on your scalp being revitalized and being allowed to act as nature intended.

If you do find that your hair smells unpleasant, then at the next wash try using a coconut oil conditioning treatment after the final rinse.

Not only will this thoroughly moisturize your hair, but it will also leave it soft and smelling beautifully tropical.

No Poo Water Only Waxy Hair

A waxy build-up may occur over time due to how the scalp oils are distributed during the preening and brushing process.

It is very important to clean your boar bristle brush every time it’s used, otherwise, the waxy build-up and dirt/oils are simply put back into your hair the next time the brush is used.

There are different products that can be used to reduce a waxy build-up if necessary cornflour and rye flour are just two.

These can be brushed into the hair and will reduce the appearance of remaining waxiness and help keep your hair more manageable.

If you don’t have any rye flour handy, then brushing talc through your hair will effectively clean the hair shaft and remove some of the unwanted side effects (source 1).

Water Only Washing Hair Growth

Hair growth can be encouraged using the water only hair washing technique.

The scritching process, massaging the scalp, can loosen debris that restricts hair growth, and therefore growth is aided.

If you want to feed the hair to make it less dry/brittle; which will lead to less breakage and thicker-looking hair, a monthly conditioning treatment such as coconut oil, egg, or honey is an option.

There are even a large range of No Poo conditioners available if time is short.

Water Only Hair Loss

Washing your hair using the water-only method will not cause you to lose any more hair than when using traditional shampoos.

You may however see more hairs being shed but this will be because the frequency of washing is reduced.

Indeed, the water only washing method may even reduce hair loss as fewer chemicals are being used and allowed to remain on the scalp impeding growth.

Can You Wash Curly Hair With Just Water?

Curly hair, especially if it is coarse reacts wonderfully to water only hair washing.

Many traditional shampoos dry out coarse and curly hair and lead to increased frizz and difficulty to manage hair.

Once the transition phase has been completed your scalp will have worked out the optimum level of oil production to keep your wavy tresses at the peak of health.

The oils will ensure that your curls keep their shape as they won’t need to be weighed down with extra synthetic products (source 1).


With the increase in the number of people looking to reduce their environmental impact and live simpler lives, the water only hair washing movement has caught on in the last few years.

The question that everyone asks is ‘Does Water Only Hair Washing Work?’.

The most simple answer is that for many people it works wonderfully, and once through the transition period, many have vowed never to go back to traditional shampoos.

Some people do experience difficulties with this method owing to the type of water they have available and having the type of hair that needs alternative attention, but find that using a combination of Water Only and other No Poo methods works for them.

Water Only Hair Washing can lead to cleaner, healthier, and more manageable locks.

Katrina Stewardson

Hello! My name is Katrina Stewardson, and I've been obsessed for almost ever with discovering the best natural hair methods for my own hair. For years I longed for one website to tell me everything I needed to know about the amazing No Poo Method movement. I just couldn't find one though, so I decided to create it myself! I dearly hope this website will save all you lovely ladies (and gents!) from wasting hours scrolling the internet looking for natural hair-related information like I did.

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