Over the years, clip-in hair extensions have become more and more realistic-looking. In fact, nowadays brands like Luxy Hair and SL Raw Virgin Hair go so far as to use real human hair to create their extensions. Still, even the brands that stick to synthetic fibers, like INH hair, look shockingly real.
As wonderful as it is that extensions are finally passing for the real deal, one downside of clip-in hair extensions looking real is the common misunderstanding that they can be washed just like real hair. Spoiler alert: Sudsing and drying extensions of any kind, including real human hair, will almost always end in disaster (aka, it can ruin them).
With that in mind, we chatted with a few hair extensions experts to learn how to wash extensions. Keep reading to learn why it’s important to give clip-in hair extensions a little extra TLC, as well as the step-by-step washing process the pros recommend.
Meet the Expert
- Arianna Chaylene Blean is a professional hairstylist and makeup artist whose clients include Nikita Dragun and Christine Quinn. She also works with UNITE Hair.
- Bridget Brager is a celebrity hairstylist whose clients include Andie MacDowell, Kristen Stewart, and Priyanka Chopra Jonas.
- LeAna McKnight is a celebrity hairstylist and the founder of SL Raw Virgin Hair.
- Shauna Lee is head of product development and strategic sourcing for INH Hair.
Do You Really Need to Wash Your Hair Extensions?
When working with clip-in extensions, you might think that it’s totally okay to style and wear them out, only to then take them out and set them aside for your next wear. In reality, Blean says that it’s important to remember to treat your extensions as you would your real hair. “This means washing and conditioning them to keep them fresh,” she says.
While you don’t need to wash your clip-in hair extensions every single time you wear them, Lee says that it’s best to wash your extensions when you feel them starting to tangle, or when you notice them starting to lose their softness and bounce. “Excessive build-up in the extensions (products, sweat, dirt, hair spray, oils, etc.) without washing will cause dryness, tangling, and matting,” she warns. “But washing too much may lose the integrity of the hair.” With this in mind, she says that clip-in hair extensions will look their best with occasional washings—that are, most importantly, performed correctly. (More on that below).
In addition to washing your clip-in hair extensions between every few wears, Brager recommends washing them before first use, too. “Anytime I receive a new, beautiful box of hair extensions, the first thing I do is wash them,” she shares. “I like starting on a clean slate so I am able to transform the extensions into anything we (the client and I) want… That’s the power of a great set of extensions: transformation!”
Maintenance is everything when it comes to clip-in hair extensions. Taking special care of them can make them last longer and look their best all the while. But knowing how to wash clip-in extensions isn’t the only way to take care of them. Blean says you should never sleep with them in, either. “I cannot stress this enough to clients,” she says. “This can actually cause pulling and hair loss to areas where you [clipped in] your extensions. Just remember to be nice to your extensions, and they will help you live your best hair fantasy.”
Now that you know why it’s important to wash your clip-in hair extensions, it’s time to learn how to do so. Follow the steps below and your clip-ins will look like new with each and every wear.
Comb and Separate Your Extensions
Before introducing any shampoo or conditioner to your clip-in extensions, Brager says to begin by separating your extensions (since there are often multiple clip-in pieces) and comb each one to ensure that they’re free of knots, tangles, and snarls.
When working with clip-in extensions, Lee says that you want to be mindful of the brush you’re using. “Gently remove tangles by using an extension-friendly brush starting from the ends, working up to the weft area,” she says.
If you’re working with textured clip-in hair extensions like SL Raw Virgin Hair's Kinky Curly Clip-Ins ($190), however, McKnight says it’s important to skip the brush and instead separate each curl one by one, as using a brush can aggravate the texture.
Shampoo and Condition
Once your extensions are free of all tangles, it’s time to wash them—but, whatever you do, don’t rub them with intense friction in an attempt to suds them up. Instead, Brager says to hold your clip-ins at the clips (as in the tops of the wefts) and submerge them into a sink filled with lukewarm water.
Once soaked, Brager says to use a sulfate-free, color-safe shampoo and conditioner. “Use a quarter-sized amount of shampoo and start gently washing the extensions from base to ends,” she instructs, noting that she tries not to get the clips wet in the process.
Next up, use a quarter-size amount of conditioner and massage it in. Now when we say massage, it’s important to note that under no circumstances does this mean aggressively sudsing the product into the strands. Rather, Brager says to gently apply it from top to bottom and then comb it through with a wide-tooth comb starting at the ends and working up to the weft.
From there, Brager says to rinse with cool water and gently squeeze any excess water from top to bottom.
Let Them Hang Dry, or Lay Them Flat
By now, you’ve likely realized that the biggest thing to remember when washing clip-in hair extensions is to minimize friction. With that in mind, Lee says to never twist or wring your clip-ins. Brager expands on this idea and says to lay your extensions on a microfiber towel, roll them up completely, and press out any residual water. Doing so will keep the hair texture intact while speeding up the drying process, she says.
Once all the excess water has been removed, Blean says to hang your clip-ins to dry. That said, if you want particularly voluminous, textured clip-ins, Brager admits that she’s been known to put her extensions in a dryer bag for delicate items and tumble dry them on low. “I say this with caution—extension hack?” she adds.
Style As Usual
Once your extensions are dry, you can proceed with styling them as you normally would. Brager just says to wait to use them until they’re completely dry—including beneath the clips, in the event that you got them wet.
Rely on Dry Shampoo Between Washes
Remember: You don’t have to wash your extensions between every use. Instead, consider using a dry shampoo. Just try to find one that’s not formulated with alcohol, as alcohol can be incredibly drying for clip-ins.