How to Deep Clean Your Dreads

Deep Cleaning Dreads Guide and Recipe
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Dreadlocks are not inherently a dirty hairstyle, although they can be if you don’t take care good care of them. 

If you’re anything like me, you’re very conscious of what goes in and near your hair. You probably go to great lengths to protect your locs in order to keep them healthy.

While I don’t mind the loose hair, frizz, and general messy look, my greatest concern is maintaining them free from lint, dandruff, product buildup, and every dreadhead’s worst nightmare…mold!  That is why I give my locs a deep cleaning treatment every once in a while. 

You might be thinking, “I wash my hair as often as is necessary and it always looks clean, why do I need to deep clean it?

The answer is simple. Everyone’s dreads need to be deep cleaned at least once, if not twice, a year. Your hair needs to be clean in order for it to form mature dreadlocks. Whether you see it or not, your locs accumulate dirt and things from the environment as well as sweat, product residue, and God knows what else. 

Deep cleaning your locs is like giving them a reset. I guarantee you’ll be surprised by the results!

Signs your locs need to be deep cleaned

A while back, I noticed that after washing my hair, my locs wouldn’t feel as clean as usual. There was a weird residue-like feeling on my hands when I palm rolled them. I hadn’t changed my shampoo routine, nor the kind of shampoo I use. It was annoying to wash them and still feel like they were dirty. 

Then it dawned on me…I hadn’t deep cleansed my hair in about a year! My hair has been exposed to so much in the last year that I should have probably done two deep cleanses by now, but oh well. It was obvious what I needed to do and so I did it! 

Are you wondering what your hair needs to look or feel like before you need to give it a good deep wash? Consider these signs:

1. You have never done a deep cleanse before.

If you’ve had your dreads in for at least 6 months and are starting to see them form stronger knots, you’re ready for your first deep cleaning treatment. I don’t recommend you do it while your locs are super loose because depending on the ingredients you use, you risk them loosening up even more. 

2. Your scalp is itchy and feels overly greasy.

One of the problems I currently encounter is sebum buildup. Sebum is the oily substance found on your scalp that keeps your hair and skin moisturized. Excess sebum production and dead skin cells will cause buildup and an itchy scalp.

This is not to be confused with dandruff. Dandruff will look like flakes along the scalp, but sebum buildup is only apparent when you scratch your scalp and white stuff gets stuck under your nails. Super gross, I know!!

As your hair grows, the buildup can get passed down to your new loc growth, so make sure that you’re aware of this before it becomes a problem. After I deep cleaned my hair, I noticed it removed the buildup completely.

3. Your dreads feel sticky.

Sticky dreads are a clear sign of residue and product build-up. A few months into my dreadlock journey, I started using a natural clarifying shampoo.

The first time I did, I noticed that once my hair got dry, my hands felt like they had a left-over film or soap of some kind. It’s difficult to describe but my first assumption was that I hadn’t rinsed the shampoo out all the way.

The second and third time I used this shampoo, I felt the same thing, except I was extra diligent about rinsing them thoroughly those times. I ended up switching to a different shampoo and my locs have felt super clean ever since. I’m not sure why a clarifying shampoo was leaving a lot of residue but it was obvious to me that I had to stop using it.

Your hair should never feel sticky, especially after you wash it. Sticky means that it’s more prone to attract lint, dirt, and who knows what else. This is also one of the main reasons why I’m so against using wax.

4. Your locs are dull and your hair is lacking luster.

An obvious sign that your hair needs a good wash (and possibly a moisturizing treatment) is that it looks dull or discolored. If there are select spots along the locs that are a different color (usually a grayish tint), it’s more than likely caused by buildup.

While you’re washing your hair, make sure to vigorously scrub those target areas, or have someone help you if they’re in a tough place to reach.

5. Your hair is exceptionally unruly.

Whatever stage of the dreadlock process you’re in, you’ll notice a difference between a good hair day and a bad one.

During the beginning stages of the locking process when your dreads are becoming mature, an unruly head is expected. But it may still be obvious (to you, possibly not anyone else) when your locs are really misbehaving.

Usually, after my weekly washing routine, my hair cooperates (as in, it doesn’t stick out in too many places). When it starts to accumulate dirt and buildup, it goes extra wild.

For the last few weeks, my hair would not cooperate at all even right after I washed it. This was a clear sign that I needed to deep clean it.

6. Your locs have a bad smell.

If you notice a foul odor coming from your locs that doesn’t get resolved with dreadlock shampoo, then you should try a detox treatment.

Two steps to squeaky-clean locs

Perhaps you’ve seen videos on YouTube of people doing dreadlock cleanses. Most of them do variations of the same thing: apple cider vinegar mixed with baking soda, hot water, and sometimes essential oils.

