DIY Hair Clarifying Treatment: Baking Soda For Hair

Back of woman's head with curly hair on a blue background

Delmaine Donson / Getty Images

There's a lot of talk about hair "clarification" and "detoxification" doing the rounds these days. It's important to know what's going into your hair and onto your scalp because it directly affects hair health and plays a huge role in how your hair responds to different products, treatments, styling tools, and techniques. Knowing how to clarify your hair properly and doing it regularly is a great idea and is the key to keeping your hair looking good and feeling strong. Healthy, strong hair is the basis for excellent hair growth, so if you're looking for length, you might try adding hair clarification to your regimen. We spoke to a trichologist and dermatologist to get more info on clarifying.

Follow the step-by-step instructions below to make your own hair clarifying treatment at home.

Meet the Expert

  • Dallasciet Harper is a World Trichology Society Certified Trichologist and 13-year beauty professional. Harper works with clients to achieve their hair goals at the TriExperts Hair Center in Pearl, Mississippi.
  • Rachel Nazarian, MD, is a board-certified dermatologist of Schweiger Dermatology Group in New York City. She has many published articles in medical journals and dermatology textbooks.

What Is a Hair Clarifying Treatment?

"Clarifying treatments, or 'hair detox treatments' as we call them, are used to remove buildup from excess product buildup, dirt, or mineral from hard water commonly found in water systems without filters," explains Harper. When hair is exposed to these factors, it may become stringy, lifeless, and weak. Essentially, when these unhealthy and unnatural elements coat your hair or scalp, the flow of natural oils to the hair shaft may be blocked. Clarifying treatments work to remove these artificial deposits. 

Why Do I Need To Clarify My Hair?

We've all had our bad hair days but if you're frustrated with your hair more often than not, look into the causes. Healthy, strong hair should respond well to your efforts. If your hair is always doing its own thing and is generally weak or impossible to style, it's symptomatic of other issues. Your scalp might also become itchy, and hair processing will take longer than usual if you're not detoxing often enough.

Stress, pollution, sun exposure, product buildup, lack of sleep, poor nutrition, and over-styling are some things that may potentially impact hair health and cause a dip in hair quality. Clarifying your hair can help address some of these concerns—and it's a relatively easy and inexpensive way to do so.

The clarifying treatment is meant not only to unclog the hair follicles and cuticles to restore proper nutrition, but it also promises to open your hair up to natural moisture, preventing new bacteria from forming on the scalp and potentially preventing hair loss. What’s more is, your hair will be noticeably shinier, more voluminous, and more under your control from the first wash onwards. And the upside of removing all that gunk? Your preferred hair care and hairstyling products will once again be able to penetrate through to your hair, acting more effectively. Clarifying treatments are also excellent prep-steps and post-care options for those of you who like to color your hair. They help cleanse prior to a dye job and allow hair colors, especially the blonde tones, to retain their original tonality and keep from turning brassy.

The Benefits of Baking Soda on Hair

So, what’s the secret purifying ingredient that will restore your hair to all its glory? Baking soda! Yep, that innocuous little kitchen ingredient is all you need. "It can serve as a gentle exfoliant," Harper says. "The baking soda will attach itself to the dirt to detox the hair and scalp."

Nazarian adds that "it removes oils and dirt that may be left behind if someone uses a lot of hair care products and offers a more intense clean for those who feel that [they] have hair weighed down from an oily scalp."

One of the most significant benefits of using a homemade baking soda hair clarifying treatment is that it is free of all of the worrying chemicals and additives you have to contend with if you purchase a store-bought hair clarifying treatment. Of course, there are some excellent options out there on the market, but using more products may seem counterintuitive if you’re looking to remove product build-up. Or you might be the sort of person who enjoys homemade hair care products and remedies, and this DIY clarifying treatment will make a great addition to your bathroom shelf. 

As with any DIY treatment, proceed with caution. Nazarian suggests using baking soda infrequently "because there’s room for user error with this ingredient—the high pH varies from the natural pH of the scalp—and can strip too much oil and hydrators from the skin and hair," she says, adding that those with sensitive skin or thin hair should take extra precaution. "Baking soda can weaken the hair follicle by removing too much of the natural oils and conditioners that protect the cuticle- increasing risk of hair weakening and breaking."

