How to Deep Clean Your Dreads

Deep Cleaning Dreads Guide and Recipe

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 dreads. 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

For the last several weeks, 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. Too much sebum production will cause buildup. 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. A few months into my dreadlock journey, I started using a new 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 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.

Two steps to squeaky clean dreads

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. Perhaps you’ll have to experiment over the course of the next few deep cleanses to determine exactly what works for you. 

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.

Ingredients you will need for a dread cleanse:

Ingredients for deep cleaning dreads

The method:

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 (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 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- 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 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 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. You don’t have to wash them with shampoo this time around because they should already be clean.

5. Make sure your locs are thoroughly dry before going to bed. 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 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 apply a carrier oil to your scalp if you wish.

How often should you deep clean 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, 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 workdays.

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. It’s worth investing in one of these too.


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 air. 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?

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5 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. 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)

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