I do my deep cleanse a little bit different because I’ve found the method that works best for me. This is not to say that my way is the only way or that I’m promoting the best treatment out there. Perhaps you’ll have to experiment over the course of the next few deep cleanses to determine exactly what gives you the best results. The following tips should be applicable for all hair types.

TIP: Do a deep cleanse during the earlier part of the day to allow your dreads to dry completely before you go to sleep. Dread rot can occur in locs that haven’t dried properly.

Loc detox at home ingredients :

Ingredients for deep cleaning dreads

Dreadlock deep clean recipe:

I do a two-part cleanse to make sure my hair gets cleaned all the way through. It takes me about 30 minutes total.

PART 1: 

1. Begin by filling the first container (an empty basin, a bucket or sink) with hot water. Make it as hot as your head can comfortably bear- the hotter the better but you don’t want to scald yourself either. 

2. While you’re filling up the container, mix in 1/2 cup of apple cider vinegar.
TIP: I recommend straining the ACV as you’re pouring it into the sink, especially if you’re using Bragg’s. Bragg’s still has the mother in it, so you’ll see little things floating around inside the bottle. Removing those from your dreads would be a pain, so avoid the problem altogether by removing it beforehand.

3. Once you finish filling the container and the ACV is well-mixed, add 1/2 cup of baking soda. There will be a brief chemical reaction happening in the water. Stir it well, and submerge your full head of dreadlocks into it.  

4. Squeeze your locs as much as possible. Use the plastic cup to get the roots soaked and massage your scalp with the brush, or the tips of your fingers.

5. Do this continuously for 5 minutes, then empty the container of water (it should be murky, dirty water- see what my water looked like in the pictures below).

6. Re-fill the container with a new batch of hot water, add 1/2 cup of ACV and 1/2 cup of baking soda. You will repeat the same process and soak/squeeze your locs for another 3-5 minutes. Rinse the container out once you’re done.

PART 2:

1. Start with another new batch of hot water. This time you will mix in 1/4 cup baking soda, 2 tablespoons lemon juice (if you’re using fresh lemon, strain it!), and 10 drops each of tea tree, lavender, and rosemary essential oils. Those oils are ideal for reducing dandruff and maintaining optimal scalp health. 

2. Soak your locs in this mixture for 5 minutes. Make sure to use the plastic cup to soak the roots in the hard-to-reach spots around the nape of your neck, ears, etc. 

3. Give your locs a final squeeze. Empty the leftover water, and wrap your locs in a microfiber towel. 

4. Finally, rinse your locs in the shower with warm water. You don’t have to wash them with shampoo this time around because they should already be clean. Note that a vinegar scent may linger while your locs are wet.

5. Make sure your locs are thoroughly dry before going to bed. I’ll reiterate- mildew can develop if excess moisture is present overnight. To prevent this, go to sleep with dry hair – no exceptions! These are a few tips to dry your locs quickly. 

What the water looks like after deep cleaning dreadlocks
This is how the water will look BEFORE you soak your dreads in ACV-baking soda.
What the water looks like after deep cleaning dreadlocks
This is what my water looked like after the FIRST ACV-baking soda soak.
What the water looks like after deep cleaning dreadlocks
This is what the water looked like after the SECOND ACV-baking soda soak.

I hope this recipe gives you the same great results that it has given me!

One last suggestion!

Deep dread cleanses can be drying to your scalp and hair. Make sure to moisturize your locs with a spray bottle once they’re no longer dripping wet. Contrary to popular belief, carrier oils alone do not moisturize, but they do retain moisture. Spray your hair with the moisturizer of your choice (these are a few of my favorite DIY recipes!) and then gently massage your scalp with a carrier oil, like coconut oil.

How often should you detox your dreads? 

You should deep clean your dreads either once or twice a year. Under special circumstances, you can do it three times a year but I don’t recommend doing it any more than that. The main reason being that the apple cider vinegar will loosen up some of the knots that take so long to form.

An occasional dread detox is vital for cleaning the locs from the inside out, however too much of this can be counter-productive.

If you’re diligent about washing your hair once a week (with residue-free shampoos, of course), and you don’t add a lot of products to it, you won’t have to worry about accumulating too much buildup. 

How to keep your dreads clean longer

There are a few ways that you can keep your locs clean in between deep-cleanses. Consider the following tips:

1. Be mindful of what you’re putting in your hair.

Use less product or no product at all. I’ve heard a lot of recommendations on what I need to put on my hair to make my dreads form. Most of the advice comes from unfounded theories and misinformation. Don’t believe everything you hear. In a previous post, I discussed a list of 33 things that you should never put in your dreads. In my opinion, less is more when it comes to your locs.