"If you experience any itching or burning during the process, remove immediately," Harper says. "We always suggest allowing your beauty professional to offer this treatment as they will know how long to process, or if another type of treatment will benefit better." In addition, Harper does not recommend a baking soda treatment on red or copper-toned hair as it will cause the color to fade. Blondes should also be mindful because the treatment can make hair very dry and brittle.

"Short contact is important to minimize irritation and over-drying," Nazarian explains.

DIY Baking Soda Hair Clarifier

The Recipe

This simple recipe only calls for a few ingredients you likely already have around the house:

  • 1 tablespoon baking soda
  • 1/4 cup warm water
  • 2 tablespoons of shampoo
  • Vinegar to rinse

This treatment is also effective with only water and baking soda if you're looking for the simplest DIY hair clarifier possible.

Baking soda in a lidded mason jar and wooden spoon
 Photo by Eskay Lim / EyeEm / Getty Images

The Directions

  • Create a mixture of water, shampoo, and baking soda. "Apply to the hair and scalp like a paste and massage it in," Harper suggests.
  • Rub the paste in gently: be very careful because baking soda is abrasive and vigorous rubbing can hurt your scalp.
  • Take a wide-toothed comb and brush the baking soda shampoo down the hair length to coat everything evenly. Allow the mixture to sit for three to five minutes before rinsing it off. You might need more of the mixture if you have very long or thick hair.
  • If you started on relatively clean hair, you can wash with the baking soda solution and leave things be. If your hair’s a little dirty or you want to slowly transition into a new hair care routine, you might want to follow this step up with your usual wash-and-condition routine. "We highly suggest using a vinegar rinse to try to balance the pH of the scalp again," Harper says.

Use a hair rinse to restore the hair’s natural pH balance. Acid rinses such as DIY vinegar hair rinse (a wash made of one teaspoon of raw apple cider vinegar dissolved in water) or a lemon rinse (the juice of a single lemon in four cups of water) are great natural hair rinses.

When Should I Clarify My Hair?

Any time that you notice your hair continues to stay limp, greasy, and dull despite all your best efforts to revive it, it’s time to reach for that DIY hair clarifying treatment. If you’ve noticed that your hair never really feels properly cleansed even after washing, and you’re yearning for that satisfying "squeaky clean" feeling, it’s probably time for a treatment. Other symptoms include itchiness and a flaking scalp, as well as difficulty in styling. Even if you haven’t noticed any of these things, this clarifying treatment will work wonders—a lot of people see the difference after only one use. Detoxifying your hair can save you a lot of money, grief, and time that might otherwise be spent on all sorts of hair care remedies and products and visits to a specialist.

How Often Should You Clarify Hair?

Remember to make hair clarification a regular part of your hair care routine but don’t go overboard with it. About once a week or every two weeks is likely often enough to see results. "Only those with conditions where they produce more oil or have a build-up of dead skin cells on their scalp (such as psoriasis or seborrheic dermatitis), should use these clarifying treatments more frequently," explains Nazarian. If used too often, the alkalinity of the baking soda will cause dryness and breakage. You should clarify your hair "as often as needed," adds Harper. "If you do not shampoo hair at least once weekly, clarifying may be needed more frequently."

Clarifiers can sometimes leach away some moisture from the hair as they work to remove any unhealthy elements, which is why you shouldn’t use them too frequently. "Any product or chemical we use affects the pH level of the hair, skin, and scalp," Harper explains. "Clarifying should be used with discretion as it is used to 'strip' excess dirt, buildup, and minerals from the hair and scalp. The scalp thrives better with a clean, healthy environment."

Homemade hair clarifiers tend to be kinder to the hair than chemically manufactured treatments, which means they are better suited for those with colored or otherwise chemically treated hair. Weekly clarifying can go a long way towards boosting hair health. Remember: it's always easier to maintain healthy hair than to repair damaged hair.

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