How to Wash and Detangle Natural Hair (Part 1)

Natural Hair Fro

Whether your hair is short or long, curly or kinky, washing and detangling your hair can be one of the most intimidating tasks for a natural. When washing hair, you have to remove product buildup without drying it out or creating excessive tangles. In this two part series, we will explore the washing and detangling process. So take notes, go home and experiment, and report back on how things work for you.


Surprisingly, shampooing your hair is not the first step in the shampooing process. (Although this step is optional.) Prepooing is the process of coating the hair shaft prior to washing. This prevents the hair from being dried out during the wash process, particularly when sulfates are used.  A conditioner, oil, or a combination of the two can be used. A great pre-poo option is coconut oil. Its properties prevent your hair from taking on too much water and reduces protein loss. During the pre-poo step, some choose to detangle and/or condition their hair.


There are various options for washing your hair. You can use traditional shampoos which contain sulfates, sulfate-free shampoos, clay washes, or conditioners for co-washing. Before we review the shampoo process, let us review the various options.

Sulfate shampoo

Sulfate shampoos contain surfactants that can also be found in products like dish detergents. Because our hair is naturally dry, many women with natural hair avoid sulfate shampoos. If you use mineral oil, or certain silicones, you will need a sulfate shampoo or other clarifying method to remove them from your hair.

Sulfate-free shampoo

Sulfate-free shampoos do not contain drying sulfates, but it is important to note that they may not lather as much (or at all).

Clay Wash

Clays such as Bentonite and Rhassoul can used to clarify both hair and body.  You can mix your own clay wash or purchase a clay shampoo.


The method of co-washing hair is used as an alternative to washing hair. (For some, sulfate-free shampoos are still drying to the hair.)  The process removes surface dirt without drying hair. Some opt to co-wash in between washes, while others solely co-wash. If you choose to solely co-wash, you must only use water soluble hair products. So you must cut out petroleum, mineral oil, and silicones. For more cleansing power, you can opt for a cleansing conditioner.

Now on to the wash…

The key to tackling natural hair is to approach it in sections. This holds true for washing, detangling, and styling. This becomes more important as it grows longer.
If your hair has some length, then either clip or braid your in sections. Braiding your hair prevents tangling as your wash. Some keep their hair braided as they wash, while others release the braid, wash the section, and rebraid.
As you wash your hair, you should focus your efforts on your scalp where there is the most buildup. Less focus should be on your ends, which is the driest part of your hair. To prevent tangling, abandon the wash method you used on your relaxed hair. Remember the circular motions and scrubbing? Doing those motions on natural hair can cause excessive tangling. Instead, scrub your scalp but then run the shampoo down the hair shaft.
Your pre-poo and shampoo method play a major role in your detangling method. They work  hand in hand. The amount of tangles you create or avoid during the wash process, directly correlate with the ease of detangling afterwards.

Author: Latoya

Latoya is an academic advisor by day, natural hair enthusiast//writer by night, and wife and mom 24/7. Her last relaxer was in April 2010 and she big chopped in October 2010. Join her as she shares tips and techniques for your natural hair.

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  1. Great tips. My sister could have used this after she took out her braids. She doesn’t want to listen to me so that’s why she ended up w/ a tanged mess. Sigh

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    • It is so easy to get tangles when taking out braids. Another key tip is to be patient and take your time especially when taking down braids. You especially have to be careful with the shed hairs that are still caught in the hair.

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