2. Cover your locs when in dusty environments.

One of the biggest mistakes I made during my dread journey was that I didn’t cover my locs when I was working in dirty places.

After the Paradise fire in California, I spent a few weeks doing ash-outs (we sifted through the ashes to help people find meaningful belongings). The problem was that I didn’t cover my locs once.

Imagine how much dust and ash my hair accumulated over that short time. There are a lot of dreadlock caps and headwraps available out there; I recommend you invest in one. You don’t need to wear it all the time, but it surely helps protect your hair on those extra dusty work days.

3. Cover your locs at night.

Just like your locs can become a dust magnet, they can also become a lint magnet, especially while you sleep. Silk caps protect your dreads from breakage but also from rubbing against your sheets and attracting lint, feathers, etc. Learn the benefits of covering your locs at night here.


Dread detoxes are important for maintaining the overall cleanliness of your locs. Your locs naturally attract dust, pollen, and many other things we don’t see that are floating around in the environment. A detox will go way beyond the top layer of dirt on your locs to clean them thoroughly from the inside out. 

Doing a deep cleanse once or twice a year will “reset” your locs from eh-okay to squeaky clean! You’ll be astonished at how lightweight and amazing they feel afterward! 

Have you done a deep cleanse before? What has been your experience?

Do your locs need a pick-me-up? Check out these 39 DIY all-natural recipes to revitalize your dreads!

Frequently asked questions:

How do you get rid of buildup in dreads?

Getting rid of build up in your dreads will depend on what is the primary cause of the build up. 

Common build up can include a combination of shampoo residue, lint, dirt, residue from the minerals in hard water, and natural oils (like sebum which is a natural scalp oil). The best way to get rid of shampoo residue, dirt, and hard water residue is by doing a deep cleanse (like I discussed above). 

Lint will be a lot more difficult to remove, but you can either try to pick it out with your fingers or gently dig it out using a small crochet hook— I use a size 0.75 mm. I don’t recommend this option to those who don’t know how to crochet their hair back into the locs. If you pull the lint out and leave them as is, it’ll for sure leave the locs looking messy and loosen up the structure of the dread. 

Other buildup some people may have in their dreads could be the result of wax or hair gel. These products will never come off your locs completely, which is why I strongly advice against them.  

One of the only ways I know to remove some of the buildup caused by wax is by wrapping your locs one at a time with a lint-free cloth and squeezing them with a hot flat iron. The heat will melt the wax and the cloth will absorb some of it.

How long does it take to deep clean dreads?

Taking into account the preparation and soaking time, deep cleaning your locs should take no more than an hour. The amount of time it takes to dry your hair afterwards  

How often should you deep wash dreads?

This will depend on the environment you expose your locs to. For instance, if you don’t spend much time in dusty environments or sweat a lot, you’ll probably be good with one deep cleanse per year. 

On the other hand, if your hair is exposed to a lot of dust and/or you work out often, it’ll probably do your locs a big favor to deep clean them two or three times a year. 

Be mindful that deep cleanses are recommended on locs that are over six months old. This is because the baking soda and apple cider vinegar can loosen up the hair, so it can be counter-productive to the locking process, especially for baby dreads. For this reason, it’s best to wait until your locs have started maturing a little bit.

How much does it cost to detox locs?

Doing a thorough dread detox at home will cost you an $5 or less, taking into account the cost of the ingredients used. Using natural ingredients is a must, in my opinion, however choosing organic ingredients is entirely up to you… it will cost a bit more in that case.

You can also purchase products specifically intended for the detox process. Loc bombs (which is like a cleansing bomb for your dreads) generally cost around $20. Although I haven’t tried it, the Raw Roots Deep Cleansing Kit has good reviews and costs around $25.

Some lociticians offer detox services as well. It’ll cost you a lot more, but I’ve never done it, so I don’t have any idea what a professional detox averages in terms of cost. In this case, it’s best to ask your loctician directly.

What are the white stuff in your dreadlocks?

There are a number of things that can cause white stuff to appear in your dreads. These include sebum, dry scalp flakes (aka dandruff), product build-up, club hairs, nits of lice, mold, and lint. 

In this article, we discuss all of the probable causes of white things in locs and a remedy for each. 

What does baking soda do to locs?

Baking soda is used as a clarifying treatment to help remove unpleasant buildup from locs. It should be used in moderation because it can be harsh on the hair and scalp if used too often. 

Baking soda is an alkaline substance on the pH scale, so it’s recommended to use apple cider vinegar (which is acidic) to balance out the pH level in your scalp. 

What does apple cider vinegar do to dreads?

Apple cider vinegar can be used as a natural hair care product. It is said to help with dandruff, itchy scalp, and can add shine to hair. It can also be used to remove buildup from hair products and to clarify the hair. An apple cider vinegar rinse is done after shampooing.

Some people also use it as a leave-in conditioner. It is important to dilute the apple cider vinegar with water before using it on hair to prevent scalp irritation.

Can you use white vinegar to detox dreads?

Yes, distilled white vinegar can also be used in place of the ACV dread detox. Apple cider vinegar is better because it contains more minerals and vitamins than white vinegar, however they’ll both work well for a periodic detox treatment. 

Whichever vinegar you choose to use, be sure to dilute it because they’re extremely strong to use directly on the scalp.

How to deep clean dreads without apple cider vinegar? 

If you don’t have apple cider vinegar, you can use white vinegar instead. 

If you don’t have either type of vinegar, you can skip it altogether. However keep in mind that the results won’t be the same. If you only use baking soda and essential oils, your locs will feel a lot chalkier after you rinse them out, and your scalp might feel itchy because of the alkalinity. 

Vinegar is highly recommended because it helps the cleaning process, it adds shine to your hair, and it provides itchiness relief. It’ll definitely give you better results!

Can I use any essential oil blend for my dread detox?

Yes, of course!

The essential oil blend I recommend for a hair detox is made with a few drops of tea tree oil (from the melaleuca alternifolia leaf), lavender oil (lavandula angustifolia), and rosemary oil (from the rosmarinus officinalis leaf).

If you want to add fungicidal properties to your detox, include a few drops of eucalyptus oil or peppermint oil. These oils also have antimicrobial properties which help prevent mold growth. For a complete list of essential oils and their benefits, click here.

I do not recommend adding carrier oils (i.e. jojoba oil, castor oil…) to the blend because it will not blend with the water, so once you soak your head, it can make your locs kinda heavy.

This article was originally published in 2019 and has since been improved and updated.

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15 comments

  1. Thank you for creating this blog! I feel like I’ve found so many different answers on the webz and am so happy I stumbled upon this today.

    My dreads are a year old this month (!) but unfortunately, I was using coconut oil along with some essential oils as a daily moisturizer that I misted all over my locs every. day. O.o

    Needless to say, I’ve got a TON of lint build up due to that sticky substance you mention.

    I’m going to try this deep cleanse and see what my results are regarding the lint stow-a-ways I’ve collected along the way. I’ll touch base with an update.

    Thanks so much, Nadia!

    1. Hi Melissa!
      Aw, thank you so much for your sweet comment. 🙂

      Happy dreadiversary! 😉

      I had lint during the earlier part of my loc journey until I started covering my hair at night. I sleep with a silk nightcap and as funky as it makes me look, it has worked wonders on my locs (in keeping them lint-free). Satin pillowcases are also great.

      I will do more research to see how other dreadies have successfully removed lint from their locs and share any advice/ tips I find.

      Let me know how the deep cleanse goes for you! I’d love to hear your update 🙂

    2. May you give me a call or send me a text message with all the info how to clean my dirty dread my number is **********

  2. I’m glad I found your blog after surfing the net looking for the right amount of dreads to have. I must say your write-ups worth reading. I’ve been contemplating on if to go on dreads on not, coz I think it’ll make me look smaller than I am (I’m actually small, for my age).

    Now, I have decided to go on dreads and reading your articles made me reconfirm that i got to go on dreads, i love it when i see it on people’s head.

    I really hope mine will turn out good.

    PS: i am yet to cut my hair. I pray i don’t have a change of mind.

    I am a Nigerian (Africa)

  3. I will be trying this on my boyfriend hair this week thank you so much for these tips every word was worth reading

  4. My son is an athlete and sweats a lot. It seems like his re-twist don’t last very long and I’m retwisting more than just new growth. What products can I use to lock them in better so I just need to re-twist new growth?

  5. I have no idea why people insist on mixing vinegar with baking soda for hair and skin treatments. They react and neutralize each other. Acid + base = salt. You’d get the same results for less money and less prep time by doing a salt soak.

    1. I was thinking the same thing Ryan, isn’t it supposed to be done in two different stages? Like first ACV and hot water, soak, rinse then BS and how water, soak, rinse?

      1. Hi Fran! There’s more than one way to deep clean your locs, you just have to find what works best for you! The only thing I would switch based off of what you said would be to do the BS soak first and then the ACV soak. Baking soda can be a bit harsh, so you want to follow up with apple cider vinegar to neutralize the pH levels in your scalp. ACV also adds a nice shine to your hair, whereas BS leaves them somewhat opaque. 🙂

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